How can educators use technology to enhance assessment design, allowing for increased student engagement, a differentiated learner experience, and effective data-collection, to drive their instruction?
Remote learning has provided me with an intentional opportunity to critically reflect on the assessments I use with my students and evaluate how they can best be used to drive my instruction. In a time when I am not able to be in a classroom with my students, I am left thinking about how I can design assessments that provide me with effective data-collection and offer my students real-time feedback. This remote learning experience has also fueled my curiosity to explore which digital tools could be used to enhance assessment design and provide differentiation for the learner experience. In exploring my inquiry question for module 3, I have focused my investigation on the second indicator from ISTE Educator Standard 7:
2b. Use technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students, and inform instruction.
Through this inquiry question, my goal was to identify a digital tool that could provide me with creativity in assessment design, while also offering my students flexibility in the user experience. I believe that one of the most important components of developing effective assessments is that students receive timely feedback. This is essential to providing students the opportunity to reflect on their growth through the learning process and also provides teachers with data to drive instruction. My investigation led me to explore several different digital tools, but the tool I felt best served as a solution to my inquiry question was Pear Deck. One of the features of Pear Deck that I was instantly drawn to was its ability to connect seamlessly with Google Slides. Pear Deck offers educators the ability to modify existing Google Slides by adding interactive features or use one of Pear Deck’s many pre-made templates to enhance instruction.
Getting Started with Pear Deck
Pear Deck provides educators flexibility and creativity in the design process and is a useful digital tool to help drive instruction through the use of synchronous assessments. While using a virtual meeting platform (Google Meet or Zoom) in remote learning, an educator can activate a presentation for students to join, share their screen with students, and then have their class connect with the assignment via a Pear Deck join code. This synchronous capability allows students to follow along with the presentation, and also provides an opportunity for the teacher to add formative assessments appropriately throughout the lesson. Real-time feedback from these formative assessments can give the teacher immediate data on student understanding of the content and inform their instruction. This feedback is especially helpful in remote learning when it can be more difficult to gauge how well students are comprehending new concepts. In my experience, remote learning has put a spotlight on how essential ongoing feedback from students is throughout the learning process. Pear Deck works to provide an effective way to collect this data and adjust future lessons.
Beyond remote learning, educators can still effectively use Pear Deck as a form of synchronous assessment. When presenting information in class, teachers can have their students connect the same way and follow along with their presentation. At the beginning of a new unit, a teacher could engage their class in an interactive KWL chart, where students are submitting responses to what they already know and want to learn about the topic. Pear Deck can also be used synchronously in the classroom to have students share out the most important thing from a lesson. Once students have submitted responses, teachers can choose to show all responses, select a few to share, or keep them all private. Having students engage in an interactive, digital formative assessment in this way, can help to support and encourage students who may not feel comfortable sharing aloud.
Similar to during synchronous instruction, Pear Deck is an effective digital tool to provide formative assessment to students during asynchronous learning. Through Pear Deck, educators can build out check-ins, quizzes, homework assignments, and questionnaires for students to complete asynchronously. One of the most beneficial features that Pear Deck offers, especially currently with remote learning, is the ability to provide students with asynchronous assessments through the student-paced mode. In the student-paced mode, students are able to work through the assignment and complete the tasks at their own comfort level. This removes pressure from the student to feel rushed to keep up with a presentation or to feel bored with it not moving fast enough. By differentiating the learning in this way and putting the control of pace in the hands of the students, students feel empowered and more confident in this work. I have found it really beneficial to embed several different formative assessments during asynchronous learning, especially some of the social-emotional (SEL) slides. I will be discussing Pear Deck’s SEL slides coming up later in this blog, but they provide really useful information on how students may be feeling before, during, and after an assignment. This is an example of a recent assignment I created for my 5th-grade math students to complete asynchronously in student-paced mode. While students are completing this assignment asynchronously, through the teacher dashboard I have the capability of either following along with them simultaneously and seeing which students are working on it, or getting a report afterward of who completed the work. This data can help me to identify who I might need to check-in with the following day about this assignment.
Additionally, using Pear Deck’s student-paced mode could be beneficial for educators to use on days when they have a substitute teacher in their classroom. By designing slides out ahead of time, teachers can have a substitute instruct students to complete this work, which could include audio clips from the teacher, links to websites to access, and feedback on how the day went. Through this type of use, teachers are able to enhance formative assessments they use with their students, even when someone might be subbing in their classroom for the day.
Practical Ways to Improve Best Practices
Pear Deck’s new audio add-on feature is a wonderful way for educators to enhance their instruction, especially in remote learning. Through this feature, teachers can add audio clips directly to their Google Slides for students to access in student-paced mode or during synchronous learning. Embedding audio clips allow for assessments to be differentiated to meet the needs of all learners. For example, educators could put an audio clip on the first slide to give students directions on what to expect in the coming slides. This is an effective way to set all students up for success. Additionally, if educators create a slide that asks students to interact with the slide with dragging and dropping or drawing, it may be helpful through the audio add-on feature to insert a short audio clip reminding students of how to use the tools they will need. Another way to effectively use embedded audio on Pear Deck is as a way to check-in verbally with students, especially during remote learning when that is especially needed. These verbal check-ins could be a word of encouragement as students are beginning an activity, or it could be a reminder of the next steps for students as they move to complete other assignments. At the end of the assignment I shared above, I added a quick formative assessment of the digital tool for students to give feedback. On that slide, I provided a short audio clip to let students know how much I appreciated their feedback and would like to hear how their experience was using Pear Deck. Lastly, the audio add-on feature could be used for a teacher to talk through an example and explain how an answer was derived. Guiding students in this way can help them to be set up for success and move into the assignment feeling confident in completing the assigned task.
By utilizing Pear Deck’s immersive reader, educators can integrate best practices into their instruction. Through the immersive reader feature, students are able to have all the text on a slide read aloud to them. By activating this feature in their user settings (only available in Premium) educators can ensure that all learners can effectively receive the assignment. Pear Deck’s immersive reader allows students to be able to adjust the pacing of the speaker, highlight parts of speech, language, and add larger line spacing to sentences. This feature can be extremely beneficial to ensuring that when students are completing a formative assessment, learning needs are effectively met and their true understanding of concepts can be assessed. I have found that it is helpful (especially when students are building familiarity with Pear Deck) to insert an audio clip at the beginning of the assignment to remind students of this feature.
As I mentioned above, integrating social-emotional learning check-ins with students allows them to reflect on how they are showing up to learning that day, provides the teacher with useful information, and gives students a space to feel heard. I have found that in remote learning (and in my classroom), these SEL check-ins have been essential for guiding my instruction and knowing how a student is showing up. Assessing students on how they felt about an assignment (what felt easy, what was challenging, and what felt too difficult) can be an effective way to gauge future activities. Upon receiving this data, teachers can then effectively intervene with intentional support for the student, whether it is setting up an individual meeting, checking in with a support specialist on family, or being better informed for future instruction. What is also useful about Pear Deck’s SEL slides, is that the teacher can decide if other students can see the responses to these slides, and can also lock the slide to prevent responses from being modified. This could be useful for starter conversations about sharing feelings and for classmates to gain perspective around how their peers are feeling that day. The SEL template slide on practicing active listening is a practical way for educators to build in this practice and have students both take on the role of an active listener and be reflective in providing constructive feedback to peers.
Getting Direct Feedback
Pear Deck provides educators and students with a variety of ways to get direct feedback. Pear Deck “takeaways” provide students a space to get feedback from their teacher and continue conversation around the topic. After completing a Pear Deck assignment, a teacher has the option of creating a “takeaway,” which generates an individual copy of the Pear Deck in a Google Doc, and contains any feedback they’ve given. This is especially useful for students to be able to go back and look at past lessons to review concepts. For educators, feedback is received real-time as students are completing their Pear Deck assignments. This is provided both in the student-paced mode and in the live, synchronous mode. In the teacher dashboard teachers can view all active or completed slides and manage them simultaneously. After an assignment is closed, the teacher has the option to generate the data into a Google Sheet to collect and store student data. A helpful way to organize this student data and grade assessments, is by app-smashing Pear Deck with Flubaroo. While this is not something I have explored yet extensively, the app-smashing of these two digital tools is one I am excited to continue to explore. If you’re interested in learning more about how these two digital tools can complement one another, here is a link to get started.
Addressing the Drawbacks
In providing an authentic analysis of digital tools, I believe it is also important to address any drawbacks that users may experience when using the tool. One of the biggest drawbacks that I have experienced with this digital tool (which is common with many), is that its most useful and essential features are only available through the premium membership. These premium features include immersive reader, audio add-on, “takeaways” for feedback, and teacher dashboard. Currently, educators are able to get a free 3-month premium subscription remote learning due to COVID-19. I had not used Pear Deck prior to remote learning, and this was partly due to the fact that my school does not have a premium membership. I am grateful that I took the time to learn more about this digital tool and experience how it can be used to enhance assessments and drive instruction. I encourage other educators to also explore using these premium features for free during remote learning and also experience its benefits, which may help to influence their schools to consider purchasing a premium membership in the future.
Continued Professional Development
Are you looking for additional resources to continue your growth in using Pear Deck effectively? Matt Miller (author of Ditch That Textbook) provides a thorough walkthrough of how to use Pear Deck in this recorded webinar. Pear Deck also provides educators with daily live webinars to learn the basics of how to get started with Pear Deck. These are two resources I have found to be extremely beneficial in extending my own understanding and comfort level with using Pear Deck.
What are some creative ways you’re using Pear Deck to enhance assessments? Do you have any resources that have helped you use Pear Deck? Please share them, as well as any feedback or questions you have, in the comment section below.
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Recharge Learning. (n.d.). Pear Deck Resources. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from http://rechargelearning.blogspot.com/2018/04/pear-deck-resources.html
Rogowski, M. (2020, May 10). Pear Deck Review for Teachers. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/pear-deck