In the perfect universe, all of us educators would know exactly what our students know, so we could know exactly how to best teach them.
But we’re not in the perfect universe. We’re on Planet Earth. And we can’t know exactly what is inside the minds of our students. If your classroom is anything like mine, you’ve got students who don’t know how to express to you what they don’t know, some who don’t know what they don’t know, and even some who refuse to admit there are things they don’t know.
So it behooves you to find ways to improve your assessment. Bit by bit, there are tools you can add to your Teacher Toolbox to better know your students. As I told one of my colleagues, “hopefully this will help me get some better data on where the problems are, so I can, you know… actually do my job.”
One tool I saw demonstrated last weekend and which I have adopted and tried myself is called Plickers. It’s a formative assessment tool, meaning it’s assessment for learning. It’s data during the process, so I can make changes based on the needs of my students. As with any formative assessment tool, my view of whether I need it is based on 3 factors:
- Its speed
- The actual usefulness of its data
- The cost of implementation (not just financially- will it cause me undue stress, work, or time?)
So here’s what I’ve found on Plickers.
Plickers: A Great Bell Ringer Tool
Imagine being able to walk into your classroom, ask your students a question, and really know whether they know the answer, within seconds.
That’s the selling point for Plickers, or “paper clickers.” They provide much of the same function as the super-expensive “clicker” sets, where students are able to click A, B, C, or D to answer a question, except these are free and printed on paper.
How It Works: Students have handheld cards with personalized blobs (kinda like Q-R codes), they figure out one of four ways to hold the blobs based on which answer choice they want to represent, and the teacher’s phone or ipad camera scans the classroom for a near-instant reading of all student answer choices.
Speed: Literally seconds. As long as it takes for students to read the question, figure out how to hold the Plickers to represent their answers, and for the teacher to hold up a phone or ipad to scan the room. In my classroom, on the first try, it took me a couple of scans to get all the kids, but that could be because I had them laminated. If you choose not to laminate, the scanning goes quicker. And the better the kids get at using them, the quicker it will be.
Usefulness of Data: Here’s the big key for me. I love the format of a Bellwork/Bell Ringer/Do-Now question to start off class, but I hate, hate, hate (a) how hard it is to get an accurate picture of student achievement at that moment (kids like to “borrow” each others’ answers, or change answers once we discuss, which makes data analysis impossible), and (b) how hard and time consuming it is to ensure ALL students have been held accountable for participating right then. Well, using Plickers would take that away. Everyone’s blob is personalized, so even if a kid somehow figured out what his neighbor was holding up, there’s virtually no way to look across the entire room and figure out what the majority answer is. Kids are forced to at least answer for themselves.
Plus, the data is thrust in my face and it’s saved for later analysis. I can see instantly via green and red coloring who chose the correct answer and who missed it. (As a side note, since students whose Plickers didn’t scan correctly show up as white on my screen, if I use Plickers for bell work every day it also makes a really slick roll-calling tool. I just double check the non-scans and that tells me within seconds who’s absent. If there’s a question on the board when I walk in, I can have actionable student achievement feedback AND attendance data within 30 seconds.)
Cost of Implementation: You get 40 Plickers blobs for free. You can print those out and reuse them for each class. You just have to input your class roll and assign the cards to your students each time. You will have to print out lots of blobs that eat up toner, so I’d recommend doing it at school. Just sayin. I’d also recommend card stock. I have also heard not to laminate them, because the light reflection can interfere with the scanning, but my laminated ones seem to work ok. You’ll have to decide how to best protect them from students who love to tear stuff up.
But that’s Plickers in a nutshell! Of course, there’s no substitute for quality teaching. Teacher tools are in no way meant to solve all your problems. But find little ways to make what you already do, 1% faster, 1% more efficient, 1% better. Over time, the percentages will add up, big time.