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Monday, July 23, 2018

interesting Class Participation Idea

I run my class on an all-volunteer basis because I was raised in a system that did not have cold-calling and I dislike it. But this nifty idea from Nathan Robinson, which he claims he learned from James Forman, holds some promise. He hands each of his students a card with three colored stripes and instructs them to write their name on all three stripes, and then to fold the card so that only one color is showing at the time (follow the link to see the handiwork involved--it's pretty straightforward.) Then:

Each student places their name card in front of them, and positions it so that one side faces the discussion leader. They are told that they should rotate the card so that the color the discussion leader sees is either red, green, or yellow. The meanings of the colors are:

RED – I do not wish to be called on.

YELLOW – I do not mind being called on.

GREEN – I would like to be called on.

Green is therefore the equivalent of raising your hand. Yellow is the equivalent of being open to cold-calling. And red means opting out of cold-calling. The students are asked to default to yellow, but are told that they should not hesitate to go red if they do not wish to speak. (The discussion-leader should have their own namecard, and should turn it to red and keep it there for a while so that students know this is acceptable.) At the end of each session, the instructor collects the cards in a box and hands them out at the end of the next class.


Posted by Hadar Aviram on July 23, 2018 at 04:52 PM | Permalink


No one who calls a student a "snowflake" has any business being in front of a classroom.

Posted by: J | Jul 28, 2018 3:12:26 AM


They enrolled in the class; they should be expected to come to class prepared to participate. Cold-calling is a fundamental component of the Socratic method and one of the best ways to conduct formative assessments. It is intended to be stressful for the student as a form of motivation. Any student unwilling to discuss his comprehension of the material is not taking his studies seriously. Any system that facilitates a student being lazy or immune from the assessment of their understanding of the material provides a disservice to the student and the profession.

Once they become lawyers, they cannot choose which motions to respond to, which deadlines to ignore, or which rules to dismiss. Don't teach them that in school.

Posted by: Phil | Jul 27, 2018 3:00:26 PM

I use a simpler version. Everybody has a name placard. When I call on you, put it down, so I don't call on you until everyone has had a chance to participate. That said, you may also declined to be called on by putting your placard down even if I have not called on you. I probably will not notice. But if you do so more than three times in a semester, lets talk about your goals and the means to achieving them.

Posted by: ctr | Jul 26, 2018 2:36:16 PM

I'm with anon at 6:31pm, why not just allow a limited number of opt-outs per term?

For example, my contracts students are always on call but may let me know before the start of class that they would prefer I don't call on them. They get two "passes" each semester and only a few students avail themselves of both.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jul 24, 2018 11:13:44 AM

Another correction :

Team work of course , not "work team …. "

Apologizing …..

Posted by: El roam | Jul 23, 2018 7:39:29 PM

I too have abandoned cold calling because of the stress that it causes students. At the same time, I think it critical that students learn to prepare for class in order to develop the problem-solving and advocacy skills that are so important in the practice of law. If students do not have a meaningful incentive to prepare for and participate in class, however, we should not be surprised when many instead disengage. Accordingly, in my classes (even large ones), I teach with the problem method; all students are assigned clients in each problem; and after class I assess the participation of all students and notify each when they have earned points. In this fashion, students receive prompt and meaningful feedback. The point system strikes many students as subjective, but I warn them that they should expect that same type of subjective evaluation when they enter practice. This seems to satisfy most. I also encourage students to discuss my assessments with me. The points earned by participation are factored into the final grade equally to points earned on the final. Students who choose to remain silent throughout the semester can except about a B- at best. I even post after each class the number of points earned semester-to-date by the student with the most points -(no names given) so that each student knows where she stands relative to the top of the curve. I have found that when students are merely told that some adjustment to the final grade may be made based on participation, many students treat this as a black box that is not worth pursuing. In such an opaque system, there is of course no way for students to know how significant class participation will be, and the feedback they receive on the quality of their preparation and participation is opaque as well.

Most economists would tell you that if you want to promote class preparation and participation, you must give students a meaningful and transparent incentive to do so. Most educators would tell you that skills are best developed through repetition, followed by prompt feedback. We should formulate our approach to class preparation and participation with these insights in mind, IMHO.

Larry Rosenthal

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Jul 23, 2018 6:59:11 PM

I don't know how you would do this in a larger class — you would have to constantly be scanning the room to figure out if a student had adjusted their card. I suppose you could have them indicate at the start of class and not modify it, but then why not just allow them limited opt-outs per term?

Posted by: anon | Jul 23, 2018 6:31:06 PM

Just corrections to my comment :

Should be : The Q would be , to form ....and not " to from" .

And : getting used so to speak in front of the class , and not : " from of the class " .


Posted by: El roam | Jul 23, 2018 6:21:06 PM

Interesting , but it is hard to see , how it does fit a class of students ( normal , without special needs ) let alone , students of law . Such color system , may in fact , enhance or erode rather , the self confidence of shy students . This is because , normally , intuitively , they may interpret it , as meant at first place , for overcoming inhibitions and shyness , that is to say , that the instructor , expects them to have such mental inhibitions in fact. So , undesirable sub text or message . That is a low standard with all due respect , surly for future lawyers or future legal experts .
Rather :
One should be more demanding , but taking to account natural inhibitions :
Here comes in the work team . Horizontal work team . The Q would be , to from a puzzle . Each student , shall be assigned to different task , and all together , forming the whole picture :
So , if we have a legal case for example :
Each student , gets a different task : one would present the procedural aspect . Another , international comparison study . Another one , the core of the case . Analogies in other precedents and so forth. Each student , needs to present in front of the class his work . The others , don't know or don't master his part . At the end of the rather technical presentation ( getting used so to speak in from of the class ) and after being controlled by the instructor , he may present , his personal view .
In time , the instructor , learns , the nature , the capabilities , the weakness points , the advantages of each participants , and develop and perfect it .


Posted by: El roam | Jul 23, 2018 6:16:15 PM

Who would read if they knew they wouldn't be called on?

Posted by: Biff | Jul 23, 2018 5:57:48 PM

The greatest day of my life was when I realized, "Sorry, I'm not taking questions today" was a valid response.

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Jul 23, 2018 5:55:03 PM

I let my students opt out, and I give them warning about when they'll be called on, but I believe that one of the core skills we impart in the classroom is the ability to think and answer questions as they come in. So, I don't like the idea of letting folks opt in and out for a whole semester.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jul 23, 2018 5:16:46 PM

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