How do you react to student answers in class?

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 22, 2008

[[AAPT Session:  Effects of variation of faculty practice on student perceptions, Chandra Turpen]]

Many faculty and high school teachers use some form of peer instruction or student response system (like clickers) as promoted by Eric Mazur, but they’re used in a huge variety of ways in the classroom.  This has a sizeable impact on their effectiveness and how students respond to them, which has been the topic of study for a while.  My program has created a document on Best Practices in Clicker Use that you can download.

This current study focussed on how faculty responded to student answers to clicker questions.  Did they focus on getting the right answer, or making sense of the answer?  (In ed speak this is “answer making” versus “sense making”).

She found that new faculty rarely discussed the incorrect options to a question, and why they were incorrect.  They generally only solicited student responses until the first student who gave a correct explanation, and then they were quick to confirm that that answer was correct and to discuss the completeness of that corect answer.  So, in those courses, the focus was more on getting the correct answer than on deciding how to choose between the correct and incorrect answers and hearing a variety of student responses until consensus was reached.

Another faculty, one who was mentored in using clickers but wasn’t yet deeply experienced, rarely discussed incorrect answers, rarely heard student explanations, but he/she did hear responses from multiple students.  However, they were still quick to reveal when the correct answer had been given by a student.

The last faculty, one experienced with clickers and — perhaps more importantly — familiar with the raationale for using them in the classroom — used them quite differently.  They usually discussed the incorrect answer options (60% of the time), heard from multiple students, listened to student explanations, and withheld their expert evaluation of the answer until the class had come to consensus.  This is important because as soon as you confirm that an answer is correct, then the class stops thinking.

She found that students noticed the difference between instructors (these were different classes):  They responded differently to the questions:

“I agree that knowing the right answers is the only important part of clickers,” and
“How important is it for you to articulate your ansers to your peers or during whole class discussion”

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