Raising hands to ask a question or answer questions is a tradition in classroom management that promotes class participation​, with which most adults are familiar. Not everyone supports this approach to education, though, and one British school recently banned hand-raising in their classrooms, asking children to make a thumbs-up sign instead.

The effects of hand-raising are partially dependent upon the classroom structure and the ways in which students use hand-raising.

Academic Performance

In 2010, education researchers led by Professor Dylan William tested the effects of ending hand-raising in a British classroom as part of an educational documentary. They found that ​when children stopped putting a hand up and wrote on a whiteboard instead, the practice led to improved student confidence, a boost in test scores, and the whole class overall became better learners​. As part of the experiment, students also had to work together to discover solutions to problems and answer teacher’s questions.

Distracting Student Behavior

Educators have historically used hand-raising to minimize distractions and ensure that students don't shout over one another when the teachers calls out a question, but according to psychologist David Sadker in his book, "Still Failing at Fairness," this strategy can backfire. ​More confident students, particularly boys, may shout as they raise their hands or dominate the classroom by raising their hands constantly, taking away learning opportunities from other students.

Sadker found that girls were more likely to raise their hands and wait patiently, while boys were more likely to aggressively raise their hands while shouting, decreasing the attention girls received.

Student Participation

Hand-raising is a common tool to improve student participation in many grade levels ranging from elementary school to high school. ​It works by giving students an easy way to signal that they have a question or comment, making them an active participant in the classroom discussion while following the classroom rules.

A 2009 study published in "Teaching and Teacher Education," however, calls into question whether hand-raising can really improve pupil participation. In this study, teachers encouraged group discussion rather than hand-raising and found that abandoning the tradition of hand-raising actually led to an increase in student participation and an overall better learning process.

Hand-Raising Alternatives

Eliminating hand-raising doesn't have to lead to classroom anarchy. Instead of asking students to raise your hand, teachers can try a variety of tactics, such as ​giving students whiteboards on which to write answers or going around the room to allow each student to give an answer.​ Putting students into small groups and requiring each group to ask one question or solve one problem can encourage classroom discussions, and subtle signals, such as making a thumbs-up sign or flipping a coin on the desk, can signal a desire to participate without distracting other students.

This promotes a positive learning environment and professional development without disrupting students attention.

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