Thursday, 27 June 2013

BBQ Chicken sticks and Teaching as Inquiry

I have always looked at my teaching practice through my research-trained/problem-solver eyes, and only this year have I realised this is a big part of what Teaching as Inquiry is. However, sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day management of classes and workload, and it takes someone else observing your practice to remind and prompt you back into problem-solving mode. I really value my teaching being observed, and try to positively take on board feedback and more importantly act upon it (otherwise what is the point?) I also have to remind myself that while I set high standards for myself, I am just completing my second year out from TCol, and it takes time to incorporate all these wonderful and effective approaches and strategies into my normal/routine teaching practice.

A teacher friend mentioned a strategy to me earlier in the year regarding questioning techniques, and while I had such good intentions of incorporating it, I started this term with a couple of big things to introduce (SOLO taxonomy and Edmodo), and this idea was shelved away on one of my to-do lists.

Feedback from my latest observation was that while my questioning and discussion with the class was good, I was relying too heavily on the same students to answer my questions and drive the discussions, and there were some students that perhaps felt they could 'opt out' of class discussions because I wasn't calling on them enough to participate. I knew this, but the drive to get through content meant I was taking the first hands up to speed up our progress.

This prompted me to introduce the aforementioned technique to improve engagement of all students in my classes, and ramp up the accountability of all students.

The idea is a very simple one called popsicle sticks, whereby each student has their name written on a popsicle stick within a jar, and as questions are asked, their names are drawn at random - they don't feel I'm picking on anyone - and they have to attempt an answer. If they really can't answer (as I said to them, "we're not playing who wants to be a millionaire - there isn't that kind of pressure!"), then they can say they don't know, but (thanks to another idea I read ('no opt out': ), they have to finish by coming back to you with the answer, even if it involves getting another student to help build the answer (perhaps I could introduce this as the "phone a friend" segment of questioning?!). I remove the stick from the jar once they have answered a question, and only place them all back once everyone has had a question, even if that is spread over a couple of lessons. (This is something else to ponder though - do the students who have already answered questions then relax back and disengage because they know they won't be called again?)

I was transparent in introducing the technique to my classes, explaining that I was relying too heavily on the same students again and again, and although there was some groaning about it at first, I really believe that the quieter students felt more empowered to answer questions when they were called on, rather than having to overcome their quietness by actively putting themselves out there by volunteering an answer (although that is where I hope this will eventually lead). I made the whole thing lighter in tone, by admitting my inability to actually find popsicle sticks, and instead having to use the cocktail-type sticks you use for BBQ chicken etc at parties ;)

I asked one of my classes afterwards how they felt about it, and there were positive responses from both my 'usual suspects' and my quiet ones, which was reassuring. More importantly, I have found the engagement level of all of my students has increased, even although it may be by forced accountability, and it's such an easy thing to incorporate into my teaching that I know this is something I will continue to do for every class.


  1. Great reflective post and a very fun way to get everyone's voice heard!
    There is a free computer programme called "The Hat" ( which will draw names out of a hat in the same way.
    I use it for getting students' work to read out at the start of my lessons, then we peer grade it using SOLO taxonomy. To make it fun,I get a student to "draw" the names and show it on the projector.

  2. Love the 'phone a friend' idea, Andrea. I've used the popsicle sticks method for involving all kids and it has generally worked well, but hadn't thought of 'phone a friend'. Thanks!