Raising your hand

Today in a meeting I was listening to some teachers of older children talking about scaffolding group processes and how difficult it is to make sure everyone has a chance to ask questions and express their views. Why do some students do all the talking and others sit quietly or tune out altogether? Susan pointed out that in adult conversations we tend to know when to talk and when not to, just by reading visual and auditory cues. Later in a conversation I tried to notice some of those subtle cues, like glances or shifts in eye contact and slight pauses.

So I started thinking  ...are we teachers cheating children out of a chance to learn to read those conversational cues by asking them to raise their hands every time they want to speak?  Are there trade-offs between classroom management used to maintain order, and natural opportunities for learning? Do we who teach younger children create a culture of shout-outing, talking over each other or tuning out of conversations in late childhood? I hadn't ever considered it that way before.


  1. Never thought of this but makes so much sense.

  2. I have always wondered about this. Each year I try to see if we could forgo the raising hands thing because it is really artficial and makes me the arbiter of conversation. But it always seems like if we don't do something, (it could be chips, or whatever) the louder and more outgoing students do all of the talking. BTW, I agree that adults in small groups can use other clues, but in larger groups, this can break down and the same thing happens.

  3. Wow, I hadn't considered this, but I agree with your thoughts. I also agree with Marla in which adults, when in bigger groups, also tend not to respect turns and may become very noisy, leading to communication breakdown. Maybe the way they were taught at school has something to do with it (as you mention at the end of your post).
    Regarding students who do not participate as often as others, I myself have always been like that until recently, both inside and outside the classroom. I usually prefer to listen, not because others are not respecting my turn to speak, but just because I feel more comfortable and I like it that way...

  4. do children have the opportunity to work together without a teacher always directing the conversation?

    in my experience, quieter children may not want to try to out-shout anyone, but they still get their ideas across, sometimes by telling a friend who they know will champion them. and classroom leaders tend to take it on themselves to protect quieter classmates and make sure everyone has had a say.

  5. "are we teachers cheating children out of a chance to learn to read those conversational cues by asking them to raise their hands every time they want to speak?" This sounds very likely to me. On days when I do ask children to raise their hands (though we usually manage without), I feel like I see their brain turn off as the hand goes up. They don't seem to be listening any more to what others are saying, maybe because they are trying not to lose their thought while they wait?

  6. Such an important thing to discuss - it is such an expectation that, in most programs, children need to raise their hands. Obviously, at some point, we learn how to read visual and auditory clues that let us know when it is an appropriate time to talk or chime in. But we can probably learn that earlier!

    So much of this discussion is cultural, and I appreciate that. Where you are and who you're with can determine how you join, or avoid joining, conversations. I feel like I come from a family of interrupters, and when I'm back east with family, I'm always interrupting them or they are interrupting me. It seems to be the only way to get yourself heard! My husband points this out - I'm a better listener in my normal adult world.

    So much of raising hands and not saying anything until "its your turn" has to do with listening in my mind. I don't know where I heard it, but there is a saying that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who listen and respond, and the kind who are just waiting for their turn to talk. How can we model respectful listening so that children understand that listening is as important as talking?

  7. This is fascinating. I am especially struck by the idea that there are those who listen and respond, and those who just wait for their turn to talk; it seems plausible to me that hand raising would help create more of the latter. I think it would be worth trying to have small group conversations (and then maybe larger group conversations)without hand-raising, conversations in which we help students learn read the cues, and learn to really listen and respond.

  8. Yeah, it sounds like there are ways to have both. I used to try to manage conversations by just letting class discussions unfold but the longer I do that the more I realize that it often becomes a conversation between just 3 or 4 people. I think there are those who prefer to just listen but I can also see others that want to participate that just get steamrolled by the louder voices and I watch as they eventually give up and withdrawl. Its hard to balance. But, as mentioned above in other comments, in smaller group work we don't raise our hands. When work is done with a partner or a small group they are practicing reading the cues of conversation. Group size matters. If, for example, faculty meeting gets large in number it does tend to become dominated by a few loud voices. I've probably been the loud one at points and other times I've been the one to disengage because I can't get a word in to save my life.


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