Teaching as Inquiry – Philosophy, The Hands Up Habit


Philosophy Teaching as Inquiry

The Hands Up Habit

A quarter of top students consistently put their hands up and are chosen to answer questions, while the remaining students are less involved. The minority make this questioning system work for them and actively participate to learn more, while the majority are permitted to switch off and opt out.


No Hands

Instead of hands up – where the same ones do it all the time – students’ names will be randomly selected to answer questions. Every time a question is asked, a student’s name will be picked out at random to decide who should answer. The students’ names are written on plastic tags placed in, then selected out at random from a container.

Producing responses to questions involves a series of steps which include:

·attending to the question
·deciphering the meaning of the question
·formulating a covert response (i.e. ‘in your head’)
·generating an overt response
·revising the answer in response to feedback.

With the random selection method, all students need to be ready and follow the first three steps above in case their names are picked – no one can hide. The aim is to involve every student.



Sample Student Responses

How did this affect your:


At the beginning it made me more aware of my ability to answer the question. Brushed up on days off only to find I was a tad bit behind still. Hearing it from someone else’s point of view helped me form an opinion/idea/thought & it also cemented some of the stuff I knew.

It makes you attentive as you have to listen and are interested in listening to different views in case you have to answer a question.

It made me more attentive to some degree.

Improved because I didn’t want to zone out & make a twat of myself if my name was called.

I had to actually pay attention so I wouldn’t look like a git if/when I got picked.


This method improved attentiveness overall because students felt they had to pay attention so they wouldn’t get caught out if their names were called.



Apprehensive at first. Didn’t mind too much as it was good to hear & see I was among like-minded people. Also showed me a different way of understanding a thought or theory.

Same as attentiveness. No biases or pressure in open class discussion. Keeps you engaged.

It did not affect my participation.

Didn’t really make a difference, I talked when I had something I wanted to add to the discussion.

I was forced to pay attention to what was happening, seeing as I’d have to answer any question at any time.

No effect.


This method has mixed results regarding student participation. Overall, improved participation.


Asking of questions?

At times I was confused at the question asked. I answered most times to how I best understood the questions at the time.

You can engage in other questions being asked to other students if you don’t understand or disagree/agree.

It increased it to some degree.

Didn’t make a difference. I asked a question if one came to mind.

I would get more involved in discussions and ask more questions.

No effect.


This method made little difference to the students’ asking of questions.


Listening to questions?

At times you are posed & ready. Other times you’re in a thought process & it gets disturbed by being asked the question. Some questions really catch your attention & you stop what you’re doing.

It’s good to listen to other’s questions and answer is informative and educational. Gives you a broader idea/understanding.

It made me listen more.

Didn’t make a difference.

I listened to what other people asked because I knew I could be picked to give my own answer.



This method worked well with getting students to listen to questions more attentively.


Listening to other’s answers?

Very good to hear how the others think & get other people’s perspective on certain ideas & issues.

Gives you a different perspective on discussion. Can be good or bad or informative.

It made me listen more.

Didn’t make a difference. Was still interested in what others had to say.

I had to listen to other’s answers in case I was asked to give my opinion.



This method made students listen more to other’s answers to questions.



Many ideas coming at you as well as perspectives. Refreshing too. A lot more doors have opened in my thinking. Some are still yet to be opened. Some still stunted by what I think I know, or have believed for most of my life.

It made me think and stay alert. Thinking about questions and answers.

It broadened my thinking.

Didn’t make a difference.

I actually had to use my brain and think about things so I’d have something to say if I got picked.


This method had an overall positive affect on students’ thinking.


How did this method affect your acceptance of mistakes or of not knowing the answer?

Apprehensive – but gradually as you settle into the class you don’t have a problem. I came into this class at the start of the year with no expectations. I did keep the majority of my ideas to myself for a while.

It did not affect my acceptance of mistakes or not knowing as I already know what I don’t know.

It showed me that there is not a wrong answer as such.

Although my name wasn’t called I got nervous when I name was being called ‘cause I didn’t want to give an incorrect or dumb answer.

It was okay to not know the answer because of how the questions were forced on you with no warning.

You can see others don’t know answers, so you are less worried.


This method helped students to accept their mistakes and the fact that they might not know something that others do.


What did you like about this method?

Gained insight to other people’s perspectives. Better understanding of how people viewed these theories etc. Was glad at times when my name was not picked.

Random selection kept everyone interested and ready for their questions if one was to come.

That it lets me hear viewpoints that otherwise may not have been expressed.

Made me pay more attention and didn’t really day dream, but personally wouldn’t like it If my name was called.

We all had to actually pay attention. Learn more.

Everyone gets involved.


This method was enjoyed by all the students because of the variety of opinions it provided and the random selection of who was to answer the question.


What are the benefits of this method?

Confidence building, teaches you dialect, enables you to speak freely without judgment and expand on each other’s theories & discussion about certain topics.

Gives everyone a chance to answer and those who wish not to speak a chance not to.

Helping people listen more to what is being said.

Paying more attention, less day-dreaming.

You learn more and feel better about not knowing or having different views.

You get a range of views on a topic, rather than just hearing from people with strong opinions.


This method helped students voice their opinions freely and listen to other people’s opinions of certain topics.


What did you dislike about this method?

Random selection was not random most of the time. Could be called upon and not prepared.


If one’s name gets pulled out repeatedly.

If I had my name called out.

When your name gets picked more than others.


This method was unfair as the selection process could pick a student’s name multiple times while not picking others at all. NB: Random selection means multiple times are possible.


Why would you recommend or not recommend this method to other teachers?

Recommend – not so early in the term when you’ve just started.

I would recommend this method as you don’t know whether you will have to answer so you are forced to listen.

Involves everyone in discussion so it’s not only certain people dominating discussion. Students will pay more attention. Acceptance of mistakes.

I would recommend this method because it encourages students to pay attention and discuss matters.


This method was recommended for use by other teachers by all students.


Other comments.

Very good method in teaching or learning how to speak in philosophical dialect or have a philosophical discussion amongst peers. This discussion helped me in my learning to see it differently or process it differently in order for me to understand things better. It’s enlightening & empowering.

Works best with open questions – for different views.


This method is good for open-ended questions with a wide range of answers. For example: a philosophical situation where the students are asked for their views or beliefs.


Overall Comments

·students are more attentive (as anyone in the class may be asked the next question)

·students seek clarification of the question before the selected name is revealed

·supports the expectation that all students should have an answer

·wait time is used to prolong the active cognition involved in preparing a response

·facilitates a greater degree of inclusion and class participation

·prevents domination by a few individuals

·a student’s answer to a question can reveal his / her understanding of an issue, and any resulting dialogue with the teacher and other students may help develop that understanding

·by asking and accepting a student’s explanation of how he / she arrived at a response without comment, then randomly selecting others to state what they think, gives value to the first answer and draws the class into a shared discussion of the issue

·facilitates a risk-taking atmosphere where students feel safe and confident to spontaneously state viewpoints and ask questions of the teacher and of each other

·allows acceptance of getting things wrong as a fundamental part of learning

·works best with higher order thinking and problem solving questions

·facilitates more talk from students, higher level thinking, wider participation from group members, greater cohesion within the class, and richer inquiry.


Richard Tweedie

Philosophy Teacher

Hagley Community College