Mar 27, 2017

Original Publication

March 2017
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Have you ever taught a lesson really, really well—but not all of your students got it right on the test? Or, as a student, were you ever surprised that you completely blew a question on a test? Stacey Roshan is one of those teachers who cannot accept that her students fail when the material has been covered in class. Stacey’s response to this universal dilemma is to leverage emerging technologies to learn more about how, when, and why her students make mistakes—and her techniques have led to deep learning of difficult math concepts.

Many of Stacey’s processes are counterintuitive to how teachers were taught to teach. In her blended classroom, there is less transfer of knowledge from the teacher, more conversations of problem solving among the students, and more listening and learning by the teacher about how students learn. All of this represents a major shift of control to the students, resulting in deep learning on their part. Various tools and a robust online community makes all of this possible and manageable.

Stacey teaches AP calculus at the Bullis School, an independent coed day school in Maryland. Stacey’s journey to shifting control began with the simple step of recording her lessons with screencasting software to enable her students to have limitless review of the material.  Students were helped by this video library, but many still struggled when it came time to take the test. To facilitate deep learning, she then shifted her thinking to learn more about how her students learn rather than focusing on how to deliver her knowledge.

Her video library did provide students with time to work on problems during class, then go over the results together. In the past, she would have spent time explaining the correct way to solve problems.  One of the biggest shifts she has made is to spend a lot of time going over incorrect answers—dissecting them to reveal why they are incorrect and where that student’s thinking went wrong.

Stacey reflects: “Until students began working on problems themselves, the types of questions they would ask were very surface-level questions. It was very rare that we got to those deep learning analysis questions, because they were trying to process something new, and they were trying to write it down. I knew that was a problem.”

There is research that suggests un-teaching students’ mistakes and fixing their misconceptions is extremely beneficial. If you only show the right way to solve a problem, students still might not understand. But if you break the problem down and say, “This is where you went wrong,” that’s really powerful. Stacey has found great success by doing just that—and technology is what makes this approach possible.

Stacey uses Pear Deck, a web-based interactive presentation tool, to project students’ work anonymously to the class. Each student has a Wacom tablet connected to a laptop. The tablets allow them to solve problems by writing out their solutions. Using Pear Deck, Stacey creates a live presentation session that students can join from their own devices with a passcode. She can see her students’ work with a dashboard view, and she can isolate and project a student’s work anonymously for the whole class to see, so that she can discuss it with the class.

Before she had this technology available, when she would have students raise their hand or come up to the board to solve a problem, the responses were “tied to a specific student,” she says, “and I didn’t feel as comfortable calling a student out who was doing something incorrect.” But now that it’s anonymous, “it allows us to have these conversations about the incorrect answers and why those mistakes were made, why those students were thinking along those lines—and digging into why it’s incorrect. I would say that’s one of my favorite parts about using Pear Deck and using technology.”

Not only is Stacey able to lead a much richer discussion that results in better learning, but every student is participating.

“It’s not just about calling on one student, or having one student some up to the board and do it. Everybody’s participating, instantly and in real time,” she says. “We’re not just discussing one student’s result; we’re discussing the whole class’s results. The level of participation we can have is (phenomenal), and I think our discussion goes to a whole new level.”

Stacey also sets aside class time for her students to work together and help each other understand the material. And she sets this expectation from the outset, within the first five days of school.

“I stress that this is not going to be a class where you are learning on your own and just doing your own thing,” she explains. “This class is all about helping and learning from one another. If you’re working faster along, that’s your opportunity to help someone else. I also tell them that when they are taking someone else through a problem and explaining how to solve it, they are strengthening their knowledge in more ways than they could by doing 50 problems. By explaining how they do it, they’re really analyzing their thought process. They’re breaking it down, which is such a high-level skill.”

As students are collaborating, she walks around the room and listens to their conversations. “By hearing where they’re coming from, and how they get from step A to step B, I get such insight into where there is confusion,” she says. “I get to hear whether or not they are deeply understanding. Before, when they were just handing in work, I didn’t know if they did it themselves or had help from somebody else.”

In Singapore, they have this mantra: Teach less, listen more. Stacey practices that idea in her classroom. By having students helping other students, she is learning more about each student’s thinking.

“I think the worst thing in the world is when a student does poorly on an assessment, and you weren’t able to call that ahead of time,” she says. “As a teacher, I really hate those moments—because it makes me feel I wasn’t listening enough.”

Stacey also teaches an online section of AP Calculus. To replicate this practice with her online students, she has them take part in Google Hangout sessions in groups of 2-4 students, where they are discussing problems and solutions—and she assesses those conversations via video, which I think is brilliant.

“They record and submit (those sessions), and I hear how they’re approaching the problems,” she says. “I absolutely adore that component of my class. It’s very time-consuming, because you have to listen to those recordings. But it’s so valuable to me. It allows me to jump in so many times (and help them fix their understanding) before an assessment.”

In a result that defies conventional wisdom, Stacey says her online students consistently perform better than her face-to-face students, though all score well on the AP exam. She attributes that to the fact that her online students have learned to take more ownership of their own learning.

“They know their questions are only going to get answered if they ask them,” she says. “And they are asking them.” Often in her face-to-face classes, “students wait for me to open their books and get started for the day. In the online environment, I’m never going to tell them that. They are taking responsibility for that. That has been really remarkable to me.”

Empowering students to help each other, required Stacey to let go of some control over the conversations in her classes—but it has resulted in much more powerful learning for her students.

“When you’re sitting in the passenger seat of a car, you could go somewhere five times when somebody drives you, and when you get in the driver’s seat, (you don’t know how to get there yourself),” she notes. “You need to practice it yourself, you need to make those connections yourself.” And that’s what shifting some of the control to her students has empowered them to do.

Stacey will be presenting two sessions at the 2018 Building Learning Communities conference in Boston July 25-27. To learn more or to register for this event, click here.


  1. This so is so wonderful to hear! I believe the same and developed my own techniques to promote safety in my middle sch classes with only a whiteboard. Yea for technology to accomplish the same. I
    developed behaviors for responding in class ( blurting and flailing please) and questioning practices when sharing problem solving ideas that didn’t point out your errors, but asked questions about why you chose that method. Many times times students found their own errors when asked to re-look at something they did. We looked at approaches and asked lots of whys. As students relaxed and understood we are learning to solve problems,, that it is a process, they explored more and had fun with their weekly projects.
    This conference was the best I ever attended . I no longer work full time, but recommend it to friends still in the classroom. And I still wish I could attend even now.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience about using technology and more important, your process for creating a safe classroom where students could take more risk to explore “the why”. Self assessment as you know, is a powerful force!!!

      Cheers, Alan

  2. Thank you for the great article. I have some questions .

    First the idea of projecting students work anonymously is great to work on their mistakes and misconceptions. I use a platform similar to Pear Deck called Classkick. I usually project the work of those students who raise their hands ( those who know what they are doing) but those who straggle usually do not ask me to display their screen. I do not know how I can display their work anonymously and work with their mistakes with the whole class as you suggest.

    Second, I create my own videos to reinforce concepts or as test reviews. Asking students to watch the videos at home and then work during class has been difficult for me. Some students do not do the homework. My question is how can I motivate them to watch the videos at home and then as a teacher be able to “teach less, listen more”.


    • Andres, have you tried incorporating some formative assessment points in your videos? You could use a platform like Edpuzzle or Playposit (formery known as Educanon) to insert some questions into your videos at certain points. Kids would have to submit an answer before moving forward in the video and then you would see where your students are getting it or getting confused. This information could be where you start your lesson the next day- by going over the areas of misunderstandings and misconceptions.

    • Hi Debra,

      Great suggestion on embedding questions at important points of a video with at tool that requires students to reflect at that point. I bet this would be a great strategy for some staff development applications as well!


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Led by Alan November and based in Marblehead, MA, November Learning equips teachers and administrators to motivate students to own their learning and make global connections by using effective technology and implementing rigorous assignments. Through our annual Building Learning Communities® conference, professional development services and extended resources, our team of experts empowers educators to enact powerful changes across the curriculum, drawing on students’ abilities to think critically, communicate globally, express creativity and collaborate across several types of media.


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