Hands up!

Memory and ‘hands up’.

What is it about whole class questioning?

There was controversy recently when Jo Boaler suggested using lolly sticks was like cold calling. Katherine Birlbalsingh, ever the contrarian, suggested this was simply checking understanding and part of good practice.

What my students with working memory difficulties tell me is that hands up/lolly stick methods of checking understanding are immensely frustrating for them. Demoralising.

They often have a sense of the right answer but under pressure and with time constraints are more likely to pretend they need the loo (bottle out) or say the first random thing that comes to mind.

What ‘hands up’ does do is serve children who have good memories and are considered ‘able’. It confirms their rank in class and gives them, and the teacher, a little dopamine rush.

Why is it so problematic for children with weak working memory?They have to word find, arrange syntax and then rehearse the response over and over (phonological loop) until they are picked. Exhausting.

Moreover, in a question such as ‘Give me 5 number bonds to 10’, without a visual cue eg what ‘number bonds’ are, it might be difficult for them to remember the concept as they often lack fluency around terminology. Has the term ‘number bond’ or what ‘bond’ means in this context ever been properly explained?

What is the alternative?

Before questioning, ensure all terminology is explained and understood.

Have the whole class whisper the answer, whisper to each other, write it down.

Use Kagan techniques, such as think, pair share.

Give low working memory children thinking time and scaffold them for success.

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