Questioning Paddles in the Classroom

by Debi Swedelson Mishael

Debi MishaelI ask a question and all twelve of my students reply at the same time! It’s not a problem; It’s exactly what I planned to happen. In a typical classroom, the teachers poses a question, hands are raised (if you’re lucky) and one students is called upon to share their answer. That’s great if you are the one student talking, but what happens to the other eleven students? Are they sitting attentively, waiting eagerly to hear the opinion of their peer? One would hope so but reality and decades of experience with tired, hungry kids in an after-school program have taught me otherwise.

In an attempt to look for ways to keep more students on task, I discovered something fun in a discount supply catalogue. I found “Dry Erase Paddles” sold in packs of twelve! They look like ping pong paddles but have a white surface like the board in our classroom and are meant to be used with dry erase markers. What fun! Every student could have something to touch and hold and more importantly, each student would be able to reply and stay engaged. In a world where we are growing more and more technologically advanced, this classroom management toy is a low-tech throwback to the days when students had individual chalkboard tablets. It’s just enough of a retro gimmick that kids find it fun.

paddlesWhen I ask a question, they all write their answers and flip their paddles up to show the group. I can instantly look around and see if there is consensus or diversity in the replies. If I see that most of the class agrees with a statement and one disagrees, I can hone in on that student and say, “Jeremy, you disagree with many of your classmates. Would you mind sharing your reasoning behind your opinion?” A far more interesting discussion will ensue. Jeremy was the catalyst to the conversation between the students and I would not have known to call on him if I had not seen all 12 replies simultaneously. Furthermore, the conversation is now between the students and not just between teacher and student.

The Dry Erase Paddles work well for yes/no, true/false, fact based or rating questions (scale of 1-10 type thing). Obviously there is a limit to how much can be written on the paddles so questions that are higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy scale are not appropriate for this method. However, this method does get the simpler questions out of the way so there is time to discuss the higher order stuff.

Most of the time I use the paddles when the class is sitting in a circle. This way, they too can see all the answers at once. However, if i know my intent is to ask mostly fact-based questions with right and wrong answers and a student might be embarrassed if they can’t answer correctly, then, I will instead have the class sit in traditional rows to they will not easily see each other’s writing.

Sometimes, I discover a student who likes to doodle on the paddle while class is in session. That’s ok with me too. If they are doodling, they are probably not disturbing their neighbor or talking to someone. In my classroom, it is the student’s job not to prevent others from learning. It is my job to plan educational activities that are engaging for my students. If a student is doodling, they are at least fulfilling their end of the bargain.

This year, for example, I noticed a somewhat rambunctious student was in the habit of pulling out a paddle at the beginning of each class. It seemed to calm her. So, a few weeks into the year, I purchased an inexpensive art journal and a set of colored pens. I casually put them on her desk and said, “I thought it was a shame that your drawings were being erased each week.” She looked at me apologetically and said that it helped her concentrate. “I know” I replied, “and I think it is great that you are trying to concentrate in my class.” We keep her art journal and pens in the class bucket with our paddles.

NOTES: Dry Erase White Out Paddles are available at Oriental Trading Company for about $14 for 12 paddles. You can also make your own substitutes for little or no expense. Cut out white card-stock in the shape of a paddle and laminate them. The laminate will work like a dry erase surface. Use Dry Erase Pens that are available at most stores that sell office supplies.