What Are Student Response Boards and How Can They Lead to Greater Equity and Achievement?

By: | 03/17/2021
Category: Instruction

The practice of using individual response boards in the classroom is far from new. However, over the last few decades the teaching practice has come a long way. Traditionally, response boards are individual whiteboards about the size of a sheet of paper. However, what counts as a “response board” in today’s classrooms is much more expansive. For example, in a virtual classroom, teachers may use online programs like Whiteboard.fi® to solicit individual student responses during instruction. In a physical classroom, teachers may have students use a dry erase marker on their desk or a sheet protector to work out problems and share their thinking during instruction.

No matter what form of response boards educators use, I know from experience that their instructional capacity to meet the needs of all learners is enhanced dramatically. Since we introduced response boards at Hollywood Park Elementary in Florida, where I work as an instructional coach, I’ve observed firsthand that when response boards are used systematically, they promote meaningful student engagement, encourage student-centered pedagogy, and foster equitable classroom environments where diverse thinking is celebrated and students feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

Here are just some of the ways response boards can benefit your students and educators:

Provide Scaffolding Opportunities

Making the most out of the types of questions a teacher asks their students is key to inspiring individual breakthroughs. Using individual response boards will uplift an educator’s ability to strategically and intentionally ask students questions that help them overcome an individual barrier, making response boards an amazing scaffolding tool.

Because response boards enable teachers to see students’ work and thinking, teachers know the right questions to ask students to help them bridge the gap between prior knowledge and new concepts. For example, say I was teaching multiplication and I asked my class to work out 8 times 23 on their response boards. While circulating, I’d see some students using the distributive property while others were creating models using manipulatives and/or staring down at a blank board. Because I know exactly where each student is, I know what questions to ask to get them where they need to be. To do that, I might use modeling and think aloud for those who are reluctant to attempt the problem. “Wow, this looks hard! Let me remind myself what I know about multiplication. It is a form of repeated addition.” Then I might ask the students with blank boards, “How can you use repeated addition to find the product?” I can ask students who are already making groups or using repeated addition, “What would it look like if you organize your groups by place value?” For the students who are using models or base-ten blocks, I could ask, “How can I reorganize the values so I can multiply in my head?” Each question intentionally motivates the students to use metacognitive thinking to problem solve.

Response boards in use at Hollywood Park Elementary.
Response boards in use at Hollywood Park Elementary

Facilitate In-the-Moment Formative Assessments

Response boards empower educators to facilitate formative assessments by measuring student understanding during instruction. Whenever teachers ask students to respond to a prompt or problem on their response boards, they’re collecting evidence of student learning, barriers, and misconceptions. Using formative assessments in this manner helps educators maximize the impact of instruction with teachable moments.

Support Culturally Responsive Teaching

Hollywood Park Elementary is part of the second-largest district in the state of Florida—Broward County Public Schools—which has an incredibly diverse student population, representing 177 different countries, 151 different languages, and many different cultures.

Response boards have helped our educators create learning experiences that embrace diverse perspectives and provide students with opportunities to reach new academic heights. For example, some cultures may not encourage interaction with teachers during instruction, but students with these backgrounds feel comfortable using response boards to “talk” during lessons. Our English Learners, who were reluctant to speak up, are flourishing. Students who we struggled to engage due to opportunity barriers are now active participants in class discussions.

Today, all of our students are enthusiastically engaged in learning, which has transformed our entire school culture. Throughout our school, classrooms radiate the joyful sound of students making learning discoveries.

Response boards transform instruction and help educators create more equitable classrooms, close learning gaps, and encourage students to see learning as a collaborative process.

Encourage Divergent Thinking and a Growth Mindset

Response boards give students time and space to think freely and creatively, and in doing so, they facilitate the development of lateral thinking skills (i.e., the ability to imagine new and innovative solutions to problems). Such skills are imperative to a student’s success in solving open-ended problems.

Response boards enable educators to instantaneously identify errors, explore non-standard problem-solving approaches, scaffold student misconceptions, form meaningful connections, and facilitate impactful dialogue. These practices, in turn, help students explore sophisticated ideas, use metacognition, and strategize.

Promote Student-Centered Learning

When we’re lecturing, it’s easy to assume everyone is at the same level of thinking, but response boards show us students start each lesson at different places and we might need to meet them at more fundamental levels.

Response boards give teachers insight into where students are at that moment of instruction and enable them to help students get to the next step. When students start to respond to prompts and questions, they're doing it from their perspectives and sometimes they make connections that wouldn’t have occurred to you.

Foster Student Confidence

With response boards, I have students who normally don't answer questions during class or participate in discussions because they’ve learned that it’s okay to mess up and their thinking has value even if they’ve answered a problem incorrectly.

I recently taught a fourth grade math class where I asked students to use their response boards to put three fractions in order from least to greatest. I didn’t tell them how to compare, so they could use any strategy they wanted. Some students decided to draw a type of model, some students used non-traditional methods of their own creation, and others reached for their fraction tiles. The students wrote out their responses, and, after circulating, I invited two students who had the same, but incorrect, answer to share their thinking/strategy. This allowed me to strategically expose some common misconceptions and problem-solving errors I noticed throughout the class in a collaborative manner. We did not immediately determine whether their actual answers were correct or incorrect yet, which as a practice helps me normalize making mistakes. I then asked a student with the correct answer, who tends to be reluctant to share, to explain her thought process. As a class, we reflected on her perspective. When I asked students which one of the presenters had the correct answer, they pointed to the lone student who’d been scared to present because two of her peers had the same answer.

Comparing the different methods gave me several teachable moments, and the three students I asked to present got a dose of confidence by knowing their ideas were worth discussing.

Conclusion

I hope what every teacher takes away from this post is everyone can use response boards in their classroom. Based on my own experience, I believe this way of instruction can be transformative, helping educators create more equitable classrooms where students see learning as a collaborative process.

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