No hands up nonsense

Over the last few years, I’ve become aware of schools that have policies of ‘no hands up’.

To be clear, these are policies. Hence teachers are to some extent effectively banned from allowing pupils to put their hands up in lessons.

Pupils can’t put their hands up:

  • because they are indicating know an answer
  • because they want to answer a question
  • because they agree/ disagree with another answer

I presume pupils are still allowed to put their hands up to ask a question or to ask for help, but I’d hazard a guess that this is somewhat confusing.

This is the kind of nonsense that comes out of a healthy instinct to try to stop pupils from opting out, then it gets taken on by management and suddenly, ludicrously, turned into a policy. The idea is that if a teacher asks a question, pupils will ‘think/pair/square/share’. They are supposed to think, often for thirty seconds, then they share ideas with a partner for thirty seconds, then two sets of partners share in a square, then having clarified and thought about their answers for a total of about two minutes, the teacher selects a pupil, apparently at random, and they answer with their considered and reflective answer.

Sometimes the square bit is missed out.

In reality they probably copy what the most able pupil in the pair/square said.

The theory is that effectively every pupil has answered the question.

The effects of this strategy can be:

  • the teacher has no idea if the pupil that answers understood, and their assessment of the pupil’s answer is actually an assessment of what someone in the group said
  • each question takes a minimum of two minutes to get through, breaking up any flow or story that would allow greater depth of study
  • the teacher is not able to ascertain which pupils think they know via hands up, and therefore is denied a useful piece of information in teaching the class
  • a whole host of useful information is missed out, follow up questions to elicit understanding can’t be used, the teacher may probe the wrong pupil (because the answer given wasn’t theirs)
  • the teacher is deprofessionalised, denied the opportunity to use the strategy they consider optimum, amongst others
  • for expediency, and speed, some teachers will hence not use as many questions, just telling pupils the answer. Questions may get in the way
  • via their peer reflection, many pupils have had misconceptions reinforced or introduced, with little moderation from the teacher

I am sure that SMT don’t want any of these things to happen. What’s happened is that they’ve often seen an effective teacher use the strategy well, having honed it over many years experience. Hence SMT have engaged in a teaching-by-numbers approach and decreed that every teacher, regardless of discipline or topic, must use that same effective strategy.

Asking pupils not to put their hands up for a certain question may be an effective strategy.

Ignoring pupils hands up and choosing/ picking on a pupil to answer may be an effective strategy.

Think/pair/share may be an effective strategy to get all pupils thinking (less so square, I would imagine).

Choosing pupils randomly may be an effective strategy (and may mitigate against some of the low expectations that embed themselves when teachers get obsessed with differentiation).

When SMT makes these things a policy, with threat of enforcement, they become hinderances on teachers’ teaching and pupils’ learning.

A no hands up, school wide policy is a nonsense. I’d imagine most teachers would ignore it unless observed.

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2 thoughts on “No hands up nonsense

  1. Yes! These are all things that I think when I get ‘politely reminded’ that our school has a no hands up policy. I jump the hoops for lesson obs but other than that, it’s hands up all the way. I hardly ever choose the children with their hands up anyway but as you have stated – it’s a valuable way to show who thinks they know the answer and who is willing to have a go and put effort into the lesson.

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