More on teaching tactics: roll call, do now

We already talked about Roll Call– simply calling people’s names from the attendance sheet before class and marking them in or absent, whether or not you use that information.  The book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov talks about threshold techniques, which is the way you greet students as they enter, and DH has picked roll call to be his threshold technique.

Do Now is another technique that can be useful in technical classes.  Basically you have a little problem for them to solve that they should be able to solve in a short amount of time at the beginning of class.  It’s either written on the board or given in a handout that they pick up as they enter.  It’s a way to check for understanding and to get the ball rolling and the brain activated for class.

DH has been talking about the interaction between the two.

Roll call (effectively his threshold technique), strengthens the utility of the Do Now. People show up early for the roll call, and so they’re there to start on the do-now before class. It’s gaining him probably 5 minutes of time on 3/4 of the students.  And he can use the time since he’s going right up to the bell every session.

Do Nows and quizzes are pedagogically essentially the same thing– quick checks for student understanding and an incentive to keep up with the material.  However, the Do Now has many psychological and mechanical advantages over the quiz.  Students like the Do Now better than the quiz.   They feel a lot different.  They’re less intimidating. And he doesn’t have to grade them.  They feel more like they’re for the student learning than the end result of a grade.

He was using quizzes for attendance, feedback to the professor, and an incentive for them to keep up with the material. Now roll-call and cold-calling are filling those needs.

me: I’ve definitely been doing more cold calling.  I’ve been trying to learn a new student name or two every class period  so that kid gets picked on.  Once I’ve picked on them, they’re more likely to ask questions.

DH: I’ve realized that cold calling can be a learning tool, and hopefully that comes through when I walk them through anything they’re struggling with, and the way there’s no judgement on wrong answers.  Anyway, off to class.

I hope it went well!  Do you think we should allow students to sink or swim on their own, or is nudging them ok?

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17 Responses to “More on teaching tactics: roll call, do now”

  1. eemusings Says:

    My totally worthless opinion: I think it’s fine to nudge, even desirable.

    Even at university, we had roll call in every class. I think that varied by faculty though.

  2. Leah Says:

    I take attendance by seating chart rather than role call (expediency, and that whole high-school-must-be-correct thing). I do a daily question, which is my “do now.” My utter frustration, however, is that many students do not do the daily question. They have a science notebook, and I actually give them a grade for taking notes in class, answering the daily question, and doing small assignments. Even then, I have had times when I grade where I see students write down the question and then write no answer, even though we went over the answer together in class to get the ball rolling, as it were.

    I do love the do now, but I struggle with encouraging participation. Thoughts on your end?

    Also, I think it’s fine to nudge students. I had a mentor professor once who said “struggling students will hang themselves either way. Do you want to be the one who hands them the rope?”

  3. Kingston Says:

    I think I use the “cold call” notion to improve my own experience as a student. That is to say, I seat myself up front, where eye contact with the prof is easy, and therefore pretty much ensure that I get cold-called fairly often. Typical of older students, right? It’s true for me that once called on, even if my answer is incorrect, the ice is broken and the whole situation seems more collaborative and less intimidating. I never thought about cold-calling as being a sort of service to the student, but I can see how it is, and I’m glad (at least some) professors think about that.

    • Rumpus Says:

      The biggest issue I believe holds my students back is getting them to “own” their education, or (without the buzzspeak) making them realize that they have to “engage”, or (let me try that again) a lack of “involvement”, or (surely I can construct meaningful English sentences about my life’s work) their insufficient level of caring about the material and resultant insufficient studying/learning efforts.

      The best classes I have had always included a single student who was willing to ask any on-topic question that came to mind. That one student acted like the tidemarker. Each time he/she asked a question I would glance across the class and gauge the “tells” from the other students. Usually 1/3 to 2/3 of the class were interested in any given question…so I knew the approximate aggregate understanding of the class based on the questions of that one student. That knowledge allowed me to target the pace of material accurately, and as a result the rising tide (of a well-targeted pace and a thorough coverage of any topics that one student found confusing) lifted most boats. It may be somewhat accurate to call that one student a bellwether. Most students are a silent mass, and only the bellwethers will give you info about the future performance of the class on exams, etc.

      (Aside: unfortunately, such students come along once every couple years it seems, and the remaining 3/4 or more of the classes I struggle to simultaneously explain complex ideas so the class will be ready for their next lab, while gauging understanding of multiple interrelated and dependent topics across tens of individuals.)

      As a student I was often one of the silent, so I believe I understand why the masses are quiet. Unfortunately, as a professor, what I see is that they care less about learning the material than I care that they learn the material. So, any student who sits in the front hoping to get called on gets a good student award from me.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I’m sure there’s data on this, but my personal experience is that Socratic techniques, including cold calling, are much more effective than allowing students the option of sitting there passively. Of course, the students who would choose passivity are exactly the ones who need to be pushed to engage.

  5. The frugal ecologist Says:

    All good points. I used to do an in class quiz like DH to achieve multiple objectives (attendance & concepts). However I didn’t grade them & some students didn’t even try.

    This semester I switched to graded online quizzes for content & I do record attendance for participation but I know all the students in my 25 person class so I don’t do it aloud.

    This combination of roll call & initial question sounds like it works well (students coming early to class is great!) so I will have to think about what type of questions would be effective for my course. (& I sort of dread roll call as a teacher – I get a mental image of me as the teacher in ferris buellers day off….Bueller?…….Bueller?)

    • Rumpus Says:

      I am a roll-call-nazi. Below I’ll give my approach, here is the reasoning. Primarily, I’m trying to nudge my students to put in effort learning the material, which includes showing up to class. So their average attendance is 10% of their total grade. Secondarily, I want to have a clear demarcation of the start of class, so that they leave behind whatever they had been doing and shift gears to learning about this material. Tertiary, I want evidence of student engagement, which helps me estimate student effort (useful when the student asks me what he/she can do to better learn the material) and can be effective in justifying overall grades (e.g., defending against grade complaints). Yet, taking attendance can suck up a bunch of time if you let it, and students will complain about it because the vocal complainers like to show up late or skip class altogether. So I want to minimize the time it takes and the wiggle-room in the rubric.

      Approach:
      I print up an attendance sheet for every class session that does not have an exam or quiz. I show up a few minutes early (does good things for your class evals), then when my phone says that the official class time has started (so no one complains that my watch was fast), I start naming names from the top of the list. I call each name once: “Mr Altham?” Wait about half a second, then if they have not responded I say “No,” and call the next name. I put checkmarks next to the names of each person who responds when I call his/her name. On a normal day it only takes a minute or so to go through my roll. If students show up after I call their names, they do not get counted present. If students are talking when I start roll, I start talking, then break off, stand silent, and stare daggers at them. If they do not quiet down I may repeat that verbal technique, then I usually say something loudly, e.g.,, “Ms Jones, take your conversation outside, class is starting.”

      Occasionally I will not call roll and just silently run down the list at the start of class and mark people present/absent…but I think it helps the students to realize that I know when they show up (on time) and when they do not.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I sometimes will say, “Bueller? Bueller?” when someone is absent. I fear the day when nobody in class gets that reference anymore, for then I will be truly old.

  6. Pamela Says:

    I think it’s fine to nudge students. The point is to get them to learn, after all! I like the Do Now concept. I would have done better with that than with quizzes since the focus would have been on learning and not points/a grade.

  7. Miser Mom Says:

    I have students “talk to your neighbor”. That is, when I ask a question that students are reluctant to answer, I want them *all* to struggle with it. So I tell them to tell their answer to the person next to them. Sometimes I even have to say, “the person next to you will hear you better if you move your lips!”. Only after they’ve had a bit of time talking to each other do I ask the whole class for an answer.

    Sometimes that’s the way that I discover that they’re all really murky on a concept, and I can back up and do a quick recap. Often, though, the students pretty much all “get it”, with a few students asking very reasonable “what if” questions of me. And everyone is more awake after that experience.

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    By all means, nudge away!! Personally, when I have a professor who’s a nudger in any of these ways, I find the class is more open to asking questions. It gives us students the notion that you DO want to hear from us not just talk at us.

  9. chacha1 Says:

    It’s all about the nudge, as far as I’m concerned. If the professor isn’t going to engage with you, why go to class? Why sit in a non-interactive lecture when you can just read the textbook or do the problems?

    I like the Do Now. Wish more of my teachers had used it. Where I went to school, it was pop quizzes and other “gotcha!” sh*t.

  10. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I enjoyed Lemov’s book. I especially liked his instructions on, if you are going to cold call, to call the student’s name after you ask the question. That way *everyone* is thinking of the answer since you might call on anyone! If you say who you’ll be calling on before, others check out. So simple. Yet such a huge difference.


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