Cold-calling is having somewhat of a renaissance. The strategy, where a teacher selects a particular student to answer a question they asked to the class, chimes nicely with popular areas such as retrieval practice and Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. Used under the right circumstances, it can be an effective strategy that encourages students to participate in the classroom and enhance their learning.
However, some worry that it can also be intimidating. The big question has to be: does cold-calling help shy students, or does it place undue stress on them? And does this affect all students the same, or does gender play a part? This blog seeks to explore those questions...
What the research says
One recent study investigated whether cold-calling is effective in getting students to participate in classroom discussions and if it makes them feel comfortable doing so.
The results showed that generally speaking, frequent cold-calling led to students being more likely to answer questions voluntarily and participate in classroom discussions. But these findings become particularly interesting when it comes to cold-calling girls:
- Prior to the study, girls were less comfortable with voluntarily participating in classroom discussions than boys.
- In classrooms where cold-calling was rare, girls were less likely to answer questions voluntarily than boys.
- In classrooms where cold-calling was frequent, girls answered the same number of questions voluntarily as boys.
These results present a sort of double win: not only does cold-calling seem to benefit all students, it is also particularly effective in encouraging girls, who may have previously been reluctant to participate, to answer questions.
So, how does cold-calling help learning?
Participating is one thing – learning is another. So, why is cold-calling an interesting strategy?
The answer is simple: it gets your students to engage in retrieval practice. When you ask a question to the entire class, all your students will start thinking of the answer. The act of retrieving that information is enough to strengthen their memory of it.
Participating in classroom discussions is also a great way to enhance students’ learning, because it gets them to organise ideas, form arguments and evaluate evidence. This consolidates the content even further into their long-term memory.
But where does this leave shy students? Shy students may know the answer to the question but just aren’t confident enough to raise their hand and answer it. Cold-calling shy students allows you to make the decision for them, which will eventually increase their confidence when speaking up in the classroom, and enhance their learning.
How to use cold-calling in your classroom
Evidence indicates that cold-calling can help your students learn, if used under the right conditions. Here are some strategies to consider for using cold-calling in your classroom:
Cold-call your students more often
To get the most benefit out of cold-calling, make sure you do it often, starting early on in the academic year. This will allow students to get used to being cold-called and expect it in your classroom instead of being anxious when it happens.
Make sure you’re using cold-calling the right way
Address your entire classroom with the question first, and then pick one student to answer. This will ensure that all of your students, including shy girls, are paying attention and engaging in retrieval practice before you select one of them.
Ensure that your classroom is psychologically safe
Creating a psychologically safe classroom is essential to your students’ confidence. This is especially important for shy girls: when they feel safe and comfortable in your classroom and are less afraid of mistakes, they will be more likely to participate in classroom discussions and answer questions voluntarily
Build good relationships with your students
Keep in mind that cold-calling may impact your students’ perception of you. The results we looked at earlier came from classrooms where the teacher was rated by their students as respectful and supportive. Therefore, it pays dividends to reflect on how to create and maintain similar relationships with your students.
Overall, cold-calling can be a very effective way to enhance student learning, because it prompts students to engage in retrieval practice and classroom discussions. Studies like the one covered in this blog suggest this may be especially true for female students, who may have been more hesitant to answer in particular. But cold-calling in and of itself is not enough – it has to be accompanied with a psychologically safe classroom and good relationships with between teachers and students.