A Classroom Participation Technique for Cold-Callers: The “Catch”

In honor of the start of the fall semester, I wanted to share a classroom participation technique I started using last semester with encouraging results. I cold call in my classes, but I give every student the opportunity to pass three times during the semester when they don’t feel prepared. (Because of where I teach, I notice a suspicious uptick in passes on Mondays following fresh snowfall in the mountains!) As long as I’m notified of a student’s desire to pass before class begins, I won’t call on him or her.

Last semester I started giving students the option of using the reverse of a pass, which I punnily dubbed a “catch.” When a student feels especially prepared for a given class–perhaps she has had a lot of time to read the night before or maybe she has already read the case before for another class–she can put herself on call by sending me a “catch” before class begins. In return, I promise students who catch that I will not call on them for at least three subsequent classes.

Very few students caught (catched?) last semester, but on those occasions when they did, it led to some of the most productive Q&A I’ve had with students in five-plus years (including two years as an adjunct) of law teaching. The students who caught no doubt benefited by regaining some control over their fate; their classmates benefited from hearing good discussions of the days’ topics; and I gained the benefits of an on-call system without having the rest of the class skip the reading.

If you cold call already, try out this tweak this semester, and let me know how it goes.

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2 Responses

  1. anon says:

    I would be very interested in seeing if anyone else has similar experiences using this “anti-pass” technique.

  2. Anon2 says:

    There’s a simpler way to do this. Ask students to raise their hands and cold call when someone hasn’t raised their hand in awhile or when there are no hands raised. Promise people who volunteer that they won’t be cold called as much. Works pretty well.