Randomness in the Classroom

I think randomness is a powerful classroom management tool.  In fact, I use it almost every day.

At the beginning of each school year, I have each student write their name on a popsicle stick and I explain to my classes that I’ll frequently decide who to call on by randomly pulling one of the sticks out of a cup.  I often check homework and usually form lab groups with the help of a dash of randomness.  I find there are several advantages to doing things this way, particularly when students understand my reasoning.

1)  We are all in this together.  It’s important that every single person in a class learns to work with every other person.  Sometimes working with friends is hard; sometimes working with non-friends is hard.  Both of those are things we need to learn to do.  (I also think it is important for students to gain experience working with people who are at many different academic levels, but this is not something I bring up with kids.)

2)  Some people love to talk in class and other people don’t like it, but it is important to hear from everyone.  If I only called on students who raised their hands, we wouldn’t get to hear from the whole class.  (Of course, I could just call on kids who aren’t raising their hands, but I was a pretty clever kid and I figured out that I could raise my hand and speak out a few times at the beginning of a lesson and then daydream safely for the rest of class, and I’d rather not spend mental energy while teaching trying to circumvent similar strategies.)

3)  There can be a real sense of fun and suspense when a bit of randomness is thrown into the mix.  It also takes away some social anxiety (i.e., I got called on because of luck, not because the teacher does or does not like me).

I’m not suggesting randomness is always the answer.  As with everything, moderation and good judgement are key.  However, I think many classrooms could benefit from a little dash of chance.

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