Who stole the lolly stick and why?


Hands down! Choose a lolly stick instead.

Once upon a time there lived a scholar. This scholar believed he could transform learning by focussing on improving communication and participation in the classroom, thereby raising academic achievement. He conducted a classroom experiment with a mixed ability group of 24 teenagers from a typical comprehensive school.

(Classroom Experiment on UniTube at: https://unitube.hud.ac.uk/View.aspx?ID=3179~4u~vz7aUON7 Broadcast on 27/09/2010 for BBC2)

The first thing he noticed whilst observing lessons was that the “interactivity” in the classroom did not encompass all learners’ needs. Teachers often asked questions but only the higher level learners ever put their hands up to answer the questions leaving the lower level learners to switch off. Also, it appeared that some teachers were not aware of all learners’ understanding of the subject matter.  So the scholar developed a strategy which the teachers and learners had to comply with.

1)      Learners were not allowed to put up their hands to ask questions. The teacher was given 24 lolly sticks. Each stick had the name of a learner on it. Throughout the class a teacher would take one of the lolly sticks and call out the name of that learner to answer a question thereby involving all the learners at some point in the lesson.

2)      The learners were given small whiteboards to write their answers onto. The tutor could then view all learners’ responses without having to focus on any one individual. This feedback from the whole class increased the teacher’s awareness of their overall level of understanding and could pace the lesson accordingly.

3)      All learners were given 3 traffic light coloured paper cups; red, orange and green. They were used to highlight their level of understanding to the teacher enabling the teacher to support individuals on a one to on, need to know basis.

Help Me Miss!

Red:“I’m totally lost and cannot budge until I get help”.

Orange: “I’m a bit stuck”

Green: “I’m doing fine”.

4)      The learners had 15 minutes of P.E every day before lessons to get the blood flowing to the brain with the aim to increase their attention span.

5)      One of the teachers was given “constructive feedback” on her performance by two of the learners who were taught observation skills.

The teachers struggled with the new strategies and the learners found it unsettling. The teachers thought the process undermined their professionalism.  The scholar persevered. Over time, some of the lower level learners began to reap the benefits. Communication and participation improved. The higher level learners who found the process very frustrating at first began to realise that whole class participation gave other learners a voice. Teachers were getting valuable feedback to reflect on their pedagogical framework and were made aware of who needed help and when. The chapter was about to finish. But there was dissent in the ranks. One day, the teachers found one of the lolly sticks had been stolen by a learner.

Who stole the lolly stick and why…..?

I don’t know. Sorry guys. You’ll have to watch part 2 of the Classroom Experiment.

But what has all this to do with interactivity?


As eLearning evangelists we are always exploring innovative and exciting new technologies to increase “interactivity” with the aim of improving engagement and promoting active learning. It is our maxim. Yet as this low tech classroom experiment highlights if you dissect the concept of interactivity it is largely to do with communication. Of course it’s not quite as simple as Muirhead and Juwah point out  in their review of the literature on interactivity (2004). It is indeed a “multifaceted concept and can be described to mean different things in a variety of contexts” (Muirhead and Juwah, 2004, p.13). But before getting down to the nitty gritty of online interactivity I have been searching for the bare bones of what “interactivity” means. Muirhead’s definition of interactivity resonates well with my own understanding of it. Isn’t it primarily about “communication, participation and feedback?” (Muirhead and Juwah, 2004, p.13).

So whatever you think about the scholar’s strategies in this story in the classroom experiment, good, bad or downright scary, I have found it personally stimulating. It has made me reflect that interactivity, without the whistles and bells that technology affords it, is as simple as a mutually coherent dialogue between individuals that satisfies their needs. The teachers at the school were not getting the feedback they needed to respond effectively to the learners’ needs. The exercise merely illustrates that simple, interactive strategies can be put in place to improve teaching practice without having to resort to highly technical solutions.  I love Yacci’s definition of interactivity based on his 4 characteristics in Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT

  • Interactivity is a message loop;
    whether this is student-student, student-teacher, student-computer
  • Instructional interactivity occurs from the learner’s point of view;
    and how often do we as practitioners fail our learners by thinking that their answers to our questions with a titbit of feedback has completed the process?
  • Instructional interactivity has 2 distinct classes of outputs: content learning and affective benefits;
    how often do we as practitioners tend to focus on the content learning rather than the affective benefits when we all know that fun learning is the best kind of learning?
  • Messages in an interaction must be mutually coherent?
    Any parent will know what this refers to:

6 year old son says “Mummy look, I’ve made a monster, see what it does!”

Mummy says, “Wonderful darling, come and sit down for dinner”.

Confessions of a bad mother!

So know I’ve got some basic understanding under my wing I now need to think about the task in hand.

What kind of interactions are made in online communities using social media and what can we learn from this?

I can also apply one of Feurstein’s killer questions from his Instrumental Enrichment and Metacognition programme which focussed on helping learners to think for themselves.

  • What have I just done?
  • How can I apply this?

I am sorry! I have already lapsed into reflective monologue blogger. I will try harder next time but, I do find this kind of reflecting blogging helps scaffold tacit knowledge to make it more explicit.

Anyone want to join me in a Blogger’s Anonymous meeting? Hi, my name is Beth and I am a monologue blogger!

 “People take turns telling others what they already know and their monologues often bear no relation to one another except that they address the same topic or question.” (Allman, cited in Williams 2006, p.109).

Does anyone know who stole the lolly stick and why?

5 thoughts on “Who stole the lolly stick and why?

  1. Hi Beth
    I now know who you are ! You very kindly left me a very encouraging comment telling me that I “do indeed exist !” when I was wondering whether I was blogging the right place and I thought – how kind but who is Barabara Snowdon ? Of course it’s you !

    But re your post which I found very engaging as well as mentally stimulating –
    I have to say that I don’t know who stole the lolly stick or why but looking forward to you telling me. But thank you for reminding me of Feurstein’s Killer Questions which I’d forgotten about. And as for being a monologue blogger – I guess we all are unless we have a synchronous online conversation but perhaps that’s an online discussion. I would suggest that the environment of a blog fosters the monologue and as we comment on each others’ blogs the sense of dialogue is created. Technology could be seen as a double edged sword – it enables us to reach out into the world but also handicaps us by keeping us within our own bubble. Mmmm – better stop mixing my metaphors. Looking forward to your next monologue.
    Kind regards, Sue

  2. Hi Beth,

    This is an excellent post, which covers all the points well and the fact that you “lapsed into reflective monologue blogger” is not a bad thing, as blogs are a great reflective tool which therefore won’t always attract a dialogue of conversation.

    It’s interesting that you used the “classroom experiment” as an example of interactivity, as I watched this at the time and thought very much along the lines you explored. However, given my job role, I immediately started to think of ways technology could enhance this kind of interactivity. One example of this is the “Stick Pick” App for iPads, (more information available at this link http://www.emergingedtech.com/2011/06/stickpick-an-individualized-learning-app-for-the-ipad-and-iphone-that-leverages-blooms-taxonomy/) which mirrors the lolly sticks but goes further as it also links to Bloom’s taxonomy.


  3. Nice post Beth 🙂 If I had been in that class I would have been the phantom lolly-stick thief because the rebellious anarchist in me resents being controlled in that way. Being forced to respond when I have nothing to offer would really irritate me and create resentment towards the teacher. But, maybe that’s just me.

    BTW hope you got your phone bill sorted!

  4. I like the post Beth. Very comprehensive. I’m with David here on the stealing of the lolly stick. And I do question the ethos behind the experiment. Surely there are kids who find it extremely stressful to contribute in front of a classroom full of peers. Is it not better to find a medium where they feel comfortable contributing. Could we potentially scare them away from education by forcing them so far out of their comfort zone? What about the kids who thrive on contribution. Let’s face it, in our MSc, the vast majority of us contribute freely (including me) and I’d hate to think I was restricted in doing that as there are often points that I want to explore or expand upon.
    Anyway – that’s not the focus of your post. Like you, I find that I have to redefine my own views on interactivity. I also like Yacci’s message loop definition, but you’ve now sparked my interest and I need to go and read Muirhead and Juwah. It’s funny. I’m now reassessing many resources that I thought were interactive in light of Yacci and also Laurillard’s conversational framework (which I’ve just about started to understand).

  5. Pingback: Flickr: The world at your doorstep | blogging4education

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