What’s up with the bell?

A few years back, I got for my classroom a small bell, the kind that hotels have on the front desk that you “ding” for service.

Initially, I used the bell to call the class to order — no need to raise my voice. Very civilized.

This September I started to ring the bell repeatedly—ding, ding ding!!!! — á la television game show, when a student gave a particularly good answer. This has met with success; it offers more reticent students enthusiastic support and congratulations.

But I’ve recently hit on perhaps the best pedagogical use for the bell: to recognize good questions. Sure, good answers will always be good answers. And that’s great. But a 100% insightful, Canada Grade “A” question really takes the cake. For a student to think outside his (or my!) comfort zone, well . . . that’s magic. This is part of my initiative to reward questions. I’m trying — when I remember—to start each class with a plea for each student to ask at least one question.

The bell isn’t only for ringing: one year I copper-plated it, so it’s a now an ugly-looking conversation piece.

Student:  “Why would you make a shiny bell look like that?

Me: “Because I could.”