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Active Learning: How Do We Make It Happen?

Student Response Systems

From the desk of Tim LaCourt, M.A.


To make “active learning” more than a vague buzz word, consider using a Student Response System.  These are techniques and strategies proven to be effective at increasing the number of times students respond in class; the number of times they engage successfully with the work.  There are various Student Response Systems that are concrete ways to achieve increased, positive practice.

What Are They?

Another way to describe a student response system, as quoted by the author, is “a tool that provides for interactivity.” These systems have been around since hand raising, and can take various forms, low or high tech. Interactive Polling Software and the use of Clickers for students to enter data are high tech versions of such a response system; low tech examples are student hand signals or use of Response Cards. Whether computer based technology, or “old school” cards or signals, regular use of a Student Response System is a demonstrated strategy for improving instruction; more importantly, for improving student learning.

Benefits for Struggling Students

An especially difficult undertaking for teachers is finding ways to get students with disabilities more actively involved in lessons.  These students, like other strugglers–or even our more introspective learners–are often left out of the classroom conversation, i.e., the give-and-take during discussions. Too often, these interactions occur between only a small percentage of the students in class who raise their hands, and the teacher. Dr. Karen Mahon has provided a great resource to educators summarizing the rationale for use–and benefits–of Student Response Systems to increase participation to 100%.

Rationale for Using

The primary reason to use a Student Response System is to increase active student responding and participation; however, if the teacher doesn’t use the feedback to adjust the instruction, the effectiveness of the system has diminished.  A student response system is great formative assessment, letting the teacher know whether to move on–or back up–the lesson.  The teacher has additional responsibilities:

• To teach students how to correctly use the response system.
• To take natural and periodic “readings” throughout the lesson rather than waiting until the end.
• To keep a focus on the learning objective.
• To know when to show collective data (if using a high-tech system).
• To build student-to-student interaction into the process, and
• To increase rigor by asking for more sophisticated responses that incorporate higher order thinking.

Whether low tech (response cards) or high tech with a higher “cool” factor (like a phone app) the use of a Student Response System–as a daily practice–will give all students in the class a marked increase in the number of chances to interact with the content of the lesson and with each other; additionally, it will provide important formative assessment feedback for the teacher.
Dr. Mahon gives educators a thoughtful, well researched (and well referenced!) paper that not only summarizes the use of Student Response Systems, but also provides a compelling rationale for the daily use of some sort of system in every classroom.



Using Student Response Systems to Improve Student Outcomes by Karen L. Mahon, Ed.D., 2012
Vimeo–Interactive Teaching Technologies

Image Credit: https://regisdtclab.wikispaces.com/file/view/cps_class.jpg/242952149/cps_class.jpg

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