Sunday, May 22, 2011

Polleverywhere - Advice & Questioning Strategies

Whenever I get a chance to speak with educators about using cell phones in class, the discussion usually moves towards Polleverywhere.  While many schools and classrooms are fortunate enough to have the funds to purchase sets of classroom clickers, polleverywhere offers educators an viable alternative to traditional classroom response systems, by taking advantage of the cell phones that students are already brining into our classrooms.

Before I go on any further, proclaiming the immense benefits of using student cellphones & polleverywhere in class, I will address legitimate concerns.
*If you have never used polleverywhere, here is a short tutorial I made on creating and managing polls.

Concern #1 - School cellphone policy - When I started using polleverywhere in my classroom, we had a 'no cellphone in classrooms' policy.  From my experience, there are two approaches educators can take if they are in this common situation.  Here is a great resource on cell phone management.

1. Ask for forgiveness, not permission - I started with this approach. The first time I used polleverywhere, I violated the school cellphone policy, asked students to take out their phones and vote on a poll.  Based on the feedback of students, participation and level of engagement, I was confident that I could then go to my principal and ask for forgiveness for violating the policy, while asking for forgiveness and permission in the future.

2. Ask for permission - While I admit to using cellphones in class without permission, I then took the classroom experience created by polleverywhere, clearly explained the benefits, classroom management strategy, potential pitfalls and outcomes to my principal.  Engage in a conversation with your school administration if you have a no cellphone policy in your school.  From my experience, administrators will often be open to the idea of teacher initiated cellphone use.  Invite them into your classroom the day you are going to use cellphones & polleverywhere, and ask them to participate as well.

Concern #2 - No cell phone or no text messaging plan - While my experience points to high school students having unlimited text messaging plans, there are occasionally students who either don't have cell phones or have limited / no text messaging.  There are three viable solutions to this problem:

1. Group voting - Place students into pairs or small groups that require a debate or consensus before the vote can be placed.

2. # of votes per device - When creating a new poll, there is an option in the top right hand corner that allows the poll creator to decide how many time a single device can place a vote.  By default it is set at 1 vote per device.  However, that can easily be changed to a predetermined number or unlimited.  From my classroom experience, I have found that students will either pass their phone to a friend, vote on their friend's behalf, or in some instances, I let my students use my iPhone to vote.

3. iPod Touch - If there is a wireless network in your school, or if there is a wireless point in your room, just one or two iPod touch devices can solve any student device concerns.  Simply connect the iPod to the wifi signal and go to on the device browser and students will be able to quickly input their vote and pass the device to the next student.

Hopefully, those three work-arounds will alleviate any concerns you may have over student access and equity when using polleverywhere in your classroom.

Questioning Strategies
Once you have decided to give polleverywhere a go in your classroom, it is time to consider questioning strategy and question type, keeping the ultimate goal in mind - student learning, engagement & participation.  Below are the question styles and strategies I have used in my classroom.

1. Specific multiple choice with one correct answer - This type of question can be used as a quick formative assessment strategy.  While polleverywhere does not function exactly as a classroom response system (being able to track specific user responses), it can provide immediate feedback to help you guide further instruction.
*There is a feature in polleverywhere that allows you to group your polls.  Simply create your specific questions, check off the small box next the questions you would like to group & click 'group' across the top menu bar.  You can then name your 'group' and at any point new questions can be created and added to the group by dragging & dropping into the group.
*When transitioning from one class to the next, you have the option of deleting the responses or creating a copy of the poll.  When the poll is live, both of these options are in the top right hand corner of the page.

1.1 Generic multiple choice polls - Instead of creating multiple questions with specific answers, try creating a few polls with generic responses
- A,B,C,D
-Yes, No
-True, False
This strategy will allow you to quickly poll a class based on an existing quiz, test or homework assignment.  Also, by using this strategy, you can simply keep one poll projected and clear the results for the next question.  This eliminates the need to go back into your poll inbox to select the next poll.

2. Open text polls - I use this strategy when my high school history students are reading primary source documents in class.  I will leave the poll open & projected in class and while students are reading I will have them text in:
- key vocabulary words
- quotes
- questions
- thoughts
It may be helpful (although tedious) to number the lines in the document ahead of time.  When students text in a question, idea, thought, or quote they can also include the line #, as to direct other students to the location of their idea.
Because students can respond anonymously to polls, it is important to consider if you want students to identify themselves in their response.  I have used student initials with open response text polls to address this concern.

3. Spectrum of Understanding / Agreement polls - These are by far my favorite type of poll to use in class.  Instead of having students respond to a specific question, with one correct answer, I try to engage them in debate by having them vote on a spectrum of agreement or understanding.
For example, in the question below that is adapted from a US Holocaust Memorial Museum assignment on assessing responsibility for the Holocaust.  There is no correct answer with this type of question and students respond based on their unique perspective regarding responsibility for the Holocaust:
1. Not responsible
2. Minimally responsible
3. Responsible
4. Very responsible

Another, similar type of polling question below provides a number of potential responses, none of which are absolutely correct, but will lead to classroom debate.

One last tip that you may want to consider with any questioning strategy, hide the results as they come in from student responses. When I first started using polleverywhere, watching the instant feedback appear on the screen is what grabbed student attention and engaged the class. However, thanks to the feedback from @derekbruff based on a video from my class, he suggested that if students can see the responses coming in from the class, it may influence their vote.

Now when we use polleverywhere, I use the following strategy:
1. Students vote - poll results are hidden
2. Students debate what they think the results will be. They don't necessarily debate their choice, but rather what they think the class is thinking
3. Reveal results
4. Students react to results & debate / defend their individual choice
5. Reflective writing - based on one vote or a series of polls from class

*Poll results can easily be hidden by scrolling over the top right hand corner of the poll when it is live and clicking on 'directions'

Here is a Polleverywhere tutorial I made, enjoy:


  1. Great article. Thank you. I am exploring the use of this with some 3rd through 5th grade classes as part of a one to one netbook and/or iPad classroom yearlong experiment.

    i am interested about "classroom questioning strategies" for thesis. Can u help me to find gooD book for my reference....