Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teachers, try this: a hands-down jar

At Peak School in Hong Kong, a teacher introduced me to a concept I find brilliant.

It's called a "hands-down jar." It contains a Popsicle stick for every student in the class. (My photo somehow managed to avoid showing that a name is written on each stick.) 

The purpose of the jar is both to equalize classroom participation and to encourage all students to pay attention. When the teacher asks a question, s/he may opt to get an answer by blindly picking a name from the jar rather than by calling on kids raising their hands.

Though I am sure you immediately get the benefits of this, I'll spell out that the jar has a positive effect on both kinds of students: the kind who regularly participate and the kind who don't.

Sometimes the ones who participate do so with a level of enthusiasm that can be distracting—waving their raised hands, saying "oo, oo," half-standing up, etc. When the teacher is using a hands-down jar, students are simply not allowed to raise their hands. This not only prevents disruption by certain students (as well-meaning as they are) but also forces all students to reflect on the question because none know who will have to answer. It is a clever way for teachers to coax out participation from the quieter students without deliberately singling them out. It almost feels like a game.

The more vocal students are not always fans of this "game" because it will often mean one less question they get to answer (or at least show they can answer). And of course the more reserved students are typically not fans because it may put them on the spot.

But I see it as all-pro, no con. It forces the eager kids to accept that there is a time to reign it in. It forces the shy kids to take baby steps outside their comfort zone. With the hands-down jar, no matter who gets called on, everyone grows.

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