Why it’s good to be Random

Assessment for learning strategies can sometimes be difficult to implement in the classroom, but Jennifer English’s blog post Trying to embed some simple formative assessment into my practice  highlights how it can be done.  Her comments about the use of the ‘no hands-up classroom’  and the importance  of ‘thinking time’ encouraged me to post my own reflections on how Randomometron can be used as am Assessment for Learning tool and how it ties in with culturally responsive pedagogy.



I can still recall the shame of being forced to stand up to answer a question in a History class and then being told I had a brain like a sieve for getting the answer wrong. We work in more enlightened times, but there is no doubt that we still need to be sensitive about how questioning is used in our practice.   Jennifer refers to the excellent Embedded Formative Assessment in her post and in this book Dylan Wiliam refers to the importance of  student engagement. He comments on how teachers create environments where some students nearly ‘dislocate their shoulders’ attempting to answer questions while others drift under the radar.  There needs to be a more equitable approach. A key feature of successful Assessment for Learning practice is being able to identify exactly what students know and have achieved.  If this can be accomplished in a way that does not publicly embarrass students by forcing them to provide responses to questions that they do not know the answer to, then this is likely to improve student engagement and encourage reluctant learners to risk sharing their understanding. This can be achieved with careful use of random-name generators.


My generator of choice is the Randomometron (not least because it sounds like the name of a Dr Who villain). Once the programme is set up with student names,  the teacher simply presses a button and the programme rolls through the list before selecting someone.   In order to avoid putting students on the spot  I first tell them the questions that they will need to answer and then get them to work in groups to prepare answers.  This allows students the thinking and collaboration time needed to provide confident responses.  This is important.   If a student is then picked by the random-name generator, but cannot answer the question, the whole group, rather than the chosen individual, is held accountable.  The idea is that the whole group is responsible for ensuring that every member is prepared. This has been really useful because students who might have been content to just sit back and let others sink or swim are now more actively involved in ensuring that everyone in their group can at least float.  No one wants to be a member of a failing group. Reluctant learners, who in the past, might have chosen to ‘opt out’ and  respond with ‘Don’t know’  answers rather than ‘think’ about the problem, are now encouraged to seek out solutions.  They do not want to let the group down.


The random-name generator when used in this particular way is not only effective at eliciting student knowledge,  it is also a good example of culturally responsive and relational pedagogy in practice.  The sense of group accountability ties in nicely with key concepts such as  nga whakapiringatanga and the shared responsibility for teaching and learning fits neatly with the concept of ako.    It’s a cool little tool.


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