Let’s call it the Hermione Granger Effect. Every classroom has at least one Hermione, the pupil who always raises the hand to prove they have the right answer. At the back of the class, kids are quickly switching off.
But some Victorian schools are banning students from putting their hands up in classrooms, as part of a progressive global experiment in changing how classes are run.
Toorak College and Frankston High Schoolare among Victorian schools taking up the no hands-up policy, along with other schools in Europe. Derinya Primary School is also considering the approach – the brainchild of renowned British education expert Professor Dylan William.
The theory is that the same minority of top students are raising their hands to answer teachers’ questions, and are getting smarter with each response, widening the gaps between the high and low performing students.
Having the smart kids answer every question can fool teachers into believing that the whole classroom – as opposed to those more vocal – are learning. About a third of the teachers at Frankston High School are dumping the old habit, by writing the students’ names on icy pole sticks and pulling out names at random for answers. There is one exception to the rule. The students are allowed to raise their hand when they have a question.
English and history teacher Sarah Lefebvre has been trialling the policy in Year 9, 10 and 11 classes since the beginning of the year. If a student picked genuinely didn’t know the answer, they could “phone a friend” and explore the question with their peer, she said.
“We want kids to have the skills to know how to act if they face a situation that they’re not prepared for,” said Ms Lefebvre. “We put them on the spot and if they’re not prepared, they need to know how to ask for help and assistance. You can’t just say, I don’t know, I’m opting out.”
Six months into the trial, the new program has had teething pains. The brighter students have grown frustrated at being “ignored”,Ms Lefebre said, while some more shy students have grown anxious.
Derinya Primary School principal Jenny Roth, who is considering taking up the strategy, said teachers were moving away from questions that require basic recall. She said they were no longer interested in students getting the right answer, but wanted to measure the scope of the students’ learning. “It is about engaging all kids in the class, so they can all participate and learn, and so the teacher can quickly figure out who gets it and who doesn’t. I would call it the ‘no hiding policy’.”
The practice was examined in a BBC 2010 documentary The Classroom Experiment, where teachers of one Year 8 class in an English secondary school adopted Professor William’s theories over a 10-week period.
Senior lecturer at Melbourne University’s Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Dr John Quay, said most teachers understood the value of sharing answers equally among students, but admitted it could be tempting for teachers to pick the smartest kids.
“Disengagement has always been problematic, and it’s the main task for the teacher to understand the class … it’s about finding activities that are going to enable the young people working to encourage knowledge in a meaningful way.”