Richer responses, faster feedback in class

New student response systems promote personalization and large-group discussions
By: | October 19, 2016

Craig Jones discovered the difficulty of providing personalized learning to a large class when he taught science at a Los Angeles USD middle school. With 10 lab stations set up across the classroom—each with its own objectives—monitoring each students’ learning was virtually impossible.

Jones sought to solve the problem. After leaving the district, he helped develop Formative—a student response system launched in 2015 that allows teachers to watch, on their computers, how each student responds to questions on mobile devices.

Two decades ago, most student response systems were simple clickers—devices that could record and display answers to multiple-choice or yes-no questions, and little else. But now, many systems let students enter free-form responses to questions. Teachers can see those responses as they are entered, and can provide immediate feedback.

Immediate, personalized input, especially following an assessment, can provide the equivalent to eight months of extra learning for students in the school year, according to a 2014 study from the Educational Endowment Foundation.

Student response systems generally come in two forms: device-based, where students use clickers to enter their answers; and app-based, where students record responses on their phones or school-issued tablets or laptops.

But other considerations include the method by which teachers prepare their questions and view responses, and whether the response system links to existing curricular content and a district’s LMS or assessment database. We describe them here.

Clicker-based systems

The latest clickers produce live results for teachers as students respond to questions, without requiring students to use other devices such as laptops and phones.

Clickers—which can run on one set of batteries for six to 12 months and are highly durable—are best used in buildings where students don’t have their own devices, or areas that don’t have a strong Wi-Fi signal, says Laurie Boedicker, director of curriculum and instruction at Highland Local School District in Ohio.

Schools typically purchase clickers in class packs—sets of 12, 24 or 36 depending on school and class size. They are usually shared throughout the district to reduce costs, says Boedicker.

Specifically, the West New York School District in New Jersey uses Promethean’s Activote, a small, egg-shaped device that has six choices labeled A to F that can be used for various question types, such as true/false, multiple-choice or polling the classroom.

And Grace Wilday Junior High School in Roselle Public Schools in New Jersey uses Qwizdom, another clicker. As part of a federal grant to upgrade its technology infrastructure, the school purchased 17 sets of 24 clickers and applied them in each subject. Results were positive: Test scores increased in each of the subsequent five years, says former Principal Josue Falaise.

Several clicker-based response providers also offer fee-based software that allows students to use their systems with personal computing devices, instead of the clickers.

Then there is Qomo, which produces a clicker with a variety of activity modes, including homework, where students can bring the device home and input answers for review the following day. It also offers a “rush quiz” feature, which is a timed quiz mode for periodic review, and “hand-raise” where students can hit a button to tell the teacher they are ready to respond in class.

App-based systems

But teachers who don’t have clickers can try a number of free tools, such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Pear Deck.

Each product has both software and app versions, which are accessed through laptops and mobile phones over a school’s Wi-Fi signal. Students typically receive a code on their devices to join the virtual classroom, where teachers post questions for them to answer.

While teachers and students can sign up for free for most products, companies such as Formative also sell licenses to integrate across multiple classrooms.

“It has given our teachers time back to become the architects of the learning experience” says Michele Dawson, senior director of instructional technology for Compton USD, which installed Formative in all elementary and middle schools a year ago, and extended to all high schools this fall.

Software such as Socrative helps engage students by providing various assessments, including multiple-choice, true/false and open-ended questions. Teachers can see a whole class overview, student-specific results or question-by-question breakdown.

One of the features of Kahoot!—Team Mode—breaks the class into groups, in which students can collaborate with one another around one device and compete against others in a game-based setting while a teacher monitors results.

Teacher considerations

With most student response systems, a teacher logs into the software’s website and can either create a lesson or quiz from scratch, or select from templates. Some products, such as Kahoot! or Pear Deck, have databases of quizzes.

With Formative, a teacher can post questions such as asking students to add fractions, and students simultaneously solve the problem by writing out the solution on their device.

The instructor’s screen—which can be any device—is filled with each student’s live response, with details of how they determined the answer, giving teachers the chance to assist each student as needed and provide instant feedback.

Professional development for teachers is as crucial an element as integrating the products. Most student response system vendors provide on-site training to help teachers get acclimated to their products.

Curricular alignment

Many programs offer the option of uploading documents to their platforms, allowing teachers to embed their curriculum without interruption.

For many clickers and app-based systems, results can be sent to a virtual gradebook for teachers and students to see, and student progress can be monitored during the academic year.

Several products enable teachers to even assign tags to specific assignments to flag that they actually align to national or state standards.

For example, Socrative tracks results to other assessment components offered by its parent company, MasteryConnect, for more detailed analysis.

Data integration

Response systems can be integrated easily with most learning-management systems. For example Pear Deck can import data from Google Classroom, and Google Classroom can enable Pear Deck with a simple add-on. Teachers can also click an icon to transfer the assessment results from Pear Deck to the LMS.

When Formative sells licenses to school districts, they customize the product so it connects to the LMS. In addition, teachers can create assignments in their LMS and then link that to the response software.

In the end, student response systems provide more data, which facilitates learning more efficiently and teachers to provide instant feedback, says Jones, the former LAUSD teacher.

“The future of personalized learning” Jones says, “requires more high-quality data from the classroom.”



H-ITT (Hyper-Interactive Teaching Technology Company)



Pear Deck

Poll Everywhere

Promethean–ActivExpression student response system




Turning Technologies

Wireless eSystems – iRespond

Ryan Lacey is staff writer.

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