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Classroom Clickers – Not For Test Prep!

Over the past several years, classrooms around the world have invested millions of dollars purchasing learner response technology, or clickers as they are commonly referred.  Of course, as a former Promethean employee, I am slightly biased towards their ActivExpression, ActiVote, and ActivEngage models, though there are multiple manufacturers of this kind of technology, including SMART Response, eInstruction, and Poll Everywhere, just to name a few.  Clickers are available both as hardware devices and as software applications for laptop/desktop computers and mobile devices.  With the ever-growing popularity of BYOD, iPads, and other mobile devices, you have a range of choice when it comes to clicker applications.  Instead of rewriting an article about your choices for mobile devices, check out this post from Tony Vincent’s Learning in Hand blog.

As more classrooms begin to integrate clickers into regular instruction, it is important to see them beyond just a test grading device.  Though they can be great at effortlessly grading your end -of-unit assessments so that you don’t have to trek home with loads of papers to grade, the true power of the devices lies elsewhere.  What truly makes these a great addition in the classroom is their ability to encourage debate and discussion, provide anytime formative assessment throughout a lesson, and allow all students to have a voice in our classrooms.  Over the past five years, several friends, coworkers, and amazing teachers have contributed the suggestions below for using student response devices outside of summative assessment.

I thought I would start if off with this video from the Ron Clark Academy, a charter school in Atlanta, where they share 10 ways that they use the Promethean ActivExpression.

1. Assessing Prior Knowledge – Instead of having students complete morning seat work (elementary) or bell work (middle and high) on paper, create quick 3-5 item question sets for them to complete as they enter the classroom.  Use their responses to guide instruction during that day’s lesson.

2. KWL – At the beginning of a new unit of study, use the clickers to find out what the students already know about a given topic.  Using the text entry feature, have them share what they know and then seed the results onto the screen.  Instead of just hearing from the brave students in your class who always want to contribute, this gives everyone in the class a chance to share what they know.  Don’t forget to use them again at the end of a unit to fill in the “L” portion of the chart.

3. Character analysis – If the clickers have a text entry feature, have the students share a word or short phrase to describe a character.  Once the answers are in, break into small groups or facilitate a whole group discussion with the class and invite students to share details to back up whether they agree or disagree with their classmates responses.

4. Find out what your students are struggling with – Find out where you may need to give students more support by using the clickers to have students share which part of a lesson or project they are having trouble with.  Use the information to group students and provide small group instruction to help them over rough spots.

5. Ticket out the door – Many teachers use this trick at the end of class to have students share something that they learned during the day’s lesson.  Clickers are a great way of collecting student responses, and they can be easily brought back up the following day for a quick review before moving forward.

6. Discussion and debate – This is one of my favorite ways to use student response devices.  We all know how important it is to get student’s attention at the beginning of a new lesson or unit of study, and one way to do this is through a thought provoking question.  Ask students to choose a side on a debatable topic related to the curriculum content using the multiple choice or likert feature of the devices.  The set a pair students up with someone who had a different opinion, set a timer, and have them practice their debate skills by explaining why they chose their answer.  Pull the group back together for a quick class discussion.  At the end of the unit, ask the same question again and again have a discussion to see how their opinions have changed and what facts you have learned that caused these changes.

7. Peer review – Are your students using rubrics to evaluate group projects and presentations?  Use the clickers as a quick, easy, and anonymous way for your class to give feedback and constructive criticism for their peers.

8. Grouping students – About to start a new project-based learning unit?  Use the clickers to gather information about student interests and use this to divide them into groups.

9. Conducting surveys – Teaching lessons on graphing?  Use the clickers to poll your students and turn the resulting graph into a lesson.  For elementary teachers, ask questions about favorite colors, when their birthday is, how they get to school, etc.

10. Confidence checking – The devices can be used to gauge your students’ confidence on a given lesson or topic.  This can be helpful information when determining who may need some extra support and who might be ready for a challenge.

I am sure that we could add many more great ways to use these devices, but dinner is calling my name!  Feel free to add your suggestions below in the comments section.

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