Some of you may recall that my pedagogical New Year's resolution was to 'cold call' on students consistently.
Yeah, I broke it. About two weeks into the winter quarter, actually. Old habits die hard, and though I made an effort, I just couldn't feel comfortable about cold calling.
Tim Burke's post got me rethinking the issue though. I see a number of justifications for cold calling: engaging a larger number of students, getting students comfortable with academic settings, signaling that students are expected to be prepared, creating a broader sense of classroom community, etc. But Tim also highlights what's tough about cold calling: I don't want to use the prospect of humiliation to motivate students. But students who feel 'on the spot,' who think they have to provide precisely the right answer, are likely to fear cold calling for just that reason. (My guess is that part of student wariness comes from previous academic experiences with cold calling, in math or language courses, say, where cold calling can be closer to 'drilling and grilling'.) And I must admit that it's uncomfortable on my end when a student has no response to a cold call.
The challenge, then, is to make cold calling into something else: warm inviting, let's call it — cold calling less as impromptu testing and more as extending students a friendly opportunity to participate in the class.
But I think I've hit upon a solution: Socrates.
No, not Socrates-Socrates. This Socrates:
I got this little Socrates doll from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. And when I cold call on students, I toss them Socrates, and whoever has Socrates has the floor.
I have to say that this is working well so far. For one, I've been sticking to the cold calling. But more than that, little Socrates seems to put the cold-called-upon a bit more at ease. The cold call is delivered more with a wink and a nudge instead of an interrogative stare. And since students have to try to catch Socrates, they pay a bit more attention. (You never know when Socrates might be headed your way!)
Gimmick-y, yes, but I'm not above cheap gimmicks. Anybody do anything similar — or have other techniques they use to softpedal the anxieties associated with cold calling?