Every teacher knows that to engage students in class, you have to give them ample “opportunity to respond” (OTR). Ask them simple questions, invite them to comment, frequently check in with them to see if they understand the material or need clarification.
Most teachers do this routinely, but do they do it often enough?
Not nearly, says a new study in Preventing School Failure. Based on a review of 900 15-minute classroom observations, researchers conclude teachers need to provide more frequent OTRs. A simple way to increase in OTRs is to make greater use of choral responses and response cards.
In choral responding, students verbally respond in unison following a teacher prompt or question. A response card is any sign that students can display simultaneously in response to a teacher prompt or question.
“Although providing sufficient opportunities to respond has been demonstrated to positively affect student academic and social-behavioral outcomes, results from this study suggest that reading and mathematics teachers across all grade levels are not sufficiently implementing this evidence-based practice,” the researchers write.
Elementary teachers in this study (reading and mathematics instruction combined) averaged 0.68 OTRs per minute (1 every 1.4 min); middle school teachers averaged 0.65 OTRs a minute (1 every 1.54 minutes); and high school teachers averaged 0.47 OTRs a minute (1 every 2.13 minutes). Math teachers had a slightly higher rate of OTRs than reading teachers.
Recent research suggests teachers need to provide 3 OTRs per minute for general education students. Other researchers have suggested that the optimal rate may be 4 to 6 responses per minute for new material and 8 to 12 OTRs for material being reviewed.
The number of OTRs decreased across grade levels with elementary school teachers providing the highest rate of OTRs and high school teachers the lowest. The exception was middle school math teachers who had the highest rate overall at 0.82 (1 every 1.22 minutes).
For both choral response and response cards, students typicallly must be able to respond in short answers (1-3 words). Choral response works best when there is only one correct answer to the question (e.g. What is 5 X 6?) Response cards can be pre-printed (yes/no) or students can use dry-erase boards to write their responses. Teachers often keep up a fast pace when using response cards.
The sample used for data analysis was part of a larger sample of 3,972 unique 15-minute observations of classroom behavior in 18 elementary schools, 9 middle schools and 7 high schools.
Providing Student Opportunities to Respond in Reading and Mathematics: A Look Across Grade Levels,” Todd Whitney et al., Preventing School Failure, 2015, Volume 59, Number 1, pp. 14-21.