I Hear the Sound of Thinking

When I was in rabbinical school studying in the Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem, I had the privilege to learn with one of the greatest teachers of our generation, Professor Nechama Leibowitz zt"l, during the last year of her life. I was especially fond of one of her teaching methods. She would ask a question, give out a stack of small pieces of paper, and require every student in the class to write down their response. She would then read these papers one by one, commenting on each of them often accompanied by a sigh or a shrug for those who were a little off and an exclamation of, "נכון!" (Correct!) for those whose answer was on target. I lived for that נכון.

This educational approach appealed to me since I was the type of student who was a slow thinker but a good writer. I rarely raised my hand in class since by the time I had processed the teacher's question and thought up something, other students usually were already called on to respond. When I was put on the spot by a teacher's calling on me even without my hand up, as some teachers were wont to do to make sure every student was involved in the discussion, I would often clam up and struggle to give an intelligent response. Speaking in class was even harder for me in a class like Nechama's which was conducted in Hebrew since I had the added difficulty of quickly articulating my response in a second language. However, I excelled on essays and written responses. I could think with my pen and I really appreciated the opportunity to reflect, the "Wait Time" as it is called in educational circles, that Nechama's approach of written responses afforded me.

When I started teaching in high school, I tried to emulate Nechama's approach in my own classroom. However, this method was much easier for the 5-10 adult students in my graduate level class with Nechama, than with my 20-25 high school students. Over the years, I have attempted to utilize technology as a medium to ask a question and quickly receive responses from every student. I have experimented with both Twitter and PollEverywhere. However, I have found Twitter hard to set up for every student and PollEverywhere hard to moderate so that only responses I wanted the students to see would appear and not either ill thought out or downright silly responses.

Enter Nearpod. Nearpod is an iPad app that allows a teacher to run a presentation that simultaneously appears on every student's iPads. The teacher creates the Nearpod using the Nearpod website and logs in on their iPad. Students join the presentation by entering a PIN. The presentation can also be simultaneously beamed to the classroom Smart Board by using the following link: http://hub.new.nearpod.com/j/PIN (replacing the presentation's PIN with the "PIN" in the link).

These presentations not only allow students to manipulate the slides on their iPad but allow teachers to create a number of types questions for students to respond to which are beamed to the teacher's iPad. These include multiple choice quizzes, polls, questions requiring students to draw a response, and, most importantly for the current discussion, open-ended questions that require a student to compose a response. Open-ended questions can even include a reference image for students to look at while responding.

This is Nechama's approach adapted for the 21st century. Teachers easily see every single student's response on their iPad. They then can decide which ones to share with the entire class both on every one of the student iPads and on the Smart Board.

I observed Nearpod utilized with great effect in four different classes this past week. The teacher chose responses to show the class that were both well formulated and from students who rarely participated in regular classroom discussions. The reaction students had to seeing their words displayed to the class was fascinating. They were worried at the beginning of the lesson that their responses would be shown to others and the teacher assured them that only she could see the name of the student by their response. (The default in Nearpod is that only the teacher sees which student composed which response but when sharing these responses with the class the student's name does not appear.) However, once a response was shared with the class, the student would invariably volunteer with pride, "That was my answer!"

The dynamic of the class was also quite interesting. The classes were loud and boisterous as students viewed various slides. Students were able to pinch the pictures to zoom in on segments and they often were sharing with their friends observations about each piece. However, once the questions appeared for students to respond to the class became very quiet. All one could hear was the tap-tap-tapping of students on the keyboard of their iPads as they composed their responses. The teacher gave a comment which exactly encapsulated the moment. She said, "I hear the sound of thinking."