As many of you know I’m in the midst of revising Teach Like a Champion to reflect all the things champion teachers have taught me since I wrote the first version four years ago. This morning–temperature in the single digits, wind whipping at the windows in the pre-dawn darkness; I felt like a novelist!–I was writing about Cold Call. Specifically I was trying to share some of what I’ve learned about slowing down with your Cold Call. Anyway here’s a brief excerpt from what I wrote…the final version of Cold Call will contain three or four updates like this one.
Manage the Pause (aka Slow Call): While watching Troy Prep math teacher Katie Bellucci one morning, I was struck by something distinctive about her use of Cold Call. She’d ask a question, pause, and then named the student she wanted to answer (which is classic Cold Call style). But she was, I noticed, especially intentional about her pause. “What’s forty percent of sixty?” she might ask. Then before she called on a student she would tap her head or say something like, “Get it in your head,” to remind students to think during the pause. And then she’d stretch her pause, just a few extra seconds, but she was clearly slowing it down and trying to be intentional about making sure the thinking that was supposed to happen during the pause really did happen. She recognized the pause in question-pause-name is where the cognitive work happens and she managed that moment intentionally. And then of course, we started to notice the ways that other champions did similar things.
For example, Evan Stoudt of Collegiate Academies in New Orleans was working on slope-intercept form in a recent Algebra class. “Remember, you have these points on the line,” Stoudt told his students as he circled two ordered pairs, (0,4) and (-8,0), on the board. “Now, visualize it. Mental Math. Is the slope positive or negative? Remember when I say ‘Mental Math’ it means I am Cold Calling,” he reminded them in a great example of predictable Cold Call. Then, after a few more seconds, he added, “Thumbs up when you have it.” This allowed his scholars to show him when they were ready and ensure enough time but also held them accountable for saying they’d thought the question through; something the predictable Cold Call created an incentive for them not to merely pretend to have done. Later, Stoudt showed his students another ordered pair and asked the same question with a predictable Cold Call. Again, he advised his students to use their time to think but this time there was no thumbs-up. Having managed the pause the first time, he made them responsible for applying the lesson the second time around.
Over time, the Uncommon TLAC team and I began to recognize the power of slowing down with Cold Call. This was interesting. Originally, I’d conceived of Cold Call as a technique most useful for going fast–it allowed you to ping questions around the room quickly and keep energy and engagement levels high. And to be fair, that’s a real benefit of Cold Call. But with slow Cold Call—Slow Call, if you will—turned out to be at least as powerful. Consider, for example, the power of combining Cold Call with Wait Time. If you give students 8 or ten or twelve seconds of think time, the Cold Call provides a bit of constructive tension and accountability, even more so if you give students thirty seconds. Consider how well Cold Call meshes with Transparent Wait Time [that’s telling students that they’ll have lots of think time so that they actually use the Wait Time you give them].
Let’s say you’re reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver and you want to ask students to reflect on this quotation from an article about Dystopian fiction:
Dystopian books can have seemingly utopian elements — with things not appearing too bad even though they are bad; Brave New World is a perfect example. There are even novels, such as The Shape of Things to Come, that mix dystopian and actual utopian elements.
You might say, “Let’s apply that to what we’ve read so far. I want each of you to take thirty seconds to do two things. First, come up with one really telling piece of evidence that the Community is a dystopian society. And then find at least one element that is Utopian. What’s the thing that’s right that makes the wrong things palatable. It’s a hard question, so I’m going to give you thirty seconds of pure think time.” That’s a pretty rigorous question, but without sufficient Think Time, you’d undercut that rigor. In this case, think also of how powerful students knowing that a benign and supportive Cold Call at the end of that thirty seconds is. If you said, “It’s a hard question so I’m going to give you thirty seconds of pure think time and then I’m going to Cold Call a couple of you to share your thinking,” you’d have built in the structure that makes sure students use those thirty seconds to do their very best thinking. You’d be managing the pause, and managing it for rigor to push the Think Ratio.
But it’s not just Wait Time that you could combine with Cold Call to boost your Think Ratio. You could just as easily make your question about elements of Utopia an Everybody Writes moment. “It’s a hard question so I’m going to give you thirty seconds to write at least one complete sentence describing how there are elements of Utopia within the Community and then I’ll Cold Call a few of you to share what you wrote about.” Or you could focus on discussion and make your thirty seconds a Turn and Talk. “I’m going to give you thirty seconds to discuss what elements of Utopia you can find amidst the Dystopia right now. Be ready to share what you or your partner said right after because I’ll be Cold Calling.” The accountability piece lets you harness the benefits of Turn and Talk while mitigating its downsides (you don’t ever really know how on-point those discussions are).
I recently watched Amy Parsons of Leadership Prep Bed-Stuy Middle Academy do this in her 7th grade Reading class. Students were reading Of Mice and Men, and after one passage, Amy asked her students “How does George react and how do we see that he’s conflicted? How do we see that he has at least two different reactions to this? I want to give you thirty seconds to re-read pages 97 and 98,” she said, (a great example of predictable Wait Time), advising them, “Skim through looking for how George is conflicted.” After a full thirty seconds of think time Amy said, “Books down in 3, 2, and 1. I want you to tell your partner what you found. Turn and Talk.” This activity went on for another thirty seconds or so and coming out of it, Amy announced, “We’ll start with Roslyn and then we’ll go to Jalen. What’s one of the ways you thought George was conflicted?” The question was rigorous with a high Think Ratio. The Turn and Talk allowed Amy to boost the Participation Ratio (and the Think Ratio a bit more as well) by letting everyone talk through their answer. It made for more polished contributions to the discussion that followed. And the Cold Call at the end ensured that everyone made the most of the opportunity to reflect. It got the most out of all the teaching tools Amy used.