Instructional Strategies: Raising Hands in Class and the Outlier Effect

Instructional Strategies:  Raising Hands in Class and the Outlier Effect

If you’ve ever heard Dylan Wiliam speak on formative assessment strategies, you know he’s not a fan of having kids raise hands to answer questions or take part in conversation. He recently used the term “outlier effect” to define how hand-raising limits the ability for teachers to effectively elicit evidence of learning from the entire classroom, save for those kids who consistently raise their hands.

The term emanates from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success that examines the factors that he feels contribute to high levels of success. One of Gladwell’s examples is the Medicine Hat Tigers, a Canadian semi-professional hockey team, where the majority of the players are born in the first three months of the year. So what does being born in January, February, or March have to do with the success of a hockey player?

In Outliers Gladwell explains that players born in the beginning of the year play with kids of the same age born at the end of the year, so the likelihood is that players born in the earlier months are larger than their (slightly) younger counterparts. If they’re larger than their teammates they’ll likely get more playing time, more coaching, and more opportunities for success. While this may not make a huge difference over the course of one year or season, the cumulative effect of more attention and coaching builds year-over-year until the skills gap is quite formidable.

Students are like these athletes in terms of the attention they need to flourish, and hand-raising in the classroom limits who receives this attention. In order to effectively determine who in the class is learning what they need to, you need to solicit evidence of student learning from the entire classroom, something that calling on one or two students cannot accomplish.

Over time, our blog will discuss instructional and formative assessment tecniques that eliminate hand raising (except to ask a question) and engage the entire class. In this way, the teacher and student can be more in control of their classroom learning.

Flickr Photo Credit to Brad Flickenger