Identifying Teaching Moments at the NYC DOE Shark Tank

On Friday we were invited to present at NYC DOE’s Teacher Shark Tank, one event in a series where three edtech startups get 30 minutes each to present and answer questions from DOE teachers.

The Teacher Shark Tank is hosted by iZone, NYC DOE’s Office of Innovation…which supports schools in personalizing learning to accelerate college and career readiness among our students.

Ponder is running in many schools across the country this semester, but in our hometown of New York, we are in one NYC DOE school (Stuyvesant H.S.), as well as one NYC Charter (WHEELS) and one NYC private school ( Trinity School). This was our first opportunity to formally present to DOE educators at a DOE-organized event, so we were excited to be there!

Other presenters included Quill, who has figured out a way to blend learning grammar into an interactive reading experience and Fast Fig, a word processor for math that enables teachers to cleanly and easily create equations and graphs online – a long sought after solution with many applications!

We had a late start, but this didn’t deter the great group of interested and engaged teachers who are clearly the vanguard of technology users at their schools (City as School, High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology and P.S. 64 the Robert Simon School)

We wanted to impress this audience in particular. Fortunately, over the past two years of watching classes use Ponder (first graduate business classes then undergraduate philosophy classes then 12th grade English classes and 9th grade global studies classes and now 2nd grade ELA classes!!) we’ve evolved how we present and explain Ponder.

In our presentation Friday, Ben and I focused on one key concept: the speed at which a teacher can review student micro reading responses. How fast can a teacher review Ponder micro-reading responses you ask? Real fast. Fast enough that teachers can encourage their students to make as many responses as they’d like, knowing they will have time to grade them all and provide meaningful feedback. In fact, our conceit (which has proven true in higher ed and is starting to prove itself in K12 as well) is that not only will the instructor be able to review everyone’s responses, they’ll be able to do so *before* class starts, and actually use their students responses as the basis for in-class discussion.

To prove my point, Ben and I put up four different Ponder micro-reading responses from a single 8th grade class in the Chicago Public School system and asked the teachers in the room how quickly they could assess each one.

Number 1: A solid response.

No. 1 Coherent and appropriate.

No. 1 Coherent and appropriate.

The excerpt that the student chose is coherent, though it’s not making a particularly controversial or insightful point. The sentiment s/he applied is appropriate though not particularly nuanced (I empathize.) nor does it exhibit a deeper insight or independent thinking.


Number 2: Exemplary!

No. 2 Real insight and independent thinking!

No. 2 Real insight and independent thinking!

The excerpt is coherent and interesting, making a surprising, counter-intuitive argument.The sentiment applied is spot on, demonstrating the student clearly understands the author is making a claim and now needs to substantiate it with supporting evidence.

Number 3: Red Flag!

No. 3 Incoherent and inappropriate.

No. 3 Incoherent and inappropriate.

The selection itself is incoherent. And the sentiment is clearly inappropriate. Either the student is completely lost and doesn’t understand the point of the assignment or is simply not trying at all.

Number 4: A Teaching Moment.

No. 4 What is there to agree about?

No. 4 What is there to agree about?

This is where things start to get interesting. This is an opportunity for what would pedagogically referred to as a “teaching moment,” an invitation for further discussion in class. First of all, the selection itself is interesting. The author describes an interaction that is clearly intended to provoke some sort of emotional reaction from the reader. However, the student chose to agree with it – not the reaction the author probably intended! So, why did you concur? What are you agreeing with? What is the idea that you thought emerged from this quote? Or, perhaps, you’ve identified a moment in which the student wasn’t reading very carefully at all, which is valuable in and of itself.

We maintain a long list of ideas on how to better support this process of evaluating reading responses. It changes week to week as we watch our K12 classes settle into how to use Ponder while discovering new uses for it as well.

Still, I think we’ve reached an important milestone in delivering on the promise of providing a way for students to “practice critical reading” while giving teachers a way to respond to and build on that practice.

And, let it not go without saying, we are lucky to have such thoughtful students and teachers using Ponder that we can so easily find a mountain of interesting responses!

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