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09.25.13On Call and Response and Rigor

dataYesterday I was watching an outstanding kindergarten teacher teaching her little ones to read bar graphs.  She used Call and Response to help reinforce the definition of data.  “Another word for data is?” she would ask, with the class calling “information” in response. Her execution was pretty outstanding. The kids responded on-cue, crisply and with great energy.  They were engaged and focused and knew that another word for data was information.   But I found myself kind of restless watching and I couldn’t quite get over a bit of discomfort about accuracy and rigor.

WAS ‘information’ really another word for data? If it was could it be better? if so, could kindergarteners master, say, a more rigorous multi-word definition?   I started by asking myself what a better definition would be.  I came up with “information expressed in numbers.”  (I realize there can be non-numerical data but most data is numerical and for the purposes of their used for the next 10 years, that’s pretty much what we mean.) Could kindergarteners learn and use that definition? The benefit would be that they would not only have a better definition for ‘information’ but would build their technical vocabulary and their fluency with more mature syntax—they’d get familiar with ‘expressed’ as a verb and the abstract noun ‘information’ as its subject!  It would be challenging but worthy, I thought, to make Call and Responses use rigorous and more complex phrases rather than a word kids mostly already knew.  And while not all teachers could pull that off, this teacher, whose Call and Response technique was A+ certainly could. Maybe she could make a habit of it. Maybe her strength at Call and Response could be a lever to build vocabulary and syntax and make her class more rigorous.   It made me think about how many opportunities there are to make our academic Call and Responses not simple but challenging.

Tragedy, for example, is one of the most misused words in the English language.  It is forever showing up in news stories being made synonymous with really, really sad. But really tragedy is specifically when someone great (or in some parts great) is brought down through their own flaws, especially excessive pride or hubris.  How cool for older kids (9th grade?) to memorize a definition such as:

Teacher: “Tragedy, class?” 

Class: “The downfall of a hero by means of their own fatal flaw, especially hubris!” 

The class would, after ten or so iterations, have the words “downfall,” “fatal flaw” and “hubris” forever, but also familiarity with the arcane but common phrasing “by means of,” not to mention a really good definition of tragedy.  And I could call their attention to the common misperception of the word by adding a funny coda to my Call and Response:

Teacher: “What’s Tragedy, class?” 

Class: “The downfall of a hero by means of their own fatal flaw, especially hubris!” 

Teacher: “What’s hubris?

Class: “Pride! Overwhelming pride!”

Teacher: “I thought it just meant really sad.”

Class: “Bleach!!”

I might be over doing it here. I certainly wouldn’t use a full-length C and R like that every time. But I do think there are ways we could be geeky and technical and high standards about our definitions of things and use Call and Response to make that rigor more memorable and useful.



One Response to “On Call and Response and Rigor”

  1. Horatio Speaks
    September 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    This *old* film clip shows what kindergartners can do with algebra using this technique. Students were not merely memorising terms but practising ways of solving problems. And they loved it. When you read the backgrounds of the kids it’s even more amazing. Englemann was using “choral resounding”, as he calls it, fifty years ago. I find this beautiful:

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