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Hand Raising and Cold Calling — examining the efficacy of age old practices

“Classroom practice that supports the notion of “cultural democracy” honors students’ individual perceptions of content and concept as valid, educative, and fluid. What is more, instructional environments emphasizing openness of discourse embody the tolerance and civic understanding that we need more of in our communities. However, far too often, in our classrooms and our communities, discussion is adversarial, polemic, and insular. It does not have to be that way. Engaging students in discussion encourages perspective taking and a dialogue of civility and tolerance grounded in mutual understanding, respect, and empathy.”

— Salas Fitchett, and Mercado, 2013

One of the things I am most curious about these days is the way in which questions and answers play out in a classroom. What does this look like in your classroom or the classrooms that you are privileged to visit? I would like to suggest that you become curious and notice what is currently happening.

I am definitely dating myself, but I am probably not alone in remembering the iconic hand raising and shouting out of Arnold Horshack from the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter (worth a 12 second watch for a laugh!) 


Just about any classroom you walk into we will see a teacher asking a question.

Some students will then raise their hands, and others will not. The teacher now has an on the spot decision to make. Who should they call on? What if only some students raised their hands? What if no students raised their hands? Posing a question and asking for hands up for a correct response places the teacher in a position to make multiple in the moment decisions. I believe we have some alternatives to this age-old practice that may better serve learning.

Let’s continue to play out the scenario:

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