Learning Is Not A Spectator Sport

I shared with you yesterday that students learn best when they are actively engaged with you and your curriculum.  School teachers have always known that active learner engagement in the lesson produces greater and faster acquisition of the skill/concept being taught.  If active learner engagement is a desirable outcome then how is it achieved?  How does a children or youth ministry volunteer teacher get students actively engaged during the their teaching time?  What’s one simple strategy that church volunteers can borrow from the field of education to engage their learners?  Response cards!

One best-practice strategy designed to increase learner engagement is called “response cards.”  Response cards are must have tools for any learning environment. This easy to implement learning strategy will make an immediate impact with your children/youth! Remember what I mentioned yesterday: stand and deliver type of teaching (i.e., instructional time) is not the most effective method for teaching.  Educational research demonstrates that learning increases as the level of student engagement increases (Academic Engaged Time).

The primary benefit, (according to a meta-analysis of the research concerning the use of response cards), is that they create increased active engagement of students and faster learning.  Two other benefits of using response cards has also been noted:

  • Increased Participation–studies have shown that classroom participation by students increases with the use of response cards. According to David W. Munroe and Jennifer Stephenson in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, “Students who are shy and do not like to speak out in class are emboldened by the use of response cards to write answers and share them with their classmates and teacher. Instead of having to speak an answer, the bashful student is able to hold up the written answer without ever having to say anything in class.”
  • Student Misbehavior—the use of response cards in the classroom has been shown to cut down on behavioral problems. Students who are easily distracted and off-task during the class time are more engaged with the use of response cards.

Here’s how response cards work:

  1. During instruction, the educator delivers a question to the entire class or small group.  This can be a verbal question, written on the board, or even displayed through PowerPoint.
  2. Students respond via one of the response card variations described below.
  3. Teacher provides feedback on student responding. Be immediate, specific, and consistent!

Variations in use of response cards

Traditional Method:  the teacher asks questions, one at a time.  Students write their answer on their individual response cards.  A blank piece of paper, small whiteboard, slate, or small chalkboard can be used as a response card.  Students write down only the answer to the question on the response.  When adequate response time has been given, students display their slates.  The teacher then provides feedback to students.

Peer tutoring (Respond in Pairs): Especially with larger classes, you may want to pair up students, which will also provide an opportunity for peer tutoring (depending on how you pair up students). By pairing up the students, you would need to have only half the number of response cards for the class, e.g., a class of 30 would only need 15 response cards. The same procedures as delineated above are in effect, except the students work on the problem in pairs and then one answer is written on the response card.

Particularly for students in the class who need guided practice, responding in pairs can provide a significant instructional advantage!  The disadvantage is that you may not be sure if the less capable student of the pair is learning.

Response Cards: True/false responding. For some items, especially conceptual problems, a true-false  response mode can be used. You can present the items in a true/false manner by giving each student two pieces of construction paper; one blue colored paper and one white paper. The blue color construction paper could signify a true response to the item by the student (“true blue”).

You can have the students write “true” on it to remember that this card is held up when they want to respond with “true.” The white color paper should signify a false response (they should write false on it). When you present the item, the students respond either “true” or “false” by holding up one of the colored papers. Using these two colors for the student response cards will allow you to scan many students and determine quickly who is responding correctly. Other options for this type of use of Response Cards would be Yes/No responding or Agree/Disagree responding.

Here’s a short video on one way that response cards can be used:

If you’d like to find out how response cards can be used with children with special needs the click here to read Amy Fenton Lee’s post!

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Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA CPI

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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