Designing software is a balancing act between generality and specificity.
The more specific you make your tool. The clearer its purpose and how to start using it.
The more generic you make your tool, the more flexible and customizable it is, and the broader the range of scenarios it can support.
For example, right now there’s actually nothing to stop a teacher from using Ponder micro-responses as a way to grade and provide feedback on their own students’ written assignments. Why not? Highlight a claim in their essay and ask for more examples to explicate and support it.
Similarly, Ponder could also be used to to guide students through a structured peer-review process where they evaluate and respond to each others written assignments.
However, we know that unless we bake an explicit workflow into Ponder to guide students and teachers through these scenarios, it will occur to precisely no one to use Ponder in these ways. We know because no one’s done it!
In the grand scheme of things, Ponder is more on the generic, customizable end of things. Student management is loose (just send your students a link and it’s up to them to join a class!). There is no explicit assignment workflow. (We’re depending on teachers to broadcast assignments and students to receive them “out-of-band.”)
In this respect, Ponder feels more like a general purpose tool (Google Docs), or nerdy Twitter, than educational software.
xkcd comics, on the other hand, are specific and often piercingly insightful, pretty much the opposite of generic, and quite hard to translate, not just linguistically, but culturally. (Amazingly, someone has done it anyway!)
Software people love generality. However, Ponder’s open-endedness has posed challenges to us on the adoption front. We’re continuously working on ways to get teachers up and running, both in the form of tutorials and FAQs as well as continuous iteration on design.
But we proceed with caution, careful not to undermine the flexibility that teachers appreciate and enjoy once they’ve figured out how to create that first Ponder assignment that gets the class reading together.
Perhaps Ponder starts out as a way of practicing finding topic sentences and supporting evidence in class. Then it becomes a way to identify examples of key concepts in reading assigned for homework. Then it becomes a way for students to bring in examples for class from outside of assigned reading, from reading they’re doing on their own that’s driven by their own interests. Then it becomes a way for students to do research for a paper, or work together on a group project. We’re still waiting for someone to start using it to support content-area literacy in Science and Math classes.
The sky’s the limit, anything could happen…including apparently, teaching Spanish.
We just received our first Spanish sentiment set from teacher Federico Moreno at Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay, California! As many teachers have said to us, what better way to learn the colloquialisms of a new language than to practice when to say you’re “on the fence” or when someone or something is “over the hill”? It’s early days, of course, the English sentiments have gone through many, many iterations and we’re only just getting to understand sub-sets by student level and subject area. But this Spanish set is a big first and that’s very exciting!
So, Foreign Language Learners (FLL) and teachers, let us know if you’d like to work with us on sentiments for your favorite language! We have teachers interested in applying it to Latin and French.
We’ve also had teachers point out the now obvious fact that really there’s nothing to stop people using Ponder to teach Spanish-speaking students ELA in their native tongue. (Duh, how obvious!)
Spanish teachers, let us know if you’d like to give these a trial run, and send us your feedback – when you create your class, just send a note to support through the “Ask Us” tab on the left of the site, and we’ll drop in the Spanish sentiments for you.
We’re excited for Ponder’s foreign-language learning potential and grateful for all of the teacherly enthusiasm!