Let’s being with a brief visualisation exercise. You’re a teacher and you’ve just asked a question. You turn away from the whiteboard to be confronted by a sea of raised hands. Some of your students are even so keen that they’re bouncing up and down in their chairs, trying to get your attention. Surely this is a good sign? Surely your question resonated with the class and they’re keen to share ideas? Well one school in the UK doesn’t agree, even going so far as to ban students raising their hands in class.
Despite the fact that the school’s logo features two children with raised hands, Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire has stopped children from raising their hands in class, arguing that the practice is outdated and fails to challenge pupils effectively. The school has stated that raised hands will still be used to establish silence in class but, given that the same pupils are constantly volunteering, the raised-hands procedure does not support the learning of the group. A statement to parents claims that a variety of other techniques will be used in order to ensure that every student has the opportunity to contribute and participate.
The measure has received criticism from parents and teachers. It has been condemned by the NUT (National Union of Teachers), who argue that it is up to the individual teacher whether or not they adopt the rule in their classroom. For the NUT, teacher trust and professionalism was key. Further concerns were diverse, including the fear felt by students who might be called on despite not knowing the answers to questions, or the challenges faced by students who are naturally shy, quiet or struggle with public speaking. Raising hands is also indicative of enthusiasm, and some commentators have argued that it is unwise to suppress this.
Banning students from raising hands seems to be an unnecessary attempt to police classrooms when most teachers are skilled enough to manage the “issue”, if indeed there is one, in their own way. There are countless suggestions and endless debate regarding the subject on teachhub.com (http://www.teachhub.com/classroom-management-solve-hand-raising-problem). These include the use of post-it notes and other gimmicks, issuing special phrases and peer discussions. Other online resources, including smartclassroommanagement.com (https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2010/02/13/how-to-get-your-students-to-raise-their-hand/), list ways of encouraging the practice rather than dismissing it, citing numerous reasons why calling on individuals students might inhibit learning while also encouraging those students who do want attention to shout out in class. Devising engaging ways to allow students to participate in class should certainly be an ongoing goal and an opportunity for reflection. However, limiting this process, in this case with a ban on raised hands, undermines the skill and authority of teachers, and in reality will do little to prevent bright students from seeking disproportionate stimuli.
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