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01.31.14Kate Butrie’s Show Call & the “Invisible Hand”: A Guest Post by Joaquin Hernandez (Video)

At TLAC towers, we recently viewed a clip of Math teacher Kate Butrie of Williamsburg Collegiate implementing the Show Call technique. (Show Call is Cold Calling students by taking their written work and projecting it; if you’re looking for it in your copy of TLAC, you won’t find it; it’s new to TLAC 2.0!). What really impressed us was the culture Kate has built around her Show Call- one where students take ownership for their learning by actively checking their work, asking for help, revising mistakes, and self-monitoring their level of understanding. 

We decided to dig a little deeper so Joaquin Hernandez spent some time analyzing the clip and taking to Kate about her teaching before writing this fantastic post.


Kate’s Show Call begins like many others. She picks up a student’s completed Do Now, puts it up under the document camera, and begins walking the class through work everyone can now see. Her expectation is that students check their work against the exemplar that’s being projected. (she’s teaching them to self-monitor). Before she moves on to the next problem, she routinely asks her 8th graders, “Questions?” At this moment, a teacher might ordinarily hear crickets, but in Kate’s case, students eagerly raise their hands to ask questions about the math. Even better, Kate’s students respond directly to their peer’s questions. This Show Call discussion then continues for the remaining six Do Now problems.


So we started wondering: how did she get her class culture to the point? When we asked Kate directly, a few key themes emerged:

  • The “Invisible Hand”: The culture you see in this clip is the culmination of key Systems and Routines that Kate implemented with such fidelity that they now seem invisible. When Kate first rolled out Show Call, she introduced systems to tightly manage what students did at each stage. The more consistent she was about reinforcing these systems and expectations, the more they became habit for students. Now, students do more while she does less. Although it might seem like students drive the culture entirely on their own, an “invisible hand” of systems also guides their actions.
  • Culture of Error: Kate made it a point to emphasize how essential it was for her to build a culture where students embrace error as a necessary part of the learning process. Without this culture, students will be reluctant to talk about what they don’t understand, regardless of the systems you’ve designed to hold them accountable for doing so.


In the table below, we peel the curtain back to reveal (in more depth and detail) the “how” behind the class culture that you see come alive at key moments this clip:


Time Code What Stands Out
Kate’s Behind-the-Scenes Work
@00:08:08:04 Kate takes a student’s completed Do Now without saying anything to the student, and the student doesn’t even flinch.By avoiding narration during the “take”, she normalizes Show Call and avoids turning it into a distracting “event.”We then see her allude to their strong performances on yesterday’s last exit slip. By doing so, Kate said she was trying to boost their confidence for the Do Now, which requires them to apply yesterday’s material. Show Call as a Daily Routine: Kate reflects, “This is the way we review the Do Now every day – it’s always a ‘Show Call.’  In the beginning of the year, I set (and then reinforced) the expectation that everyone’s work will be shown at some point and that we would all be respectful of the work that is shown.” She points out that she rarely tells students that she’ll Show Call their work before she takes it, so they’ve come to expect that. And because she always Show Calls Do Nows in the same way, it doesn’t feel like a “gotcha” because everyone knows it’s coming.Exit Slip Tracker: When students get their tickets back, they’re expected to record their mastery for each objective on a visual tracker that they keep in their binder. This is a powerful way to give students regular feedback and give them a clearer understanding of what they do and do not need help with. This, in turn, prepares them to self-monitor and advocate for what they need and invests them in the process of learning from their mistakes.
@00:09:38:12@00:11:41:22 Without any prompting from Kate, students pick up their pens to make revisions or additions to their work. Students want to know what the right answer was and how to get it.Kate then ends the clip saying, “Take 10 seconds to finish up your work there if you didn’t’ already do so with pen.” Revision in Pen (Only): Students in Kate’s class are expected to check their work against exemplars, and if they spot mistakes or incomplete work, revise it in pen. Since the original work was done in pencil, this makes the process of revision visible (switching to pens is easy to see) and therefore easier to enforce.  It also eliminates time-wasting erasing of errors, and makes it easier for her to identify which problems (and to which extent) students needed to revise–so it also helps with collecting data.At the beginning of the year, Kate taught students to pick up their pens whenever the Do Now timer sounds off. At first, students would not always follow suit, and she would have to give them warnings or demerits. Over time, this system became habit, and now students do it without her having to ask.
@00:10:26:06 With Kate’s simple prompt “questions?”—we see Delilah ask her own question about the work she sees on the board. It’s clear she’s carefully checked her work against the student exemplar that’s being Show Called. Delilah is not afraid to reveal to her teacher and peers that she doesn’t understand something.  This moment is a testament to the profound Culture of Error that Kate established in her classroom. Show Call Q-and-A: Every day, Kate follows up her Show Call rundown with Q-and-A. This gives students an opportunity to surface any remaining questions. Aside from helping clarify misunderstandings, the Q-and-A socializes students to self-monitor their understanding, gives them practice steering Show Call discussions, and ultimately reinforces students’ ownership over their written work.“Culture of (Discussing) Error”: At the start of the year, Kate emphasizes the point that everyone makes mistakes, and that making mistakes is necessary for learning. To reinforce this, she normalizes it, and gives them a lot of practice and coaching around how to help each other fix mistakes. Outside of frequent Show Calls, one example of these daily “at bats” is the post-“Brain Buster” Turn and Talk. After each daily “Brain Buster,” Kate gives students a minute to check in with their partner to discuss mistakes they made and get help from each other. When she first rolled out these Turn and Talks, she modeled what giving quality feedback looks like and doesn’t look like. She might say something like: “It’s not helpful to say, ‘Yeah, you got #12 wrong because it was 10, and you put -10.’  They know what the right answer is, I just gave it to all of you!  Instead, try to identify the reason behind their wrong answer and then walk through how to do it correctly with them.” After she releases them to Turn and Talk, she Circulates and steps in to coach individual students through these conversations if she notices they’re having difficulty. This exercise not only Normalizes Error, but it establishes a culture of Peer-to-Peer accountability. The task of addressing error becomes a team sport.
@00:10:28:06 Delilah and her classmates discuss her thoughtful question about the Show Called work while using precise, academic vocabulary. Right is Right: While reflecting on this moment, Kate says, “Delilah’s thoughtful question I think comes from a culture of ‘Right is Right,’ and it starts with me.  I push myself to use correct math vocabulary, even self-correcting when I say something that could be said more precisely (for instance, if I call something a line but it’s really a line segment, I’ll say ‘excuse me, I mean line segment.’)  I expect the same from the students.  I try very hard not to let little things slide, but politely and gently remind them to use correct terminology.”
@00:10:43:03@00:10:55:08 Kate prompts with: “Who can respond to that?” Her students’ hands immediately go up. In this moment, she strives to hold students accountable to explaining not only why the answer is right, but why the wrong answer was wrong. Kate asks, “Can anyone add on to why it’s not negative four?” Hands go up, and Kate takes one. Batch Process: Once a student poses a question, Kate routinely takes several comments in a row to help students get used to answering each other’s questions. This also keeps kids accountable to tracking the arc of Show Call conversations. They know the teacher could call on them to help or respond to a peer at a moment’s notice. Keeping Discussion “Inside the Box”: Although Kate allows students to steer the direction of the Q-and-A discussion, she still lightly manages it to make sure discussion stays “Inside the box.” One way she does this is by mediating student comments with prompts like “who can respond to that?’ or “can anyone add?” This encourages students to respond directly to the comment or question at hand and prevents them from taking the conversation “outside the box.”  Additionally, she only directs questions back to the class that she thinks are worthy of further discussion (i.e. those involving conceptual misunderstandings as opposed to simple computation errors). Often times, teachers might feel as though stepping into or mediating student discussions reduces rigor. In this case, it helps her keep rigor and Think Ratio high.


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2 Responses to “Kate Butrie’s Show Call & the “Invisible Hand”: A Guest Post by Joaquin Hernandez (Video)”

  1. Catherine Malcolm
    March 16, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Hi Doug
    I love these videos. They are so helpful in showing me what I am doing well and where I can improve. I would love, though, to see some from early in the year when teachers are implementing the routines and systems that you discuss here. It can be a bit disheartening to see such amazing discussions and fantastic work being done, and feel like ‘My class can’t do that’. I would love to see how these champion teachers get their kids to this point. Oh, and I am very excited about TLAC 2.0!
    Thanks 🙂

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