Clicks Are Changing Classrooms

“You don’t have to push a pencil to learn,” says Tammy Dunn, who teaches fourth grade at South Polk Elementary School in Old Fort, TN. She’s referring to her use of an interactive response system, which combines hand-held remotes, curriculum, formative assessments, and online reporting into a tool that simplifies a teacher’s responsibilities, and engages and motivates students to perform to their best ability.

And motivates it does. The first year Dunn used a clicker system (the name students and teachers affectionately call an interactive response system), she took the attitude that she and her class would have fun with it. They had fun all right and — as a bonus — the class’s standardized test scores rose tremendously. This was especially exciting because that class’s standardized test scores were among the lowest in the state.
In this day of high technology, where our cell phones, televisions, and microwave ovens have more bells and whistles than we need, practically speaking, clicker systems have just what every classroom needs. Specifically designed to enhance interactive teaching and learning, they provide a direct wireless connection between the teacher and students for immediate input and immediate feedback. They’re anonymous because each clicker has a number, which allows shy and poor performers to get in on the action without feeling a lot of attention directed to them.

What comes in the clicker system package depends upon the manufacturer. For example, the Senteo system includes a radio frequency (RF) remote for each student, a central receiver, Notebook whiteboarding software, and assessment software, which tallies responses, records attendance, posts test results, and provides individual feedback. Similarly, the Qwizdom system includes up to 32 Q4 RF classroom remotes, software, base receiver, USB cables, Q5 instructor remote, carrying case, user guide, and a curriculum package.

The system can be used in a number of ways. Questions can be on paper, displayed on a screen via a whiteboard or projector, or even spontaneously asked. Questions can be in a variety of formats, like multiple choice, numeric response, or true/false. Each student keys in his answer via remote.

Answers are immediately tallied and displayed on a projection screen or interactive whiteboard. The teacher knows not only which percentage of students got it wrong, but also which students got it wrong. The data from assessments is easily uploaded to online reporting.

How Is It Being Used?
Dunn, who has used a clicker system for five years, uses it to teach to state standards. It’s easy enough because of the software that comes with the package. “I just find the subject, like ‘reading,’” she explains, “then I find the specific topic, like ‘main ideas.’”

Further, Dunn uses her clicker system to teach every subject and in a variety of ways. For example, she may hand out a paper with questions and ask students to respond to the questions via their remotes. She uses it to present lessons, which she sometimes creates herself in PowerPoint and saves for years to come.

And Dunn uses the clicker system to play games. “The students love to play the games,” she points out. “So, they’re much more willing to listen to a lesson in order to win the game we play afterward. I reward the top 10 winners, and they’re not always the smartest students. You can’t ring in and guess an answer because, if you guess wrong, it counts against you. It’s a good motivational tool for rewarding lower-scoring students, and it makes them feel good about themselves.”

In Shawn Schwerman’s classes at Parkside Junior High School in Normal, IL, a celebration, complete with party hats, is held after summative assessments. “They literally scream out in excitement when they get a good grade!” she says.

Schwerman, who teaches sixth grade science and language arts and has used a clicker system for three years, likes to use it to pre-assess. It allows her to group the students immediately into those who know nothing, those who know something, and those who know the subject completely. The students who know nothing are given resource time to catch up. Similarly, the students who know the unit are given different work in the library.

In addition to summative and pre-assessments, Schwerman also uses the clicker system for formative tests. “I can test at the beginning, middle and end of a unit,” she says. “I can test daily if I want. The system is vital to assessments. In order to be effective as possible in teaching, quick turnaround is required. The clicker system offers that, allowing students to know their performance quickly and change their behavior and study habits if necessary.”

The immediacy is beneficial. In a traditional classroom, if the entire class does poorly but the teacher doesn’t discover it for three or four days because it took that long to get the grading completed, she has to stop the new unit she’s already started to review the old. The immediacy of the clicker system guides Schwerman’s teaching and allows it to be in real time, if you will. “Even within the hour I can know if everyone did poorly,” she explains, “which tells me I made a mistake as a teacher, and I have to use another method in order for them to retain the knowledge.”

The system Schwerman uses is integrated with a whiteboard. “If I touch the board,” she continues, “it shows me a pie circle graph, and tells me what the wrong answers were. This is helpful to know when wording is tricky and needs to be rephrased. It makes you think as a teacher: Am I assessing what they know or am I assessing their reading comprehension? It’s a teachable moment in that I ask if the students who got it wrong want to share what they were thinking.

“If I’m giving a test, and we’re working through it together,” Schwerman notes, “I also know when every student has responded.” This tells her it’s time to ask the next question. Speaking of tests, most clicker systems are compatible with testing programs, and Schwerman finds it easy to use. Not surprisingly, no one in her classes gets Ds or Fs.

What Do Teachers Think of It?
Sure, teachers are using clicker systems, but do they like them? In a word, yes. More, both teachers in this article say they can’t imagine teaching without them: “They’re essential to teaching,” says Schwerman. What makes them so valuable to the teachers?

First, they like the immediacy. “I know immediately if students didn’t understand what I taught,” explains Schwerman. “I can stop, regroup, and repeat right now. Traditionally, when I gave a paper test, I’d grade it that evening and review it the next day. Now, in two minutes, I know where the class as a whole stands and where each student stands.”

Second, they like how clickers engage students who have grown up with electronics, and thus expect immediate results. Similarly, they like that students are empowered to take ownership in their education. “Students who don’t get the grades they want ask if they can study more and retake a test,” explains Schwerman. “They feel accountable and invested in their success because it’s so in the moment.”

And it isn’t just teachers who are impressed with clickers. “We had a principal one year who, instead of buying textbooks, bought clicker sets,” says Dunn. Because he couldn’t afford a set for every classroom, they’re available for teachers to borrow from the library.

What Do Students Think of It?
Students, too, think highly of clicker systems, perhaps unaware that it engages them more fully and actively in their lessons, thus learning more.

Schwerman notes that students like the immediate results — they know what they know as soon as they hit ‘finish.’ “That’s huge for them,” she says. “What’s more, with a clicker system, they can graph their growth, and that’s exciting for them. They see the connection between their studying and grades.”

Students also love the technology, and they find it exciting just holding the clicker. When a student turns on a clicker in Schwerman’s class, it says welcome and the student’s name. This is pretty cool for students who’ve grown up in an environment of technology and think differently than the adults who are teaching them.

Here’s the surest sign that students like using clickers: “Before we administered this year’s Tera Nova tests,” says Dunn, “we asked students what they wanted to do after each day’s testing was completed. They asked to use the clicker system, which just goes to show that learning can be fun.”

Interactive response systems: fun for the students, a must-have tool for teachers. Most definitely a winning combination.