4 No Opt Out Strategies to Increase Student Participation
Mrs. Miller is in the middle of a thrilling lesson on symbolism when she asks the class what types of symbolism they noticed in chapter 12.
She scans the room, and her eyes lock on Billy, who just happens to be looking at anything and anyone other than Mrs. Miller.
"Billy, what types of symbolism did you notice in chapter 12?"
Billy thinks for a moment, he scans the room and locks eyes with a few of his peers as if to silently say, "HELP!" After a few moments Billy realizes no one is coming to his aid and he responds to Mrs. Millers question with, "um, I don't know."
As teachers we have all experienced moments similar to this interaction with Billy. The question is, what do we do when a student is reluctant or unable to answer a question?
In Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, Doug Lemov states that, "In a high-performing classroom, a verbalized or unspoken “I don’t know” is cause for action. When a student begins by being unable or unwilling to answer, you should strive to make the sequence end as often as possible with the student giving a right or valid answer."
By using the following 4 strategies you can create a culture of accountability in your classroom where participation is expected and student responses are respected.
Strategy #1: The Cold Call
Cold calling is a strategy used by teachers where a student is selected without the teacher asking for hands. Cold calling could also mean that after asking for volunteers a student without a raised hand is called on. This is an effective strategy because students are always on alert as they never know when they will be called on to respond to a question.
One way to cold call is to draw popsicle sticks with student names or numbers. This strategy is also helpful for the teacher to keep track of which students have or have not been called on. To remind myself to use this strategy I created these fun flower participation sticks.
You can create your own with the following materials (click each picture to go to the link):
No matter the system you use for cold calling be sure that you are consistent so that students know that participation is expected!
Strategy #2: Wait Time
One reason why students may be reluctant to participate is due to the fact that they haven't had enough time to process the information. This can be avoided if teachers provide sufficient wait time before expecting students to respond.
According to Teach Like a Champion the average teacher waits less than a second between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. This can have multiple negative effects on a classroom. First of all, the students that do have their hand in the air do not have adequate time to do the deep thinking required to give a well constructed answer. Second of all, the students that were unable to get their hand up in time learn that their thoughts aren't valued, and therefore they stop trying to participate.
Waiting just a few seconds can have a huge impact on student participation!
Strategy #3: Student Support
While the goal of No Opt Out is for our dependent or reluctant learners to give 100% correct answers and be able to explain their thinking, it is unrealistic to think that our struggling students will be able to do so without any support.
With the No Opt Out strategy there are 4 supports teachers can put in place to help struggling students.
- The teacher gives the answer, and the student repeats the answer.
- Another student gives the answer, and the struggling student repeats the answer.
- The teacher provides a cue for the student to use to find the answer.
- Another student provides a cue for the struggling student to use to find the answer.
The common theme between all 4 supports is that the interaction ends with the struggling student giving the correct response. This is the goal of No Opt Out!
Strategy #4: Normalize Error
Another common reason why students may be reluctant to participate is due to the fact that they are afraid of failing. They are afraid of getting the answer wrong and looking silly in front of their peers.
One of the most important jobs we are charged with as educators is to teach students that mistakes and failures are okay. Not only are they okay, but they are an integral part of the learning process. This is something that we as teachers need to make a priority at the beginning of the year. Students need to be taught how to handle their own failure as well as the failure of others.