Clicking Our Way to Great Teaching

They have different names, such as clickers, pods, or devices. But whatever you call them, hand-held electronic response devices (ERDs) are showing up in many schools as a means of facilitating formative feedback to students and teachers. The first generation of ERDs gave all students in a class the opportunity to respond at the same time to multiple-choice questions. The next generation allows students to key in numbers and letters to give answers to open-ended questions. A new self-paced learning application, called Questions for Learning (QfL), uses the second-generation devices to pose questions on each student’s ERD. QfL allows students to go at their own pace through a series of increasingly difficult questions.

As students enter their answers, they receive immediate feedback, and their responses can be summarized for the teacher and presented on a computer or whiteboard. In this formative assessment, teachers can get immediate indicators of students’ learning of lesson content, so they can adjust the level and pace of the lesson to meet the needs of the class. Teachers can also quickly identify individual students who are struggling with the content, and give them additional teaching right away.

I’ve seen students using self-paced devices. It’s a remarkable sight. Kids are very highly motivated to get right answers as quickly as possible, and to advance to higher-level questions. Teachers assist kids having difficulties, which are immediately apparent. Perhaps most importantly, every child is actively engaged and achieving success.

Research on the use of ERDs is still limited, but two studies by the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York in England found that QfL helped to improve upper-elementary students’ learning. One study showed positive effects on math achievement, the other on grammar.

The classroom of the future will surely have some means of giving teachers and students immediate feedback on students’ learning, and quick means of accommodating differences in student proficiency. QfL seems like a major step in this direction. The findings of the early research are encouraging, and as clickers get ever smarter, the possibilities seem exciting.

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