Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Hands up vs Hands on Heads

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

How do you get all students engaged in classroom questioning? How can we provide support for students that need more thinking time, lack confidence or need prompts?

We know the drill - the teacher asks a question - “What is the capital of France? The question is very closed but I am keeping the example simple. They may even preface it with “Hand up if you know the capital of France….” (which is better because it is more explicit and will reduce calling out). 

Teachers will get the same volunteers on most occasions, there are always students that rarely (or never) put their hands up. Those students don’t bother thinking because other students will do the thinking for them.

Instead of “Hands up” shift to “Hands on heads when you think you know the answer to….” Then only field answers until all students have thought of an answer. While waiting for all students to think of an answer I circulate around the class and then I assist students that don’t have their hands on their heads. I may whisper it starts with a P…. or “it has five letters”. Or perhaps I go to students that rarely participate and ask them on the downlow “what do you think the answer is?” They whisper back their answer and it gives me the confidence that if I call on them they know the right answer. I also make sure I check on students that I suspect are just following the herd and placing their hands on their head under the pressure of conformity. I try to make sure I call on all students at least once in a week. It is important to point out that being wrong is part of the learning process. I explain to the class that if you get an answer wrong, research has shown that you are more likely to remember the right answer in the long term. Being wrong can be a good thing!

Why hands on heads? As this protocol takes more time, students who have an answer can rest their interlocked hands on their heads. Additionally it signifies a shift from what they have been used to (hands up), when I say “Hands on heads” they learn quickly exactly what is required of them.

After only a few lessons you have set the scene - you require everyone to think - everyone to participate. Since I have started this practice I have not gone back to “hands up”. I require all students to think!

The hands on heads questioning technique enhances student engagement and participation.

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