Lori Wegman » Posts


Peer Discussion in High School Classes

     In this Harvard Educational Review article, Bryan Henderson (Arizona State University) says “active learning” is a broad term that covers everything that isn’t traditional lecture teaching to passive students. In fact, there are many ways of making students more “active” learners; one of the best, Henderson believes, is “peer instruction” using clickers (wireless audience response devices) in the following manner:

  • Students listen as the teacher presents content.
  • The teacher poses a conceptual question on the content with several answer options.
  • Students consider the options and anonymously submit their answers via clickers.
  • The teacher displays the number of “votes” for each option.
  • Students pair up and debate their choices and the reasons they made them.
  • Students re-vote on the same question via clickers (they may or may not have changed their mind after discussing the question).
  • All answers are displayed (the correct answer usually gets more votes).
  • The teacher discusses the correct answer and any lingering misconceptions.

This process has produced learning gains twice as great as conventional instruction in some studies.

Henderson wondered which was the most important step in the model and whether variations in active-learning pedagogy might produce the same robust learning gains. He studied the same teacher working with four different groups of high-school physics students, introducing variations in how students spent their time between their first clicker vote and their re-vote: (a) pure lecture and note-taking; (b) students writing down their thinking; (c) students debating each question with peers; and (d) students writing first, then discussing with peers.

The results showed the strongest learning gains when students were given the chance to talk with other students between clicker votes. Henderson also found that time of day mattered: the benefits of turning the class over to the students for discussion were greater in the morning than in the afternoon.

An important message here is that results were not dependent only on whether clicker technology was used; what mattered was how and when the technology was used with students, with the most powerful variable being a chance to talk with a peer about a challenging question.


“Beyond ‘Active Learning’: How the ICAP Framework Permits More Acute Examination of the Popular Peer Instruction Pedagogy” by Bryan Henderson in Harvard Educational Review, Winter 2019 (Vol. 89, #4, pp. 611-634), available for purchase at https://bit.ly/3a9xfdk; Henderson can be reached at jbryanh@asu.edu.

Questions to Ask Students

      In this article in Principal, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (San Diego State University and Health Sciences High & Middle College) and Olivia Amador (Chula Vista Elementary School District) suggest visiting classrooms every day and quietly asking a sampling of students these questions:

  • What are you learning today?
  • Why are you learning that?
  • How will you know whether you’ve learned it?

Fisher, Frey, and Amador say that if 90 percent of students have good answers to these questions, the school has a high level of instructional clarity. “Simply put,” they say, “when students know what they’re supposed to learn,, why they are learning it, and how they will know whether they have learned it, they are more likely to demonstrate mastery.” Here are their thoughts on each of the questions:

            The first is different from asking, What are you working on today? which focuses on the task or the assignment. Better to ask about learning intentions which, if the teacher has been clear, should be on the tip of every student’s tongue. They might say:

  • We are learning about the impact of the setting on a character.
  • We are learning about the rotation of the sun and moon.
  • We are learning about persuasive techniques used in advertising.

Another advantage of asking about learning intention is that it’s easier for an observer to see if the instructional task is at the appropriate level of rigor. “An amazing lesson for third graders at first-grade standards,” say Fisher, Frey, and Amador, “produces fourth graders who are ready for the second grade.”

            Answers to the second question – why students are learning something – are a good way of assessing engagement and perceived relevance. A stellar response from a student might be, We are learning more about syllables today because they help us read big words, and reading bigger words lets us read new books and understand what we’re reading.

            The third question is about benchmarks for mastery, which are often a secret locked in the teacher’s mind. “Success criteria  provide students with clear, specific, and attainable goals,” say Fisher, Frey, and Amador, “and can spark motivation in some of the most reluctant learners. When teachers articulate success criteria, they are more likely to enlist students in their own learning.”

            What students say in response to these three questions can provide exceptionally helpful feedback to teachers after classroom visits. There’s no better gauge of instructional clarity than what individual students say when they’re questioned one on one. This feedback to teachers, say Fisher, Frey, and Amador, can bring about marked changes in learning intentions, rationales, and success criteria, which are the foundation for good choices of pedagogy and materials.


“Clear Benefits” by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Olivia Amador in Principal, January/ February 2020 (Vol. 99, #3, pp. 42-43), https://www.naesp.org/principal; Fisher can be reached at dfisher@mail.sdsu.edu, Frey at nfrey@mail.sdsu.edu.

Practical Ed Tech Tip:  How to Improve the Accessibility of Videos and Slides Used in Your Classroom  by Richard Byrne

If you’re like me, from time to time, you like to use a good video or a good set of slides to convey organized information to your students.

This year, thanks in part to my friend Beth Holland, I’ve started turning on the captions when playing videos in my classroom. I’ve also been using the auto-captioning tool in Google Slides since that tool was launched last year. If I was using PowerPoint, I’d use its built-in auto-captioning tool. The point is, there are some simple things that we can do to improve the accessibility of the videos and slides we use in our classrooms.

Using Captions on YouTube Videos

To turn on the captions when playing any YouTube video simply hover over the timeline of the video and click on the small “CC” icon that appears on the right-hand side of the timeline. To enlarge the size of the captions open the gear icon then click on “subtitles” followed by “options” to choose the font size and style.

If you have uploaded a video to your own YouTube account, you can use the automatic transcription tool. Unfortunately, the transcript may not be 100% accurate. That is often the case if you speak quickly, mumble at all, use uncommon words, or have an unusual spelling of your name. For example, the automatic captions always spell my last name as Burn or Bern instead of Byrne. You can override the automatic transcription by following the steps outlined in this video.

Get a Transcript for Any YouTube Video

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post and a video about a neat service called SnackVids. SnackVids has since been rebranded as VidReader. With its new name, VidReader does the same thing that SnackVids did. That thing is to create a searchable transcript of any YouTube video that is narrated in English. As you'll see in this video, the transcript is not only searchable but all of the keywords are hyperlinked to timestamps in the video.

Automatic Captioning of Slide Presentations

As I mentioned above, Google Slides has had an automatic captioning function for a little over a year now. You’ll find that function when you open your slides in full-screen presentation mode. This short video shows you how to enable automatic captioning.

PowerPoint also has an automatic captioning function. Like a lot of Microsoft products, there are some minor differences between the web version and desktop version of PowerPoint’s automatic captioning function. This video shows you how to use automatic captioning in the web version of PowerPoint. This video shows you the desktop directions.

These were last week's most popular posts on FreeTech4Teachers.com:

  1. Kami - Annotate PDFs in Google Drive
  2. Actively Learn - Find & Create Engaging Reading Assignments and More
  3. A New, Free Online Conference for Teachers
  4. A Halloween Writing Contest for Middle School Students
  5. How to Use Loop to Gather Feedback from Students
  6. A Couple of Fun and Simple Map Games for Students of All Ages
  7. The Practical Ed Tech Podcast - Episode #15 Featuring Mike Tholfsen

Have a great week!


The Core Beliefs of Highly Effective Teachers

The Core Beliefs of Highly Effective Teachers

            In their book 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning, John Hattie and Klaus Zierer argue that what teachers believe about instruction drives what happens in their classrooms. Here are the “mindframes” Hattie and Zierer found in highly effective teachers:

  • I am an evaluator of my impact on student learning.
  • I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps.
  • I collaborate with my peers about my conceptions of progress and my impact.
  • I am a change agent and believe all students can improve.
  • I strive to provide my students with challenge and not merely have them “do their best.”
  • I give feedback and help students understand it, and I interpret and act on feedback given to me.
  • I engage as much in dialogue as monologue.
  • I explicitly inform students from the outset what success looks like.
  • I build relationships and trust so that learning can occur, where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from others.
  • I identify and build on my students’ prior experiences and initial learning levels.


10 Mindframes for Visible Learning by John Hattie and Klaus Zierer (Routledge, 2018); see Jenn David-Lang’s detailed summary of this book at www.themainidea.net.