New Slide: Making Student Responders Matter

During the course of a recent Twitter conversation about Mike Schmoker’s new book Focus, Lyn Hilt—one of the Connected Principals that I admire the most—-made a comment about student responders that really resonated with me when she said, “I think what matters is what you do AFTER the “click” that counts.

I took Lyn’s comment, adapted it a bit and then added it to this slide:

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

Lyn’s thinking matters, y’all.  Like any technology purchase, there’s nothing magical about student responders.  They can, however, make collecting and acting on data far, far more efficient than the traditional data collection and analysis practices that teachers are forced to use in our schools.

So I guess the question for anyone with an itch to splurge on student responders and a technology budget to burn becomes, “What are YOU going to do to support teachers who are interested in taking action after the clicks in their classrooms?”

If you can’t answer that question, you’re wasting your cash—-and our time.

14 thoughts on “New Slide: Making Student Responders Matter

  1. Randal Hendee

    The idea that instant feedback can help a teacher run the class makes total sense. I don’t know enough about clickers to say whether they’re worth buying, though. I think there’s a chance these devices will go the way of the dedicated word processor. Something better, with more learning value for the student, is bound to come along.
    To me the value of the device depends not just on how the teacher uses it but also on its capabilities. It also depends on the nature of the data you want to study. If you want to monitor student progress on grammar and usage drills, or have students complete a multiple-choice survey, these clickers sound fine. But does that make them worth the cost? For literature study their value might be limited, unless the teacher were to incorporate their use into a related discussion protocol, as I suggested in my comment.
    If I were still teaching I would consider holding out for a more powerful device, with added capabilities for open-ended response, student interaction, and curation of student learning. To use a financial metaphor, I’m in favor of classroom protocols and technology that help students generate personal “learning capital” (knowledge, capabilities, and habits of mind that enhance their learning power). Using a clicker to quiz students sounds a little like checking their account balances, rather than helping them build capital for investing in future learning.
    It does sound like teachers are adapting their use of clickers to go beyond their apparent limitations. If I come up with a smarter system, I’ll let you know!

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Randal wrote:
    The system can be easily modified and enhanced with a little ingenuity.
    What the teacher loses in instant data recording, the students may gain
    in ownership and personal engagement.
    Youre right, Randal. Student response systems have existed long before anyone even dreamed of digital clickers—-and every solution that youve suggested has the potential to change the levels of ownership and engagement in classrooms.
    Id push back, though, that the instant data recording features offered by sets of digital clickers is pretty darn important. By having sets of data in an electronic format that I can search and manipulate easily, I am far more likely to take action based on results and trends because the transaction costs of taking action are reduced to zero. As it currently stands, recording information by hand into spreadsheets—-something that Ive done before (search for pivot tables in the sidebar)—-is so time consuming that the the costs of using data to inform my instruction outweigh the potential rewards.
    Now, that doesnt mean that there arent other rewards in the strategies that youve suggested OR that my actions as an educator are automatically going to be more informed, efficient and effective if I have a tool that automates data collection. What it does mean, though, is that as things currently stand, Im not even trying to make decisions based on data because data collection is too time consuming and cumbersome.
    Clickers could change that—-and if schools have the cash to spend, theyre a more responsible investment than some of the crap that we waste our money on. Id rather see clickers going into every classroom than Interactive Whiteboards—-or even class sets of textbooks.
    Does this make sense,

  3. Randal Hendee

    If these newfangled clicker devices are deemed too expensive, maybe you could invest in some 3 X 5 index cards. Give each student five cards. On one card have them make a big green YES and on the other side a big red NO. Have them decorate and embellish as desired. In a big class setting or in small groups, have the leader pose a thought question that can be answered yes or no (e. g., Do you think Holden Caulfied is a spoiled brat?). After a few moments of reflection, students flash their answer, and students who wish to explain hold up their cards and wait to be called on. Designated students record the data, including key words from the explanations. Go on to the next question. The method works great with student-generated questions and designated student roles (question reader, data recorder, discussion leader, bell ringer for special recognition, etc.). For a forced-choice survey format, have students mark four separate cards with A, SA, D, and SD for Agree, Strongly Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. The leader reads a debatable statement and students respond and explain in turn. For a standard multiple choice format, the reverse sides of the survey response cards can be labeled A, B, C, and D. In small or large group formats, right and wrong responses can be debriefed, and multiple choice items can be scrutinized and modified for future use. Who needs clickers when you can afford to give each kid five index cards? The system can be easily modified and enhanced with a little ingenuity. What the teacher loses in instant data recording, the students may gain in ownership and personal engagement. The physical acts of designing the answer cards beforehand and displaying them during the discussion might even provide neural attention triggers for students that could be well be missing from the potentially mindless click experience. If teachers are concerned about peer pressure during the response phase, that could be addressed by having students display their cards in front of their foreheads. If small groups are used, group representatives can pool the data compiled within each group and report final data and key discussion points to the whole class. This becomes a form of distributed processing, with higher order skills required of students every step of the way.
    Total Cost: Whatever three packs of index cards cost nowadays.
    Total Learning: Incalculabe!

  4. Dan

    Bill – great post, lots of great commentary going on here. The Marzano study that everyone defending the use of IWBs cites attributes lots of success to the appropriate use of student response devices. Like many who have already commented, I see the narrow scope of questions that can be asked as limiting. From what I understand that higher end models allow for responses beyond multiple choice, which would be nice. Marsha has it right, it’s all about feedback loops. The clickers are one of many ways to create places where meaningful conversation and feedback and happen about the learning taking place. Thanks for the post.

  5. mratzel

    Dear Louise and Bill,
    OK…I haven’t gone the Livescribe route yet and want to. It’s on my list to learn this summer because I just can’t do one more thing this year.
    But I’m anxious to see the results and thank Louise for posting her hyperlink.
    Bill….I’m in the middle of convection currents in the mantle so I hope you’ll post your tutorial.

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Louise,
    Im JAZZED to hear that your Livescribe pen has become a party in your classroom and school! Its actually pretty ironic that you write today simply because I have my pen and pad in my backpack ready for a tutorial that I need to create this weekend on convection and conduction.
    For me, the portability and ease of use of the Livescribe pen is what makes it so valuable. I dont need to do any training and or selling to get students or teachers to try it because it is the least intimidating digital product theyve ever seen. And while the final results may be simple, theyre effective. Teachers care about simple and effective more than anything.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing,

  7. Bill Ferriter

    George wrote:
    With all of the talk of 21st century learning talking about deep
    thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, etc., I am
    wondering why we are putting money into something that really doesnt do
    any of these things effectively? Maybe I have not seen how these are
    used effectively in the classroom but there seems to be a more cost
    effective way.
    Im with you, George—I think there are better uses for our cash than buying student responders, too, particularly as more and more of our students show up with cell phones that can be paired with Poll Anywhere for instant responder action. But I do think that the instant data that can be gathered from responders—-even when that data is gathered from questions that we might consider mundane—-can be really valuable to teachers.
    Ill honestly admit that I take very little action based on student learning results in my classroom. I almost never craft learning plans or provide remediation and enrichment based on data—outside of my own observations—-simply because collecting and analyzing trends in that data is close to impossible in my school, where we still rely on three-ring binders as our data collection and storage tools. Responders could at least automate the collection and recording process for me—saving me time that I could then use to do the knowledge-based work of learning from the trends I see in the numbers.
    I also like Marshas comments about how the instant results from responders can be used to provide much needed, instant feedback about mastery and progress to students—-mainly because thats something else that I rarely do. Getting feedback from me can take weeks simply because Im swamped with meetings during planning time. Giving feedback—a high leverage strategy recommended by Marzano—-gets pushed to the wayside because its something that happens only when I can steal a few minutes to look at student work.
    And finally, Steve has a bunch of great ideas about how responders can be used for higher level reflective work. I love the idea of using responders as a tool for having students reflect on their positions and their core beliefs. Thats a simple way to make the tool a support for the kinds of higher level thinking that we want to promote in our classrooms.
    Are they worth the cash?
    Sure—when theyre placed in the right teachers hands. But I guess thats the case with any digital tool, right?
    Rock on,

  8. louise

    Our school got one set of clickers. We rapidly found the time input was only worth the effort if you had the set available all the time, so we designated them for one teacher. I hate answers, and I love the process, so to me they were not helpful.
    But the livescribe pen – we love the livescribe pen! We made our first pencast last week , when a student came to me to ask for help on logs (math, people). I put it up on the web from home after I got home (down side – software only on one computer, and I can’t put programs on the school computers). Oh my, she was like a dog with two tails. She’s been all round the school, I have 3 teachers interested, and she’s borrowed the pen and paper for the weekend to show her dad how great it is and how they absolutely need one each!!!
    P.S. she got 92% on the unit test, which was not multiple choice, because she listened to the video and worked the problems along with it until she could do any of them. Hooray! Teachers: get one. Try it. Bill: thanks!

  9. mratzel

    Dear Bill,
    I love my clickers and feel like they’ve helped me become a better teacher. I didn’t realize that what I did was a saying…but what you do After the click…is definitely the way they become powerful feedback loops. And I’m all about feedback.
    From the mundane uses, where you give a problem and they respond and then you talk through all the answers and debrief why certain answers were wrong. Students feel the transfer of power. It’s no longer about getting the right answers. It’s about getting better at the process and they can begin to see my work with them as a training session where their work reveals what they need me to do next. It frees them from the fear of getting a wrong answer.
    It also helps students to realize that if they get something wrong, they need to stop me and ask for help. It’s their ability to stop and analyze their answer…hopefully learning to identify what went wrong and then asking for help. And it’s about co-oping the rest of the class to be consultants in strategizing how to help the student(s) that aren’t proficient on that type of question.
    Maybe they’re sloppy and need to slow down. They come to realize that. Maybe they don’t get how to do something….well, there are other kids that literally come to their side and practice with them until they’re good enough to do it alone. Maybe they have steps mixed up…and it’s important for them to know that so they can pay attention to correct order the next time.
    Clickers give you the power to tear apart errors. And if you make that a public process, it’s no longer a teacher’s secret power. It a power that you impart to everyone. Imagine the surge of pride that the kids that struggle get when you get to something they can do well and THEY get to be the explainer to someone else!!! It happens and it is a sweet thing to witness.
    I love clickers. But then I’m weird like that.

  10. George Couros

    Hey Bill,
    I think that Lyn is right that it is important what we do with the results after we get the assessment. The problem I find though is that the cost for those “clickers” is not worth what you get in return. We could use a ping pong paddle and have students display answers on multiple choice questions (which is mainly what I have seen those responders used for). You can also allow students to bring in cell phones, use ipods, etc. and use poll anywhere. They have them so why not alleviate the cost on the school and put it into something else? (like more people?) With all of the talk of 21st century learning talking about deep thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, etc., I am wondering why we are putting money into something that really doesn’t do any of these things effectively? Maybe I have not seen how these are used effectively in the classroom but there seems to be a more cost effective way.

  11. Steve Johnson

    I’m interested in ideas centered around more meaningful uses of clickers than as multiple choice/rote question responders. How can they help foster critical thinking? Help develop analysis?
    Thinking more along the lines of using them as feeling/reaction points- kind’ve like how, if you watch coverage of a major speech there are these indicators of how the focus group feels during certain parts. I can see developing a 1-10 scale and then, every 10 seconds students could give a ranking on how they approve of the message being delivered. Could show change over time and help get into good/poor word choice throughout a speech/piece of writing or film. Could break the data down male/female and see if there are differences and why…If you’ve worked on MI theory you could even slice it between intelligences and see if there are any trends.
    You could also use clickers for students self-assessing themselves throughout a project. Build the rubric, have it posted and then as students reach reflection points they could self-assess. Then that data could be used as a jumping off point for them when they have more time to reflect on why they assessed themselves in that way and how they could improve.
    Just spitballin’ here! But I think we can take these devices and push them outside of the box they seem to be in right now. Thanks for getting me thinking again, Bill.

  12. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Frank,
    Thanks for stopping by the Radical and for pointing out the PI bits. I cant wait to check them out. They sound like theyre great bits that can be used as levers in conversations with teachers and school leaders about digital change.
    Rock on,

  13. Frank Noschese

    Anyone using clickers should learn about the Peer Instruction method from Eric Mazur, a Harvard physics professor. Peer Instruction questioning is all about what happens AFTER the results are tallied.
    For a brief description of PI, see “Farewell, Lecture?”
    In fact, if you use PI questioning but replace the clickers with lettered index cards, you get the same results. See “Clickers or Flashcards: Is There Really a Difference?”
    It’s not the technology, it’s the pedagogy!

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