Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: Tools To Get Them Talking


Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: 10 Tools To Get Them Talking

by Rachelle Dene Poth

Teachers need to hear from students.

We need to understand what they are thinking, what questions they might have, and what their needs are. We also need their feedback because it helps to guide us with our instruction. There are so many ways to ask questions and methods of gathering information from students today.  Unlike the past, teachers today do not even have to be in the same room as students. Communication occurs, conversations take place and questions are asked and answered in multiple ways today because of technology.

It is common for students to become nervous at the thought of responding in class. The diverted eyes, the expression that conveys that “please don’t call on me” look, and in some cases, even subtle signs developed to communicate this to the teacher. Everyone becomes nervous at some point because of that feeling of “being on the spot”.

Regardless of whether this happens due to a student’s hesitancy of speaking in front of others or a fear of not knowing the right answer, or something else entirely, it can be difficult to get students to speak. We need to find ways to hear from them so we can truly understand what they know, what they are thinking, and feeling. We need to be able to provide learning opportunities and support specific to each student.

Even as a teacher, I sometimes become nervous when in a similar situation. There is a fear of not knowing the answer, of saying something that might not be well received, or could stir up a greater discussion or maybe even an argument.

Even so,  questions still have to be asked and answered, discussions have to be undertaken and communication must go on. Teachers need this to learn about others and assess knowledge in the content area. There are digital options available which provide comfort and boost confidence so that ideas are shared, learning continues, students are comfortable and information is kept flowing.

Technology: Give Students A Voice

One way to get students to speak up, and also to help them feel secure in responding,  is by using one of the digital tools available for promoting communication and collaboration. As a bonus, these tools can provide security and increase opportunities for students to really tell you what they’re thinking and feeling.

Technology must be used with a purpose. This is a case where I believe the technology truly does have a purpose because it gives students a voice where otherwise they may not be willing to or want to respond. Not that technology tools should be used as a substitute for having students speak in class, especially for courses in which public speaking is part of the requirement.

Developing the ability and confidence to stand up and speak out in front of others and to voice one’s opinion are important skills and characteristics that students must develop. And if we take away that part of their learning, ensuing growth process and the risk taking involved in developing these skills, then we are doing a disservice to our students and to ourselves.

So sometimes we have to find options for students to speak and answer questions. We can get them started by using something that will help them feel more comfortable expressing their opinion and build their confidence. When this happens, then we can encourage their involvement in the classroom discussion as well.

Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: 10 Tools To Get Them Talking

There are many options, depending on the type of question being asked, the feedback being sought, or whatever it is that you want the students to share. If you want students to respond to some simple questions such as a short answer, true/false or engage in a short discussion, then there are many tools available. 

To name a few as a start:

SurveyMonkey is a tool to create surveys using a variety of question formats which can be a good way to create a short assessment or to have students reflect on their progress and have data instantly.

Responster is a tool for creating surveys with question formats including a rating scale, thumbs-up/thumbs-down questions, short responses and more. Results are provided live and in a visual format.

Socrative is a tool for quickly assessing students and also ask questions on the fly, or play games to review the material.  Easy to use and understand where the students are in their learning.

Gosoapbox is a tool to create a digital space for polling, creating quizzes, having a discussion and also enables students to ask questions. The tool enables students to interact anonymously and allow the teacher to see the responses.

Each of these tools offer multiple formats for having students respond  and can quickly be created and shared.

You can even use some game-based learning tools such as Quizizz and Kahoot.

Quizizz is a game-based learning tool to quiz students and increase student engagement, while providing the data needed to give feedback and plan instruction.

Kahoot! Also a game-based learning tool for students to practice skills in a fun learning experience and which also can be used for discussions as well as surveys.

Each of these provide quick ways for both you and the students to exchange ideas and communicate.

In part two, we’ll take a look at different collaboration tools useful in digital spaces.

Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: Tools To Get Them Talking