My Strategy For Calling On Students

Robyn Howton

by | 12.9.19

Robyn Howton is a high school teacher in Delaware. Follow her on Twitter @robynhowton.

I recently asked my students to write about the best and worst experiences they’ve ever had with a teacher, and I’ve tried to use their answers to guide me toward routines that make them all feel supported. Some of their responses really surprised me. They really opened my eyes to the things we do that can stick in their memories. For some kids, their worst memory was of a teacher who called them out when they didn’t expect it. 

As teachers, we sometimes consider calling on kids at random an engagement tool – it’s a way to make sure we hear from a range of voices in the room. But from their writing, I saw that wasn’t going to be a good tool for this class. A lot of my students are really sensitive about being put on the spot. 

So I have a list of numbers, representing the questions I’ll ask that day. I ask students to pick a number at the beginning of class, and I write their name next to that number. Even though they don’t know what the question will be, they know when their name is coming up, and that makes them feel better.

I also have a policy that kids can pass. If I call on them and they don’t have something to say, they just pass. I don’t follow up with them, or linger on them and ask, “What, why don’t you know?” I just let it go. At some point, everybody is going to not know. I want them to feel comfortable. 

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