Visible thinking with texts - Prism

When I taught biology, I frequently assigned articles for my students to read. .  Using a variety of texts beyond the adopted textbook helped make the subject more accessible for my students because I was able to choose topics that were far more engaging than the typical informational text found in the heavy and dense biology book.  I would circulate the room as they read, hoping to ascertain a smidge of what they were thinking as they read - such a futile strategy.  Eventually, we developed some reading codes they were to use as they read so that I could peak into the margins of the article and catch a glimpse of their annotations.  Figuring out how to quickly extract the common themes in their annotations was hard, though, when working with 30 or more students reading at varying paces.

This is an opportunity where the right technology can really benefit the students and the teacher.  Using a tool like Prism, the teacher is able to assign highlighter colors to specific meanings, much like my reading codes, and students can engage digitally with the text.  Not only does the tool give the students a way to manipulate the text, it also aggregates the entire class’ highlights and provides a visualization of the collective understanding of the text for the teacher.  Words and phrases that are commonly highlighted appear larger.  In this way, based on the highlighter codes, teachers can quickly gather what portions of the text need more support.

In the example below, the teacher has given three colored highlighters three different meanings.  When I click on the word “graceful” I am quickly given a pie chart that indicates that about half of the highlights from students indicated this was an example of “imagery” while the remaining responses were split between “diction” and “tone.”  Given these proportions, as a teacher I would know that I’d want to address the correct answer.

The next visualization shows varying font sizes.  When I click on a highlighter color, the words that were most frequently highlighted with that color become larger.  This can help me confirm whether or not the majority of the students engaged with the text with the appropriate goals.

Prism is a very simple tool to use.  For more information, check out this tutorial below:

Teachers could use Prism to assign a warm-up to help preview a concept or idea. This is also could be used as a formative assessment after direct instruction of a few key concepts. Using Prism in this way would allow teachers to gain data as to whether or not students can apply their learning in a new context. Because Prism collects and displays an entire group of students data with a single click, teachers can make immediate instructional decisions in their lessons.


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