Part 2: Using Student Responders Responsibly

A wonderfully amazing thing happened here on Radical Nation last weekend.  Were you paying attention?

You see, after I shared a response detailing how I thought student responders could be used to encourage higher level thinking in the classroom, several readers stopped by to add their own thoughts to the conversation.

And honestly, their thinking was better than mine! 

Here’s a sampling:

Nancy Blair—one of my favorite Twitter follows—started things off by suggesting another way to use responders to ask higher level questions.  She wrote:

In addition to the Likert-like questions, it is also possible to structure multiple choice questions that require inference, application, analysis, etc. by asking students to decide upon the "best" choice or most likely outcome from the scenario posed in the question stem.

An example I encountered on a social studies test years ago asked, "Which quotation below best reflects the political beliefs of the speaker?" Quotations from four U.S. presidents where listed as the choices.

Damian Bariexca—a brilliant school counselor and former high school English teacher who blogs over at Apace of Change—followed followed with another practical example of how responders can be used in classroom instruction:

I’ll just add two quick bits: another interesting exercise you can do is to use the feedback in sort of a data analysis exercise.

In addition to discussing whatever topic is at hand, it’s often also interesting to ask students to consider why they think the results came out the way they did – what is it about US as a group that made the results skew this way or that, and do we think these results are representative of the student body as a whole, or the state, country, etc….

You could always ask students…to choose the option that most closely fits their opinion, and then ask them to elaborate upon what they agreed and disagreed with about the statement.

Marsha Ratzel—a middle school teacher blogging over at Teaching Techie and friend who has influenced my thinking more than almost any single person I know—pushed back a bit, arguing that asking low-level questions with student responders has a place in our bag of tricks too:

I agree with your hesitation about clickers being used with low level questions. I don’t agree that asking low level questions is always a bad thing.  I use clickers with low level questions and I feel like it one of the best tools in my arsenal. Here’s why.

Although I ask those kinds of questions, it is the instructional setting that differentiates the student experience. Immediately students know if they were able to perform the math process correctly. Immediately I know what processes I need to reteach and I do it right there and right then.

We talk about what worked, they learn to analyze their mistakes and they learn to trust. They learn to trust that if they can’t work the problem correctly, they need to ask questions in specific ways. They grow in their understanding of themselves as mathematicians.

The last step that I utilize is to have them write reflections of each question they miss. Right there when they figure out what they did incorrectly. These are probably the most empowering things that math students can learn…they realize it is their education and their learning. They take it back from me and they begin to own it.

And Russ Goerend—one heck of a young mind who blogs over at TAGmirror—got me thinking about whether or not technology should be used as a motivator:

Your post has sparked some thinking for me on what I’ll call the elephant in the room in regard to digital technology in the classroom: namely what I have seen as a disconnect between edtechers’ calls of "no tech for tech’s sake" and what I see as the undeniable fact that kids are enamored with shiny stuff.

Give them clickers and an instantly-updating graph on the projector and you’ll get a jump in participation over raising hands to vote on the same questions. Put a map in the textbook on a document camera and you’ll have all kids’ attention versus having them open their own textbooks to the same map. The comparisons go on and on.

I’m not afraid to admit that shiny/digital stuff draws attention. Why can’t we as educators admit it and go with it? It’s what happens with that attention that matters, so why can’t I use tech for attention’s sake?

Good stuff, huh?  And it’s not to late to add your two cents!  Student response systems are a tool that many school leaders are enamored with—which means we’re likely to see more and more sets of responders trickling into our schools. 

If we’re going to make those investments worthwhile, it’s important that we begin to systematically document the kinds of practices that we’d like to see our peers pursue. 

So leave a comment already!  Tell us how you think class sets of student responders can be used responsibly. 

6 thoughts on “Part 2: Using Student Responders Responsibly

  1. K. Borden

    Take a look at one of the vastly popular handheld devices and associated game ware used by young folks, the DS. At their heart, most the games require the young person to make a series of choices from programmed alternatives. The if /then pathways take the young player on a journey, with each choice having consequences.
    I have watched my own child set aside the system, take out pencil and paper and work through a logic or math problem in order to “advance to the next level or objective. I have also observed as she weighed the alternatives of choices presented. One game required her to plan for journey west under conditions similar to those faced by Lewis and Clark. A given set of resources might be employed in various ways, each with consequences. (If you select horses instead of mules to pull the wagons, the options available to you are different.)
    After observing this a bit, I sat down with her one day and we discussed how similar the entire processes were to the central decision in “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. We also later discussed choices as they appeared in “The Lottery”, which in turn led us to talk about concepts like pure democracy, group dynamics, bias/propaganda. In other contexts we have had springboards to discussions of connotation, voice, point of view…
    My point is that the responder ultimately is the student, and the guide ultimately is the teacher. The tool by which the response is recorded is the “responder”. The co-existing tool is the multiple choice question. Being able to record the results efficiently is a time saver for the teacher in a classroom filled with many students. The time thus saved may well be employed to expand beyond the choices presented.
    One multiple choice question method I use is to ask a question where she must select “the best” of the available alternatives, followed by having her provide what alternatives were not offered that may be better or may otherwise apply. I have to smile when she comes to me and says, “Mom, this is the right answer given what is offered, but…”. Each time she asks “what if”, “but if”, “it could be” or any other variety of extensions beyond, a new window of learning opportunities opens.
    I could take the position that because sometimes these encounters begin with “shiny” gadgets they lack value, and relegate her to a world more similar to a former century to which she does not belong. Or I can be creative, look for connections, and find ways to make relevant the vast array of options available to her today to employ tools to her benefit as a learner. The multiple choice question (including true/false) and the electronic response recorder are simply tools to unlock other opportunities in our world.
    I suppose it leaves me to ask, if these devices streamline collecting responses and collecting data, why the angst of using them? If it is all a student does, then issue is not that the tools (multiple choice questions and response recorders) are inherently bad. The source of angst lies elsewhere. Devices and question formats are tools (means) in the instructional process, not ends.

  2. Uptonben

    I would like to share one strategy I use that takes questions to a higher level. I like to occasionally leave the answers (a,b,c,d) blank and have the students come up with the options. You can easily differentiate by having them offer either the correct or obvious wrong answers, but for the higher level thinkers they can try and offer really good distractors.
    After you fill in all the options give them a chance to vote on the question they built. The process ensures that they will be engaged several times during the voting session.


    I’ll just add that my thoughts stemmed from my original comment on Bill’s first entry: what’s the difference between using clickers and having kids raise their hands to vote?
    I think the only difference is analog vs. digital. That seems like an obvious thing to say, but I think that’s where the differences start and stop.
    I don’t have any idea how much a set of clickers cost. If I had them, I imagine I’d use them — hopefully in critical thinking situations — and if I didn’t have them, I can’t see myself lobbying to get them.

  4. Damian

    I’d like to second Joel’s point about “one-trick ponies” – whenever I’ve done this sort of activity with a class, it’s been via a text message polling app that students use their own cell phones to access. I have never used a “traditional” (?) SRS system.
    I agree 100% that schools should look to get the most for their money. I’ve never been convinced that SRS clicker systems are that, but if you can get that functionality through other, multi-purpose means, I say go for it.

  5. Joel Zehring

    I appreciate the great ideas for hacking a limited tool to make it more engaging and beneficial. I also share Matt’s suspicion with the recent trendiness of clickers.
    I’m not a fan of one-trick ponies. If my school is going to drop thousands of dollars on computer-based tools, then I’m going to lobby for a class set of iPod Touches. By pointing them at web-based quizzes, we get all the functionality of clickers, plus 80% of the functionality of laptops.

  6. Mctownsley

    I wonder if student responders will be the next educational fad, if they aren’t already. I’ll use “formative assessment” as an example. School districts purchase textbooks with ready-made “formative assessments and teachers use them. If the textbook publishers created them, they must be quality, right? If they’re labeled as “formative assessments” and teachers are supposed to be doing “it,” then it’s a perfect match! Responders, no matter how they’re used will be assumed to be a “good” thing in the classroom, just like formative assessment, technology or any other educational fad. Just a thought to add to an already great conversation you have going here, Bill.

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