- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

LONDON — Pupils in an East London school have been banned from raising their hands to answer questions in class because their teachers fear it leads to feelings of victimization.

“No hands up” notices have been posted in every room at the Jo Richardson comprehensive school in Dagenham, as a reminder that the teachers will decide who should answer.

The principal, Andrew Buck, said it is always the same children who wave their arms in the air, while the rest of the class sits back. When teachers try to involve less-adventurous pupils by choosing them instead, that leads to feelings of victimization.

Mr. Buck believes that it can also cause panic in children who are picked but do not know the answer while others around them are straining to give it. To spare the embarrassment of those who do not know the answer, the school uses a “phone a friend” system, allowing one child to nominate another to take the question instead.

Mr. Buck said the ban on raising hands has improved attention levels because pupils never know when they will be called. But of all the changes to teaching methods decided when the school opened four years ago, that policy has proved the most difficult to implement.

“It is every child’s instinct and every teacher’s instinct as well, because it is ingrained in us,” Mr. Buck said. “We are used to seeing hands waving in the air and some pupils jiggling so much to attract the teacher’s attention that it sometimes looks as if they need the lavatory.

“Then when it is their turn, they often don’t know the answer. Boys — and it is usually boys — are seeking attention, so they put their hands up before they have had time to think about the question.”

While they hogged the limelight, the most able pupils often did not volunteer answers for fear of being labelled as “swots,” which is British slang for students who study excessively.

“There are others who never put up their hands because they have decided that they do not do that bit of the lesson, so they stop listening,” Mr. Buck said. “If you don’t use hands up, the pupils don’t know who you are going to choose, and they all have to think about the question.”

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was the first time he had heard of such a policy.

“The habit will be hard to break, but when you listen to what the head [teacher] says, there may be method in what at first appears to be madness.”

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