Before we can do anything else, we have to establish what “response rates” really are. Basically, when we are talking about response rates, we are referring to the rate of student responses—specifically focusing on individual students. In other words, it’s not just that a student is responding, we need all students responding. So basically this comes down to the percent of your students who are actively engaged at any one time—and here’s the kicker—listening is NOT active! So when the teacher is talking/lecturing the percent of students actively engaged is 0%. When the teacher stops and asks a question, provides wait time, and then calls on one student, the percent moves up slightly to 3% (based on a class size of 30). Still not very impressive. However, when you have students talk in partners, active engagement goes up to 50%. And if you structure it so that both students answer the question, you have 100% active engagement in the question, even though it is only 50% at a time.
Research shows that when teachers call on students one at a time, in a classroom of 30 students, each student will be actively participating for less that one minute per hour (Kagan & Kagan, 2009). You read that correctly—students are actively engaged less that ONE minute per hour! This is because the teacher has to talk twice for every question (first asking the question and then giving feedback). When you use a pairing structure such as turn-and-talk or think-pair-share, active student involvement skyrockets to 30 minutes per hour! Over the course of the day, that is a lot of student work. And as the adage says, “he who does the work, does the learning!”
So, in a nutshell, that is why every teacher should care about managing their student response rates. Now the hard question—how do you do it? Well, there are a lot of ways. Some are fairly complicated and require specialized routines or specific lesson planning. However, there are some fairly easy ways that every teacher can incorporate into his/her classroom with little or no preparation.
First, use pairs. Every time you stop to ask as question, rather than looking for raised hands, instead have students talk to their partner. If you establish partners at the beginning of a new seating arrangement, it becomes really quick and easy for students to turn and talk. My preference is to structure the conversation giving each student a chance to answer. After “person A” answers, my favorite gambit for “person B” is what I call “three responses”. I say something like, “Person B, you can make one of three responses. First, if you completely agree with your partner, you say, ‘I completely agree and this is what I heard you say…’. If you agree with your partner but you want to add something, say, ‘I agree with you and I also think….’. If you disagree, say, ‘I disagree with you, this is what I think…’.” This simple exchange can take less than a minute and you have now gone from 3% engagement to 100%.
After having pairs share with each other, it is still a good idea to get an idea of what was being said around the room. But instead of simply asking who wants to share, use a random name selector to choose a student. The selector can be as complex as a downloaded app or as simple as a jar of popsicle sticks with student names on them. Regardless of the method, the result is the same. First, students know that they will be called on regardless of their desire to raise their hand. This is very powerful. All students are expected to participate. And for students are less confident about their abilities, you have already given them an opportunity to seek help when talking with their partner before calling on them in front of everyone. I tell my students, “If you didn’t like your own answer, use your partners. We’re here to help each other, after all!”. The second thing the random name selector does is make sure you aren’t calling on the same students all the time and leaving others to hide. While we all try to mix it up and call on everyone, the reality is we lose track and some kids still hide. The random name selector allows you to not worry about keeping track of who got called on because it does that work for you. Lastly using a random name selector allows you to call on everyone without them thinking you are “picking on them”. It’s not you choosing—it’s the app (though you can rig it sometimes if you need to…shhh!).
So there you have it, the basics of why managing your student response rates are so important and a couple of easy ways to begin doing it without having to completely shift your practice. What are some ways you have found to manage response rates?
Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.