Sunday 1 December 2013
How 'No Hands Up' works.
In my primary school, we have a No Hands Up rule. The rationale behind it is that when children self-select themselves to contribute to lessons, the same children answer every time and many other childre - the majority sometimes - feel safe in not engaging remotely with what is going on around them.
No Hands Up is actually a simplification. Generally speaking, it is about a changed classroom dynamic in which the teacher poses questions to the whole class rather than to individuals. One a question is set, children have time to think through their answers and/or discuss their ideas with a partner. Once that thinking time is over, every single child has no excuse for having nothing to share. The teacher can select any child, and everybody can - at least - rehash what they discussed with their partner. A good teacher can then weave their ideas into a learning narrative.
Finally, crucially, No Hands Up refers only to children's answering, children raise their hands whenever they like to ask questions. This is great.
- It teaches children that their ideas have a value.
- It encourages teachers to move towards asking open rather than closed questions.
- It encourages pupils to take risks, knowing that it is ok to make mistakes, but not OK not to contribute.
- It means that more children play an active role in class discussions.
- It forces chidlren - by children's self-policing - to be engaged because to have nothing at all to contribute becomes embarassing. In my class, it is not humiliating to make a mistake, but it is humiliating to have nothing whatsoever to say, which is only ever the result of not talking to a partner.
- It is tricky to pitch one question to a whole class of children, when there is a wide spectrum of ability. This requires a fair amount of pedagogical skill, as you need to be able to extend the learning through follow-ups, so you need to know the children very well.
- It is still easy to thinkingly or unthinkingly select some children more than others.
- Cynically, it is manipulable in observations, in which you can go "errrrrrm I will choose you David", when actually you are selecting a high-attaining child. It can be democratic, but it can just as easily appear democratic, but not be.
- It takes time for children to foster and develop an understanding of this form of classroom.
- It requires pupils to be able to interact constructively with partners, which is difficult sometimes when partners have a wide gap in ability.
This is the only form of classroom I have taught in, and I see far more benefits than problems. It opens debate easily, raises the level or engagement and participation and it demonstrates positive values, which place merit and esteem on children's ability to think, rather than to recite back the answer a teacher wants to hear.