How to use ‘No Hands Up’ to engage your students and as a formative assessment strategy

Sometimes, as a teacher we ask questions to our classes and, quite often, we have all our students put their hands straight up to answer it.  

In my electric class, I asked, ‘what is the relationship between voltage, current and resistance?’ The keen, able and confident students in the class always put their hands up to answer it.  

The same students get loads of praise, and their sense of self-worth is reinforced more than the others, who realise that they will probably not be called upon to answer a question in the class. They start entertaining themselves by distracting others. If they are quiet, they disappear into their own world. They think of themselves as less able than those who are straining out of their seat with their hands up to provide an answer.  

No Hands Up’ is the promise that actually you don’t want students to put their hands up to answer a question. This might be little bit unnatural for us, but it is really helpful when you use ‘No Hands Up’ in the class. This means that all the students get to be prepared, as they are expected to be called upon at any time, and that they will need to pay attention to what is going on in the class. They have the sense of doing well and achieving, equal participation and feeling good about themselves.  

So, if we are asking questions to our class, how do we get the student to answer that?  

Write names on sticks/pull from a hat. Write the name of each student on sticks and have them with you. For each time you ask a question, you are going to pull one of the sticks up. Whoever’s name is written on the stick, that is going to be the student to answer the question. If you have a hat, put all the names on separate piece of paper and place them into the hat.  

Assign pupils numbers. If you have 15 students in your class, they will have a number assigned to them from 1-15. When you asked a question, you call out the number you want to answer, and he/she is going to response to the question. If the person’s answer is correct, you stretch the answer (using ‘Stretch It‘) to make the entire class to participate. 

Use your register. Use your register in front of you. Drop your pen onto a name. They must answer the question. 

Exchange of answer. Give a problem/question to the class and tell everyone to answer on a piece of paper and ask them to exchange the answer with their classmate. You pick one person to read the answer of his/her classmate and the next person the same. You do this until all the students have read each other’s answers. I love to use this strategy with Stretch It, which can really help to keep the class engage.  

So, what are the benefit of using ‘No Hands Up’ in the classroom?  

  1. As part of our formative assessment focus, it helps us to understand what our class knows now – who knows and who doesn’t know and as well as who needs more help. You wouldn’t like for each of your students to leave the class without knowing if they understand the concept you have introduced.  
  1. Get rid of favouritism: maybe you have your favourite student. Whenever you ask questions, he is ready to answer with confidence, but this time you are giving the chance for others to answer regardless of whether the answer is correct. 
  1. Improve attention level: sometimes, your students may be distracted or doing something else. ‘No Hands Up‘ makes all the students pay attention to what is going on in the class. 
  1. Allow students to deeper think. All the students know that they are supposed to participate or provide an answer to the question, so you will see them engaging with their lesson, and thinking to get the answer right, so that their name can get the positive praise as well. 
  1. Give the shy a voice. Those quiet students, those that don’t want to answer because they might not get the answer correct, will try to answer whenever they are asked. 
  1. It increases the class’ engagement and participation because they are expected to be called upon.  

I usually use ‘No Hands Up’ during practical to ensure all learners are mastering of procedure and tools. When you introduce new concept, it helps all learners explain key concepts and cultivate mastery performance of their task.  

If you are going to use ‘No Hands Up’ in the classroom, you have to ensure that all the students are called upon regularly. They will be thinking about what is going on in the class, otherwise their attention will quickly fade. It is essential that you factor how you are going to use it in the class and give students time to think about the answer (just set your timer and give a specific thinking time).  

I would like to encourage all teachers to adopt a ‘No Hands Up’ strategy in their lesson to have more options for how they can use questions in their lessons to engage all students and enhance the level of stretch and challenge they achieve. Like this, all the student in the class can feel good about themselves that they are able to contribute to the class activities.  

No Hands Up‘ is a way to engage the students in their lesson. Try new strategies in your classroom. If a strategy doesn’t work once, then please try it again! Practice makes perfect. The first time is always hard for yourself and your learner. Reflect on your teaching every day, without fail: what went well, what could I do better, what can I learn from today.  

Our thanks to James for writing this blog. To rewatch the workshop that James hosted on ‘No Hands Up‘, click here.

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