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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.03.20Knikki Hernandez Engages Students Online with Three Types of Cold Call

Cold Call still works Online..

Later today we’ll be offering our first webinar for educators with advice and examples of remote learning. For those of you who are joining us we can’t wait to learn together. For those of you who miss it we’ll be posting the video afterwards and offering the session again.

One of the videos we’re going to show is of Knikki Hernanadez, who teaches Spanish at William Monroe HS in Virginia. Knikki shared video of a synchronous lesson (herself live with students at the same time) and the first thing we noticed was how well she used Cold Call.

[Sorry to say this video has been removed at the request of Knikki’s district. We hope to be able to share it again soon!]

Before I reflect a bit on her Cold Calling though, I want to shout out the way Knikki starts by setting clear expectations for the materials her students need. It may sound trivial but kids are in an entirely new setting without familiar habits. They are as likely to be sitting in bed as they are at a desk. Will they assume that means certain expectations for preparation? Probably not. Better to take a minute to make sure they have the right materials. When Knikki does this you can see a student get up to go get un lapiz.

When Knikki starts class she begins using Cold Call right away. Cold Call is doubly important in an online world. It ensures that students are actively participating at a time when incentives to tune out and become a passive learner are even stronger than in a bricks and mortar classroom. Students may wonder if the teacher even knows they’re there. A friend of mine said this about her second grader’s experience with online learning: “Both my girls are pretty “meh” (sometimes downright negative) about their class meetings online, but nothing makes them happier than if they’re cold called to speak. It’s like they truly feel seen & heard; nothing makes them light up more.” But of course even if you don’t get Cold Called seeing others do so reminds you that learning–even online–is a participation sport. That’s very very important right now.

To dig a little deeper, Knikki uses three different types of Cold Call:

First she uses it for some Q and A it to signal engagement right from the outset. The sooner you do it the more normal it is and the more it prepares students to be engaged and active.

Later Knikki does something that I love. She gives her students three minutes to work independently–but synchronously–to fill out a list of definitions. Then she ‘backstops‘ the independent work by Cold Calling… in other words she uses the Cold Call to make sure students completed the task. There’s no hiding. As a result of her Cold Call backstop, Knikki was able to use a super simple, low-tech activity that was familiar to students from their classroom lives to get everyone working independently.

Somebody cue the Rocky theme; that’s a big win.

Lastly, just before this independent task Knikki uses Cold Call to 1) check students understand the independent task before she invests time in it and 2) to remind students beforehand that Cold Call was how she rolled. Students were likely thinking: “I bet she checks our answers by Cold Calling.”

[UPDATE 4.5.20] On Twitter, a reader asked Knikki some great questions:

Knikki’s response is really helpful to teachers trying to Cold Call or to install expectations and systems in their online ‘classrooms.’ Definitely worth a read:

My online classes range in size from around 10 to 20ish at any given time. Before I started teaching I had a zoom meeting with the kids and told them that there were some systems and routines that needed to be put in place so that we could enjoy and benefit from the class as much as possible. What I said was this: “You should know that all classes are being recorded. Also, please change your view of the class to ‘speaker view’ so that you can minimize screen distractions and get the most out of the class. Also, be mindful of your surroundings. If you can see yourself, we can also see you and everything in the background. Additionally, do the best of your ability to find a quiet place to work, and when speaking, check to see that you are unmuted. Lastly, please turn your cameras on if you’re able. For those students who do not turn their camera on, we will all respect their wishes.”

In this particular case, I knew my audience, so I did not mute the students before asking the questions. I also knew that I wanted the beginning of the session to feel seamless so that the students felt at ease in this new platform. Had there been background noise, I would have muted the individual student. Also, this was the beginning of the lesson, so I usually throw my kids some softball questions to get them primed for cold calling. For me, the speed in which they answer is really based on the question, their preparedness, and in this environment, the mute button. If it’s a bigger class, I ask everyone to double check that they’re muted and when I cold call, and it usually takes a second or two for them to unmute themselves when they answer, but like I said, I knew my audience in this scenario.

With regards to cold calling in breakouts, I usually wait for whole group discussion because I want my students to process the information and practice the language before I start cold calling. A cold call for me is as much about well-timed execution as it is about accountability. In my classes, it would be a bit premature because for language students, stress in speaking before their peers is even higher than in a non-language course, so I give them feedback while they’re in breakouts and then cold call during whole group so they’re set up for success.

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