Using Clickers to Give Teachers Diagnostics Data for Adaptive Instruction
The Contingent Pedagogies project team at SRI International has been working to help teachers assess their students’ understanding of key science concepts and adapt their instruction accordingly.
Students often bring problematic ideas to the classroom, and it is important to surface and address them in instruction to promote learning (National Research Council 1999).
Working with sixth-grade teachers from Denver Public Schools and the Investigating Earth Systems curriculum developed by the American Geological Institute and TERC, the SRI researchers designed a set of elicitation questions for teachers to ask their students after they completed one of the earth science investigations. The team had developed the questions using research they had done on problematic ideas students typically hold about the core ideas in the earth science curriculum.
The teachers’ classrooms were equipped with clickers (a student response system) so that every student could respond to the question and the teacher could see and display a histogram of all the responses. For example, many students think that earthquakes happen during certain kinds of weather. If many students in a class answer elicitation questions in a way that suggests they hold this idea, the teacher can introduce a contingent activity in which students are asked to interpret tables and graphs of earthquakes around the world and then construct an explanation for the patterns they see in the data. Weather data are included, but so, too, are items like information on proximity to a plate boundary, so that students can construct a more scientific understanding of where earthquakes are likely to occur.
The classroom discussions that are incorporated into the Contingent Pedagogies approach give students the opportunity to engage in the scientific practices of argumentation and developing explanations. Contingent Pedagogies teacher training emphasizes two strategies for engaging students in productive discussions. The first is classroom norms, which make explicit the norms that scientists use when deliberating about ideas. One of these is “support claims with evidence.” The second strategy is a set of talk moves, which teachers can use to elicit and probe student thinking and encourage students to weigh different perspectives in discussion. Prior research has shown that when teachers use these talk moves to promote student argumentation, students learn more effectively (Resnick, Michaels, and O’Connor 2010).
To investigate whether the use of Contingent Pedagogies elicitation questions with clickers, along with the training in adaptive instruction and discussion facilitation, improves student learning, a field test was conducted with 19 teachers. Twelve received the Contingent Pedagogies professional development and tools; seven teachers served as a comparison group. Students in the classrooms of all 19 teachers took two sets of pre- and post-assessments on their understanding of the core earth science ideas targeted by the project. Controlling for students’ pretest scores, students in the Contingent Pedagogies classrooms scored significantly higher than those in the comparison teachers’ classrooms on the earth science post test.
Citation: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, Washington, D.C., 2013.
Contingent Pedagogies core components: