In the previous post (part 1 of 2), we explored the fact that student response apps (Socrative, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) are often mislabeled as “formative assessment tools.” What makes them formative depends on the context in which they are used. Formative assessment is a process, and in order for a tool to play a part in this process the results/data it produces must be leveraged to differentiate instruction or learning.
Now, let’s explore a second problem with these apps, which is the belief that they are not generally associated with higher-order thinking.
From what I have experienced, we are largely stuck in this rut when it comes to using student response tools, and there are two main reasons why:
- For the most part, old school “student clickers” included only multiple-choice questions (and maybe a little something else), which is a format that tends to result in lower level questioning. It has been easy to copy and paste these inadequate practices (or questions) on to our newer technologies, even though these apps are capable of a whole lot more.
- When it comes to classroom instruction, I also think it is easy to view student response tools as an all or nothing decision. Either the entire lesson is centered around their use, or they are not used at all. From what I have experienced (and have been guilty of as well), if these tools are the focal point of a class, chances are the students are simply answering one multiple-choice question after another (which aligns with the education world’s current fascination with hard, quantitative data). This means more lower level questions that travel in only one direction, from teacher to students. There is no encouragement of dialogue, collaboration, inquiry, etc. Everything is black and white, when we all know that higher-order thinking and inquiry-based learning are all about shades of grey.
I do feel that multiple-choice and lower level questions have their place in the classroom, as higher-order thinking and inquiry are built on top of solid foundations and basic understandings. After all, you can’t think critically about nothing.
At the same time, I firmly believe that the majority of the questions asked in school, at the very least, should promote thought, curiosity and some level of exploration.
Here are two ideas as to how to encourage higher-order thinking with student response tools:
- Flipped Clickers: Tony Wagner defines critical thinking as “the ability to ask the right question, ask really good questions.” In Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the Distinguished level for Domain 3b (Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques) says, “Students formulate many questions, initiate topics, challenge one another’s thinking…” So, let’s flip the way student response tools our used by having students ask the questions. Overall, this shift can be accomplished by (1) the teacher promoting activities in which students have to respond with questions that they formulate (questions that can then be used creatively by the teacher to extend these activities), and/or (2) providing students with both student and teacher/administrative rights for as many tools as possible (for example, think small group literature circles in which students take turns leading the discussion). Just when you think you have all the answers, the students ask the questions.
- Fewer Questions for a Deeper Understanding: One of the components of Danielson’s Domain 3b reads, “When teachers ask questions of high quality, they ask only a few of them and provide students with sufficient time to think about their responses, to reflect on the comments of their classmates, and to deepen their understanding.” This quote addresses head-on what needs to be done in order to promote cultures of thinking in our classrooms. Many lower level questions (such as those that accompany stories in basal readers), should be converted to only a few higher-order questions (with the help of something like Webb’s Depth of Knowledge), and around these questions thinking routines should be formed (in which student response tools do not serve as the focal point, but are used to assist in facilitating discussion and increase opportunities to respond). Additionally, teachers need explicit professional development on how to shift from lower level questions to rigorous thinking routines, rather than just focusing on converting questions from lower level to higher-order. A bunch of higher-order questions asked in the same exact way (with or without technology) as an equal number of lower level questions will do very little to deepen students’ understanding of what they are learning.
For both options, it is not an either/or decision regarding whether or not the response tools are used, but rather finding the appropriate level of technology integration to enhance or redefine student learning experiences.
In the End
Once again, we need to emphasize pedagogy over technology by starting with the end in mind – higher-order questions and thinking routines – and then leveraging the tools that we have available to us in order for our students to arrive at the appropriate destination.
At the same time, we should keep in mind that although all educators are at different points on the learning curve when it comes to effectively integrating technology, the last thing we want is for instruction to be consistently inferior because technology just has to be included. Don’t try to cram a square peg into a round hole.
What are your thoughts on these apps? What are some unique ways in which you have seen them used to promote high-order thinking? Do you think there is a place for “flipped clickers” in the classroom?
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