What's the last professional book that you read that truly impacted your students’ experiences in your classroom? The answer to that question for me is Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam.
So, home it went with me that Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, I stepped onto my elliptical machine and balanced the book on the stand so that I could "multitask" while reading. Wow, was I ever in for a shock! This book really resonated with me. I actually couldn’t put it down! In fact, I finished the book by the end of the weekend! (Keep in mind that I had a 7-year-old and 4-year-old at the time, so stealing time to read at that point in my life was a daunting task…. Who am I kidding?! It still is!)
In Chapter 3, Wiliam describes a classroom where a handful of dedicated students constantly raise their hands and contribute to the discussion, while the remainder of students in the classroom doodle, daydream, or "fly under the radar". The ultra-engaged students perform extremely well in school, as one would expect. They are discussing the topic and interacting with the learning materials. Unfortunately, the performance of the disengaged students is suffering, as one would expect. Furthermore, the achievement gap is widening in this type of classroom.
While reading, I found myself thinking about the upper elementary classrooms in which I co-taught. I had a strong hunch that the low engagement levels Wiliam described was nearly identical to what would be observed in the classrooms I taught in every day. When I returned to school that Monday, my hunch was 100% verified. A handful of students constantly raised their hands, while the other students either sat quietly or very obviously “spaced out”.
The very next day, my co-teachers allowed me to put some of Wiliam’s engagement strategies into action, and we noticed a remarkable difference immediately. Allow me to share a couple of these strategies with you today! Below I describe the #1 change we made that seemed to significantly improve student engagement during lessons.
#1- The Power of the Popsicle Sticks!!
We started using the cup CONSTANTLY. (I’m serious…. We even instituted a “no-hands-in-the-air” policy. Students didn’t need to bother raising their hands; we drew Popsicle sticks instead of calling on students raising their hand.) Whenever we asked a question, we would provide wait time (often giving students a chance to talk to a partner), and then draw a Popsicle stick and announce the name. That student was then charged with answering the question.
I admit, I got a kick out of picking up the cup full of sticks at the beginning of a lesson and giving it a little rattle. Kids would immediately sit up and look around. It was a nonverbal way of saying “Pay attention…. your name may be called on to answer a question.”
Yes, the “pass” reply was still an option, but if a student passed, the question would eventually be bounced back to them and they would be asked to repeat the correct answer that another student had just given.
One fifth grade teacher I worked with eventually created two cups of popsicle sticks. She kept one on her desk, and one on the other side of the room. With that, at least one of the cups could easily be spotted and picked up at any given time.
Have you implemented Popsicle sticks to increase student engagement? I'd love to hear your comments on their effectiveness in your classroom!
And now to link up with Teaching Trio for their Technology Thursday, I wanted to share a website with you that can randomly select names if you don't want to mess with the popsicle stick!
This website, Classtools.net, has a free random name generator.
Go to the website and click on "Edit/Save" below the spinner.
Delete the names that automatically appear, and enter your own students' names.
Click on the middle button, "Save this list as currently shown".
Your personalized spinner will appear. You will be asked to provide a password.
Bookmark this link as a favorite for easy future access!
When you use this in your classroom, simply click on the spinner and a name will be selected!
Warning- one thing I do not like about this site is the applause that happens every time you pick a name. If you have an Ipad in your classroom (or even access to an Iphone!), there is a free random name selector app called Random Name Selector Lite that you might want to check out, as well! With this app, you can turn off the sound, and names are picked out of a top hat!
Do you know of other random name selector apps or websites? Please share!