What Are They Thinking?
So far, we have looked at tools that emphasize communicating outside the time and space constraints of the traditional classroom. What we have not really looked at are ways to increase communication inside the classroom itself.
Pedagogically, the more insight we have into the thought processes of our students, the more we can tailor the class to meet their specific needs. Differentiating instruction according to the specific needs of out students is the ultimate goal of trying to communicate effectively.
Poll Everywhere (http://polleverywhere.com) is a free online tool that utilizes the tools most students already have, namely their cell phones, iPods, and computers, to engage students while simultaneously giving you insight into how they are thinking.
So, how does this all work? Poll Everywhere makes it very straightforward. You can make 3 types of polls, although only 2 are likely relevant: multiple-choice, text, and goal (used to receive pledges of donations). To see your options, just click “Create your first poll” on http://polleverywhere.com.
You setup the question and students answer primarily via text message. Cell phones are reaching near ubiquity among middle and high school students and are becoming more common among elementary students as well.
At this point, you have to choose the type of question that you want. Multiple-choice and text-based questions serve different purposes. It takes longer to write a good multiple-choice question, but it is also easier to quantify. With a multiple-choice question, Poll Everywhere will graph the responses in real-time. With a text-based question, it will list the responses. Just think about what you are trying to accomplish. If you want students to brainstorm ideas, then a text-based question would likely work better. If you want students to choose from a list of options, such as what subject they want to study next or a content question, then multiple-choice would probably work better.
When you ask a content question, Poll Everywhere is particularly useful for a few reasons. First, everyone participates. Instead of one person raising his or her hand or you having to manually check everyone’s papers, everyone is able to answer at the click of a button. Second, it gives you a snapshot into what you students are thinking. If 73% of the class gets the question wrong, then instead of continuing to push forward with my lesson, that is a signal that I need to stop and reteach that concept. It is even possible that it was a poor or biased question. Regardless, I would want to stop to try to understand why the students were not grasping the concept and see how I could remediate the problem.
Once you choose which type of question you want, Poll Everywhere allows you to fill in the question and the answers.
On the right hand side of the page, Poll Everywhere gives you some customization options. You can allow people to answer more than once if you think it appropriate. You also can control how people answer. Text message is the default mechanism for answering questions. You can also let people answer using Twitter or by going to poll4.com if they have a smartphone (a phone that can access the Internet). Lastly, you can choose “Web widget” and embed the poll on your class website, so students can take their time and respond at home.
Once you save your poll and continue, Poll Everywhere will show a blank graph that lets students respond. Each answer choice has a different number. They send a text message containing that number, which is the keyword, to the number listed just above the chart. In the example below, I sent a text message containing “41225” to 22333.
At this point, there have been no responses. As soon as I answered via text message, the graph changed.
It is important that the results change instantly. The real-time nature of the results lets this be seamlessly integrated into instruction. There are a few good options for pay, such as keeping track of which number belongs to which student, but this is still an excellent free tool to help meet the needs of your students. When what is fun and what is pedagogically sound meet, tremendous learning can happen.