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Cold Calling on Students

Hi All,

I hope all of you are doing well so far in this semester and hopefully more of you are enjoying this chilly weather than myself. I would like to get feedback on a teaching strategy of sorts that I have always employed as long as I have taught. I like to call on my students and ask them questions actively during the class. I make this quite clear on day one of the class and continue with this through out the semester. I make it clear that I ask questions to make sure nobody is falling behind and because my classes are usually small 14-15 students, I tend to get around to almost everybody during each class. The questions are not supposed to make any body feel bad or put them on the spot (although I know they are put on the spot).

I have personally received one complaint that a student felt embarrassed and humiliated for being called on to solve a problem on the board. The student was unable to solve the problem by herself and did receive help from other students and myself while she was at the board. What are your thoughts on this? Not sure how many other students feel humiliated. I hope none actually.  I have used this questioning to get an idea of who is falling behind and going over concepts multiple times to make sure it gets through. Often times when one student does not get something, others don’t also however, most of them will not admit it.



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5 comments to Cold Calling on Students

  • I think that if you make it explicit both in your syllabus and on the first day (possibly even the first three classes, just to be safe), then you are in the safe zone. I have done activities where I have “popcorned” responses, meaning that I go around the room and point quickly to students for short responses to a question. I think your method is perfectly fine; it would be worth sitting down with the student to discuss why she was “humiliated” (which does sound a bit on the dramatic side) and how in the future she could take advantage of a situation where she doesn’t know the answer and can gain help from those around her. I think it’s a valuable lesson in how to learn.

  • I agree with Nicole – if you made explicit that this will be a practice in your classroom, there is no aspect of shock involved. On the other hand the “humiliated” student may in fact be someone who panics under pressure. Either s/he couldn’t solve the equation on his/her own because of lack of preparation, lack of understanding, or pure brain-freeze. I think that in order to further suss out student understanding, awareness, and diligence, there could also be alternative possibilities for comprehension checking. One idea is to have students work on problems in groups of 2 or 3 – and then check overall with a 5-minute “individual” exit question. What I mean is, have the students pair to solve problems, but confirm their understanding by making them solve a similar question right as they leave the class. Again, just a suggestion.

    Unfortunately, most often when I get complaints which are so dramatic, it is often from students who haven’t prepared and their is an element of anger that they have been “exposed.” Students who are shy or introverted and concerned about speaking aloud often approach me early in the first week or two (after I have made clear my expectations) and I work with them on how to mitigate their fear/panic factor. I often do a lot of small group work, so they “warm-up” within the small groups.

    • Uday

      Hi Nicole, Robin,

      Thank you for the great input. I have constantly urged my students to take advantage of this and encouraged them to treat the class more as a tutoring session rather than just a regular class. It is often the students that are very unprepared that tend to complain. My classes are only 50 minutes and there are preassigned problems at the beginning of the semester. So they know at the beginning of the semester which problem will be discussed in each class. The group work would be great if I had a bit more time. There is a quiz every class and then I also do a mini-lecture before discussing the assigned problem. So as you see time is a precious commodity.

  • I often have students “present” after a classroom question or prompt related to the lesson. I usually have them present to a partner and then the partner presents to them before I call on a few. It takes a few minutes more, but all of the listeners have to be active listeners, because they share not only their point of view but their classmate’s.