Guest Blog Post: from Pam Regis

I have asked in the past for “guest blog posters” and Pam took me up on it. Here is hers. Do you have something that works in the classroom that you’d like to post about? Or something about research? Higher Education? If so, send me an email with your post, and I’ll make sure it gets on the blog.

Thanks, Pam.


Cold Call

“Of course I want the cards,” said a student in Whitman,
Dickinson, and Frost. I had begun this particular class by designating discussion leaders for each of the poems on the syllabus for that day, and I offered each leader my cold call cards to helpthem move the discussion along. The discussion leaders absolutely wanted those cards.

The cards work.

Cold call is a classroom technique described by Doug Lemov
in Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College (Jossey-Bass 2010, available in the CFE). He puts the idea
in one sentence: “In order to make engaged participation the expectation, call on students regardless of whetherthey have raised their hand” (112).
I added the idea of randomizing who gets called on by putting each
student’s name on an ordinary playing card and shuffling the deck. Actually, each student’s name is on twocards, so students are not off the hook after being called on the first time.

The key is to ask your question before you turn a card and
call out the name of the student whose name is on it. Every student has to listen to the question. Every student knows that he or she may
be called on at least twice in each run of the deck. And of course, I can reshuffle at any time. Randomizing the order in which people
are called on—via the playing cards—eliminates any trace of “Gotcha!”
Discussion is never about “You aren’t paying attention so I’m going to call on you.” This semester I am using cold call in all of my courses.

The pace of my classes has picked up markedly. Students’ engagement in the immediate topic has gone up, just as Lemov said it would.

But there’s more: every student participates in every single
class. “I don’t know” has become something that every student is willing to say. Although I’ve always said it without hesitation, students now
say it all the time. There’s no penalty for not knowing. I just
turn another card, which has another name.

As much as this technique has enriched the poetry class, it
has transformed my two sections of English 1002: The College Essay. Feedback to me has increased—what don’t they know? Where are they hitting a snag in learning this? That feedback is
immediate: no waiting to grade a quiz. Grammar instruction, some of which is absolutely essential in teaching writing, moves along as fast as I can ask questions and turn the cards.

Another bonus: I learned my students’ names in record time this semester.

I don’t use cold call all the time, of course. That day in
Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost we put the cards aside and together we reminded ourselves of the attributes of the Deity so that we could get at Dickinson’s heretical claim in her line “The Brain is just the weight of God.”

My name is in the deck, too. I put it on each of the two Jokers. And when the discussion leader turned my card, she had a huge grin on her face as she cold called on me.

I answered the question.


4 Responses to Guest Blog Post: from Pam Regis

  1. rarmstrong says:

    See, this is what I love most about working in a college: learning.

    I’ve never heard of this. But, as i imagine all instructors who would like engaged discussion in my class, i am once again wondering how to do increase this, and here’s a really wonderful answer.

    thanks Pam.

    once question – do you incorporate free discussion into this as well – i.e. you start with cards but then what about student response to student answers? can students raise their hands to talk in between cards? I’m just curious about more of the mechanics of use in your class.

  2. Pam Regis says:

    I mix cold call with asking for volunteers (who do, indeed, raise their hands), I mix it with asking a question and having students discuss it with each other before offering an answer, and I also interrupt the flow of questions with an explanation, usually short, but sometimes longer as I realize, “Oh, they don’t know this…” Cold call is flexible.

    I even use the cards to take roll–so that students see that I am doing it.

    Lemov is full of amazing advice for the in-class performance part of teaching. Example: When you give directions, stand still and don’t do anything else–don’t pass out papers, don’t fiddle with the computer, don’t…whatever. Your body language conveys the singular importance of what you’re doing.

    With appropriate adjustments for our students’ age and maturity levels, many of Lemov’s techniques work.

  3. Maggie says:

    Thanks for the post, Pam. It is very interesting and helpful, and something I’m definitely going to try.

  4. Robin Armstrong says:

    Thanks for the introduction and further explanation – very cool stuff. only question is do i begin this in the middle of the semester or do i wait till a new term?

    definately want that book!

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