#32 "Head down, fist on head" for answering diagnostic questions
It sounds weird, but it is effective!
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💡 A tip to try in class this week 💡
I have been using multiple-choice diagnostic questions in my teaching for years - heck, I love them so much, I even built a website to house them all. I love a diagnostic question because they are quick to ask, quick to collect data from, you see the response of every student, and - so long as the question is a good one - you learn the specific nature of any misunderstandings from students’ choices of answer.
But diagnostic questions have an inherent problem: the tactical delay. This is when the teacher says: show me your choice of answer in 3, 2, 1, go… and some students pause for a second or two whilst they have a cheeky look at the answers of students who are usually correct. They then either have their choice of answer confirmed, or engage in an impressive sleight of hand whilst their C magically becomes an A. This reduces the validity of the check for understanding, or can cause students to clam up when they realise their choice of answer is the minority.
Pritesh explained how he uses a technique he borrowed from legendary head of maths (and former podcast guest), Dani Quinn. It goes by the name of Heads Down, Fist on Head, and goes like this:
The teacher projects the diagnostic question onto the board
Students are given sufficient thinking time to decide upon their choice of answer
Students place their left-arm on the desk and rest their head upon it so they cannot see their classmates
Students place their right fist upon their heads
The teacher says: if you think the answer is A, open your fist
The teacher observes the number of open fists (and makes a note of student names if their memory is as bad as mine)
The teacher thanks students, asks them to close their fists, and says: if you think the answer is B, open your fist
And so on, for options C and D
With heads back up, the teacher can then ask individual students to explain their choice of answer
Why is this is a good idea? Well, for four reasons:
Students cannot see other answers, so there is no incentive to engage in a tactical delay or clam up when asked for their explanation
There is no equipment that needs handing out or collecting in
It reduces the flow of information (as opposed to 30 students showing you their answers at once), so you are more likely to be able to identify trends
The opening of the first is pretty silent, whereas asking students to raise their hand to indicate their choice may result in a give-away rustling
I love it, but do you?
Do you like this idea?
What would you need to change to make this tip work for you?
When could you try it for the first time?
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