Random anxiety

When teachers call on students randomly, using a computer name generator, students pay more attention and prepare more for class, concludes a University of Florida study.

About Joanne


  1. It’s important to note that the study was based on high school students. But the same principle also works for college students.

    If you look at profiles of exceptional college teachers, they almost all (unless they’re in large (100+ students) call on their students on an almost constant basis. They engage their students and “get in their faces” a bit (albeit gently).

    The best description of it I’ve heard is “teaching as a contact sport”.

    By asking questions and cold calling, you move students from a passive spectator role to a participatory one (even if they’re not being called on at the moment).

  2. SuperSub says:

    Buy a computer name generator… or write everyone’s name on index cards and pick randomly. If you’re too busy and trust your students handwriting, have them write their names down.

  3. Isn’t there a technique at West Point in which students are expected to “recite”??–when called on, come up to the front of the room and explain their solution to the problem to the class? Might be a good idea for more general use…

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    But… the article goes on to say “Contrary to expectations, the study found no significant difference between classes that used the new experimental technique and those where teachers called on students according to their own methods, Allison said. ”

    So, the teachers and students knew that they were using a different method– the study was obviously not double-blind– and afterwards, in interviews, they said it was better. But in reality, it wasn’t. Educational research is so shoddy.

  5. Chris C. says:

    I don’t know what the problem is; the participation rates were not different but students’ and teachers’ self-reports of engagment were.
    The most straightforward explanation seems to be that in the other classes most students still participated (raising their hands and getting called on, etc.) but did not feel as attentive or “engaged” because they were not getting called on randomly. Seems to make sense. Of course, there are plenty of unanswered questions. Better measures of engagement and some way of actually measuring student learning in these classes seem like the next step to take in this research.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    As I read the article, the students and the teachers said the new system was better, but the researcher couldn’t find any objective way in which it was better (and you can bet she tried).

    Why is this result even being reported?

  7. For years, I’ve used a set of 3″x5″ index cards with the students’ names written on them.

    The deck is shuffled and names drawn randomly.

    No computer or special software needed.

  8. Wayne Martin says:

    > A new University of Florida study suggests
    > that when teachers use a hand-held computer
    > that randomly chooses whom to call on,
    > even the quiet student in the back won’t
    > be missed.

    Our teachers in high school usually made name/seat charts and called on us from these charts until they were able to remember our names.

    One of my most memorable teachers was in her ’60s, and claimed not to have the best memory anymore. She said she generally picked people whose names were in the middle of these seating charts, which she realized was unfair. So .. she made us change seats every week. We had to move up a row and then a desk to the left. That way, she said, everyone would get a chance to be seated in the center of the room and get called on.

    I wonder if this “study” was paid for with Federal Tax dollars?

  9. As I read the study, the theory that teachers are more likely to call on male students or white students was not supported by this study. There was no bias difference between teachers who used the random name generator and those who did not. But they did call on students — male and female, all races — who’d previously believed they could hide out in the classroom, persuading them to pay more attention in class.

  10. Indigo Warrior says:

    Computer random name generator…

    Edward? Mary? Patricia? Richard? Donna?

    There’s nobody in my class with these names? Oh I see, I need to enter the students’ names into a list, and that’s so much work. Otherwise this program comes up with baby boomer names.

    Dylan? Latoya? Taylor? Kyle?
    Much better now.

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    On another re-reading of the article, I think you’re right, Joanne. Now I agree that the article says the study didn’t find that teachers in the control classes called on girls less frequently than boys, or Hispanics less frequently than whites.

    But the only measure of success mentioned in the article was interviews with students and teachers. The students and teachers both reported that students were more engaged. The real question is, did that translate to better student success? The article doesn’t answer that question, and probably the study doesn’t either.

  12. carol mcl says:

    I write students’ names on popsticks, keep ’em in a mug, and pick that way. I vary things, though. Sometimes use popsticks, sometimes call on volunteers, sometimes pick kids whose hands may not be raised. Sometimes I tell a student who just answered to choose the next person to answer a question, or read. That they really love. I have 4th graders. They also love using the popsticks themselves when given the opportunity, i,e. to pick someone to help them on a task, or give out papers, etc.