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Home > Administrator's Desk Channel > Administrator's Desk Archive > Administrator's Desk Columnists > Larry Bell Archive > Larry Bell Article LARRY BELL



Somebody Needs You

Daily Participation:
One Key to Raising Achievement



This strategy for improving student achievement on state tests is one that Larry Bell includes in his "Closing the Achievement Gap Workshop -- Part 1." It is also included in his Educational Leadership article "Ten Strategies That Close the Achievement Gap."

If we are going to make certain that every child is successful in every class -- and thereby close the achievement gap by leaving nobody's child behind -- we must be sure that every student participates in every class every day.

Believe it or not -- I hope you don't, but I swear it is true -- I have found that some teachers allow students to come into class, put their heads down, and go to sleep. As a matter of fact, some teachers will see a student sleeping and say to the rest of the students, "Shhh, don't wake him up. We're going to have a good class for awhile."

Other teachers allow students to sit in their classes and not pay attention.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my contention that if that student is going to take a test -- whether it is a state achievement test, the SATs or ACTs, or a licensing test to become an accredited hairdresser or mechanic -- he or she must be aware and participating in every class. This is not just about testing. It is about preparing students for life. Students will not be successful if they are allowed to develop bad habits in our schools.

As teachers, how can we ensure that every student is actively participating in class every day? In my travels around the world, I have found that many teachers have developed systems that enable them to ensure full participation.

Popsicle sticks. I have seen this strategy used successfully in many elementary schools, but it can be easily adapted for use in all grades. With this strategy, the teacher writes each student's name on a Popsicle stick. They hold the sticks in their hand and pull out names at random as they ask questions. With a system such as this one, all students must pay attention because they never know when the teacher might call on them. Once the teacher pulls out a student's stick, the kid is not off the hook for the remainder of the class period; his or her stick is returned to the bunch.

Fishbowl technique. A similar system that I've seen people use is called the fishbowl technique. Teachers write each student's name on a slip of paper, place all of the name slips in a fishbowl, and draw names at random.

Index cards. When I was in the classroom, I had each student write his or her name on an index card. I also had students write on the cards the occupation they wanted to have when they grew up. As I was teaching, I'd shuffle the cards in my hands and pull out random names. I'd say things like, "John, you're going to take this question for me. Now, John, you say you're going to be an engineer, and I know you've been paying close attention because you need to be able to do that in order to be a great engineer -- which I know you will be." (Notice how I naturally incorporated what the child wanted to be into my questioning technique so I could make an even better connection with that student?)

Mini whiteboards. Many teachers use the mini whiteboard method to ensure complete participation. Each student has a mini whiteboard at his seat. At the same time, all students write an answer to the question that is posed. Then they hold up their answers so the teacher can see their responses.

Seating chart check-off. Other teachers use a seating chart with a transparency overlay. They make sure they ask each student at least one question each day. As they ask a question, they put a check mark next to the student's name on the seating chart. At the end of class they wipe off the transparency overlay so it is ready the for the next class meeting.

Call and response. In my workshops, and in my class when I was a teacher, another method I used to ensure 100 percent participation was the call-and-response method. This method is often employed in African-American and other church settings on Sunday mornings. When the reverend says something especially good or powerful or positive, she expects everybody to respond "Amen." In the class setting, I might ask all my students to say an answer aloud in unison, or I might start a statement and have the students complete it. By doing that, I can tell whether or not the class is with me as a whole. Secondly, I can tell whether or not individual students are able to give the answer in cadence with everyone else. Finally, it tells whether or not the students are interested in the material I am presenting.

Pair and group methods. Another method I used was to pair up students to work together to give answers. Having students work with a partner helped assure me that all students were participating. Other times I would arrange students into groups of four; I had them read a section of the text and develop questions to ask their classmates about that section. Again, I knew all students were playing an active role in reading the material and developing questions in their group.

Some teachers say to students, "The only time you're allowed to speak is when you raise your hand." Well I have this to say about that: There are many at-promise students who, upon hearing that, will immediately think, "If the only time I have to speak in here is when I raise my hand, then you can stick a fork in me right now, because I'm done."

If students are not paying attention or are even sleeping in class -- we cannot then blame parents for low achievement. I contend that we can reach every child. By using my strategies -- one of which is making sure that every single child participates every single day -- we can raise achievement.

My friends, somebody needs you.
Larry Bell