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Plickers for retrieval practice in secondary

In this video, we see how a questioning tool where only the teacher needs a device can be used to support effective retrieval and elaboration.
Plickers itself is an online assessment tool that we use so it consists of a website where we can create questions and it also has a mobile phone-based app available Android, Apple, that sort of thing. What it does is it uses the camera functionality of the mobile phone to scan a QR code that students get. So the QR code is mapped to their name, students know when they go into the lesson they pick up the one that’s assigned to their name. They then have that and that is their QR code for that lesson. We, as educators, can then come up with any questions that we want.
It’s multiple choice so we can have true or false, we can have a B C or D or we can have a mixture of either and then the idea would be that when we scan those codes we get to see the result from that and it’s instant so it is real time. ‘…there are three options there to explain that piece of code because that is the idea behind today’s lesson. Again, take some time, read through the code, and then tell me what you think is the most appropriate answer there. Good, when you’ve got your answer, flip your cards round. Right, who are we missing?There’s one more person. Who are we missing? There we go. Right, okay, put your cards down.’
And the biggest benefit I suppose of using Plickers as a questioning tool is the fact that we get to see students thinking about it independently and for me that’s one of the strengths because quite often you might do a mini whiteboard assessment, kids will put it up and you’ll see other kids looking around, trying to get a bit of a hint so for me, it gives me that real tangible result because I know exactly what they’re thinking and that then allows me to challenge and probe and try and figure out what the thinking is about so we can then overcome any misconceptions. So from that point of view, it’s a very, very powerful tool.
You can’t really cheat on this because everyone’s cards are quite different, the letters are very small so you can only see. So if you hold B, someone might think you’re holding C so they’ll try to cheat so then you could see, this kid’s really struggling so next lesson, go review back that lesson with him.
We used to just have to do it on your worksheets and then it would be really hard to peer assess and see who got it wrong and who got it right but with Plickers, you just lift up your card and then the teacher knows if you’ve got it wrong or got it right so he knows who to help and who is okay to do the work. ‘… by the way, all the questions today are going to show a snippet of code on the right hand side and what I’m going to ask you to do is tell me what that program will do.So very, very simple and straightforward.
I have put in a few curveballs in there to try and get you guys thinking but you should be okay. So, for the first one, can you tell me what that program will do? When you’re ready, hold up your cards. I’ll come round and get some answers…’ What these questioning tools allow us to do is to have an online, readily available history and a log of all of the questions that are asked so not only do I then have the questions that are asked, I have the responses and I can then track and see the progression of students within that. Really useful for highlighting any misconceptions.
One of the main things as well is that when you look at it retrospectively, you can then look back and think right that was a strength of that class and I can then perhaps use that in the future and if there are any weaknesses, we can then focus on there as progression levels as well. ‘Hassan, which one did you put? B. Why did you put B?
Excellent. Can anyone argue with that? That’s really interesting because Hannah was the only other person that got it right okay. So well done, that was a really, really positive explanation that went through it line by line and explained what it is..’ I think the biggest advantage and one of my favourite things is that once it’s set up its set up. There’s no messing about with it. It’s something that you can use over and over and over again. So the question banks that we’ve now built up over a period of time are quite useful.
I mean, I think I tried showing in the lesson, you can create a question in less than a minute and for that to be an on-the-fly assessment tool it’s really, really powerful as well. We’ve got a bank of questions but if a teacher thinks that they need to tweak something or change something or maybe double check a misconception, perhaps come up with another question, it can be done in a matter of minutes and then that can add to the overall assessment as well. It’s quite fast paced to evaluate a lesson and using this technology, you just scan around instead of a teacher walking round every single student trying to read their writing.
So I think it’s quite a good time saver as well. One of the things that we did when we first started it off is we had to figure out how to make it easily accessible for the students. What I did then is I looked across the school to see how other departments use whiteboard assessments and mini whiteboard assessments and everyone has got a big box where all the whiteboards get thrown into. Fine. In maths, they actually do it really well. With maths, they have plastic wallets and inside the plastic wallet there is a mini whiteboard pen, you’ve got your rubber and then there’s various tools and apparatus they can use within maths.
So I thought, right, what we’ll do is we’ll use that same approach but this time we’ll add numbers and that number will correspond with the QR code on the Plickers mini whiteboard itself. The reason why we chose to put them on mini whiteboards, rather than just have the card itself, is because I wanted it to be a versatile piece of equipment. With mini whiteboards, you’ve got the benefit of being able to write something down so if a student does struggle or maybe there’s an actual problem they need to solve, they can have a quick scribble on the back and then show me their card.
We laminated them using matte and I don’t know if that was picked up but using a matte laminate allowed it to be a lot more scannable but I think the main thing was setting the standards and expectations. Students now know that they come into the lesson, they know their number, they go up, pick up their mini whiteboard pack, they’ve got their pen ready if they need to make any notes, they’ve got their QR codes ready, they know which way around it goes for A, B, C, and D and it’s just that routine and I think the more they do it, the more confident they get, which again builds up the confidence in the teacher as well.
Even the first time you used, it was really fun. Everyone wanted to take part and participate in the lesson and show their answer. Even if someone got it wrong, they were okay because the teacher was supportive and then would help them then we can do another Plickers question. ‘…think about it. What’s the key word? I don’t want xxx to give it to me because I know he knows it. Anyone else? What’s that key word that we’re using? xxx? A sign, well done and what symbol…’ As a tool itself, it gives you right and wrong and that, as an educator, is your basic stepping point.
Where it becomes a lot more powerful is because students don’t know who’s got it right or wrong, it’s quite often a method that, because they don’t know who’s got it right or wrong, it builds confidence in the answer. But you can go in there and say, right why is it that you actually think this? If you can then start to get the student to articulate what they believe is a right answer, and then you use another student that’s actually got the right answer, you can get an honest debate going there and that then really allows you to pick up on those misconceptions. Then it’s not just about who’s got the right answer, it’s about why.
Why is it that you’re thinking like that? Where has this misconception come from and then as a group, we can then clear that and move on. So your higher ability students will then push your lower ability students to then come up with an answer because if students think that they know what the right answer is, that can then get a lot more input from other students to get engaged in the conversation.

In this video, we see how Saif Aftab, Learning Leader Computer Science and Business Studies at Denbigh High (secondary) makes use of a questioning tool where only the teacher needs a device to support effective retrieval and elaboration.

Saif shares how he established a routine around the tool’s use and how he finds it a useful tool for questioning in his classroom. We see Saif demonstrate its use in the classroom and pupils reference the benefits for their learning.

The tool used by Saif is:

  • Plickers – a questioning tool where only the teacher needs a device
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