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Four teacher habits that can make cold calling easy on your students

Cold calling can be a stressful experience for students, but these four teacher habits can help to reduce anxiety.

It is not advisable to always call on students who raise their hands when you ask questions, as this approach neglects those who do not participate in such a manner. Innerkern's applied education researchers discovered that, on average, less than four students in an Indian classroom regularly raise their hands to answer teacher questions. To ensure greater inclusion in classroom discussions, researchers recommend using ice cream sticks with students' names written on them and implementing cold calling as a strategy. Cold calling involves the teacher calling on non-volunteering students to answer questions, and it has been shown to increase student participation, particularly in activities like whole class discussions. However, it is worth noting that cold calling may also heighten student anxiety, possibly due to their fear of negative evaluation.


To address the potential negative impact of cold calling on students' emotions, teachers can combine it with other teacher habits to create a more supportive learning environment. By attaching another teacher habit to Cold Calling, you can make your students feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in front of the class. The use of random call, a specific version of cold calling where the instructor selects students using a randomised list or ice cream sticks with their names, has been proven to enhance equity in participation. In this post we explore four teacher habits you can use along with cold calling to reduce student anxiety.


Teacher Habit One

Thought Time

Thought Time is a valuable strategy that teachers can use to reduce student anxiety during cold calling. Dr. Mary Budd Rowe's research in the 1970s led to the identification of two types of thought time in the classroom, which had significant implications for learning. She found that incorporating longer wait times positively impacted student success in learning. As a teacher, you can use this concept to create a more supportive and comfortable environment for students during cold calling.


When employing Thought Time during cold calling, you must implement two pauses after asking a question. The first pause, lasting between 30 to 60 seconds, allows students to have sufficient time to process the question and formulate their responses. This time is crucial as it encourages students to think deeply about their answers before being called upon. By offering this thoughtful pause, students feel less rushed and pressured, reducing their anxiety associated with being put on the spot.


The second thought time comes into play after a student has responded to the cold call. As a teacher, you should pause for 10 to 20 seconds before providing any further response or feedback. This second pause creates a space for reflection, allowing the student who answered and the entire class to carefully consider the response given. Moreover, it shows that the teacher values the student's input and is taking the time to absorb their contribution, fostering a more positive and inclusive learning environment.


By incorporating Thought Time as a deliberate practice during cold calling, teachers can enhance the quality of student-teacher interactions. Allowing these thoughtful pauses between asking questions and responding provides students with a sense of support and validation. It encourages active thinking and participation, ultimately reducing student anxiety related to the fear of immediate judgement or criticism. As a result, students may feel more at ease sharing their ideas and perspectives, leading to increased confidence and engagement in classroom discussions.


Teacher Habit Two

Error Framing

Using Error Framing as a strategy can be highly beneficial for reducing student anxiety during cold calling and other active learning activities. Research has shown that students may experience increased anxiety when they fear negative evaluation from their peers during such activities. However, teachers' error management behaviour can have a positive impact on students' attitudes towards learning from mistakes. By adopting Error Framing as a pedagogical tool, educators can create a more supportive learning environment and alleviate student apprehension.


Error Framing involves presenting mistakes or misconceptions as natural and useful parts of the learning process. When implementing this strategy, teachers can emphasise to students that errors are not only acceptable but also essential for growth and development. By reframing mistakes as opportunities for learning and understanding, teachers can help students view errors in a more positive light, reducing the fear and anxiety associated with being wrong in front of their peers.


In a study conducted by Katelyn M. Cooper, Virginia R. Downing, and Sara E. Brownell, the perceived impact of various active learning strategies on student anxiety was examined. While cold call was associated with increased anxiety among students, clicker questions and group work elicited mixed responses, leading researchers to suggest Error Framing as an effective approach to mitigate student apprehension. By incorporating this technique, teachers can create a culture of psychological safety in the classroom, where students feel comfortable taking risks and participating actively without the fear of being judged negatively for their mistakes.


Practising Error Framing empowers students to embrace errors as valuable learning opportunities and view them as stepping stones toward better understanding. Teachers can deliver encouraging messages, such as "mistakes are an integral part of the learning journey" or "you can learn and grow from your mistakes." By consistently employing such positive reinforcement, educators can foster a growth mindset among students, where challenges and errors are seen as essential components of the learning process rather than sources of anxiety.


By reframing mistakes and misconceptions as natural and valuable aspects of learning, teachers can create a supportive and encouraging environment that promotes student engagement and growth. Emphasising the importance of learning from errors can lead to increased confidence among students, encouraging them to actively participate in classroom discussions and embrace the learning journey with a positive outlook.


Teacher Habit Three

Question Bounce

Question Bounce is an effective teacher habit that reduces student anxiety during cold calling. By incorporating this habit, teachers create a collaborative and supportive learning environment where students can engage in formative assessment and build on each other's ideas. The process involves the teacher posing a question, allowing a suitable pause for thinking, calling on one student for an initial answer (the pounce), and then bouncing the answer to another student who can add to or elaborate on the response. This approach encourages deeper thinking and understanding while boosting student participation and engagement in the classroom.


To enhance the effectiveness of the Question Bounce habit, teachers should prepare for both the pounce and bounce stages of questioning. Anticipating different responses allows educators to think strategically about how to challenge other students based on these answers. By doing so, teachers create a dynamic and thought-provoking learning experience that keeps students actively involved in the discussion. Regularly incorporating the Question Bounce habit into the classroom routine familiarises students with the process, making them more at ease and confident in responding during cold calling and other interactive activities.


Complementing the use of the Question Bounce Habit with other effective questioning strategies, such as Think-Pair-Share, can further reduce student anxiety during cold calling. By combining these techniques, teachers foster collaboration and peer learning, giving students additional opportunities to discuss and refine their ideas before sharing them with the whole class. This approach empowers students to feel more comfortable and supported during cold calling scenarios, as they have already had the chance to process their thoughts with a partner.


Through consistent and thoughtful use of the Question Bounce habit and other complementary strategies, educators create a positive and inclusive learning environment that minimises student anxiety during cold calling. By encouraging collaboration, formative assessment, and deeper understanding, teachers promote active participation and boost student confidence in expressing their ideas. As a result, students feel more supported and engaged, leading to a more enriching and enjoyable learning experience for all.


Teacher Habit Four

Group Cold Call

Jennifer K. Knight, Sarah B. Wise, and Scott Sieke conducted a study on the effectiveness of Group Cold Call, where groups of students are randomly called upon instead of individual students. The researchers found that Group Cold Call is less intimidating to students compared to calling on individuals, while still promoting student engagement and participation. Implementing Group Cold Call is relatively easy, even in large classrooms, as instructors can use various methods such as die rolling, random number generators, the index card system, or a computerised version of the index card system to call on groups.


One key advantage of Group Cold Call is that it provides students with a sense of support and collective responsibility during discussions. Being called upon as a group allows students to collaborate and share ideas together, reducing the pressure on individual students. As a result, students are more likely to feel comfortable participating actively in classroom discussions, leading to increased engagement and improved learning outcomes.


Another benefit of Group Cold Call is that it encourages meaningful discussions among students. By giving students sufficient time (at least 90 seconds) to discuss questions before responding, instructors foster deeper reasoning and questioning during group discussions. This extended discussion time leads to more in-depth exploration of ideas and concepts, promoting critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving among students.


Furthermore, Group Cold Call is a flexible strategy that can be adapted to different classroom settings. Instructors can choose from various methods to call on groups, making it suitable for both small and large classes. The ease of implementation and the positive impact on student engagement make Group Cold Call a valuable tool for reducing student anxiety during cold calling and creating a more inclusive and interactive learning environment.

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