Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2015

Ponder Mobile

Pithy social reading tool may reward quantity over quality

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9-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Flexible way for multiple readers to share and comment on Web-based content.

Cons: The interface is both limited and busy, and boiling an entire article down to a pithy remark might miss opportunities for critical thinking.

Bottom Line: Interesting tool for collaborative reading might not provoke the kind of critical thinking that drives thoughtful class discussion.

Ponder could serve as a collaborative reading forum for a history class, especially for current-events discussions or analyses of opinion pieces. Teachers could use the app as a general tool to encourage students to read broadly across various publications and comment on articles of their choice or from a set list. Ponder also works as a browser extension on the Web, where students can use a computer, rather than a phone or tablet, to record micro-responses.

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Ponder allows teachers to create a class reading list and a space to share reactions as students read. As they read, students can select various passages and provide "micro-reading responses." These very brief responses -- choices include "meh," "wow," and an exclamation point -- are attached to slightly longer sentiment statements ("Sally salutes" or "Pete is heavy-hearted"). The longer statements, along with the selected paragraph, show up in the class "feed," so all class members can see the user-selected text as well as the reactions. There's an option to add brief "elaboration" text to capture additional insights, too.

Ponder's developers have strong opinions about what the app is: It's meant to record data on students' concise reactions to passages in text across the Internet. Unfortunately, that doesn't feel like a rigorous approach to reading. The app favors quick clicks and emotional responses rather than deep thought about the text. It won't be easy for students to use the app to annotate as they read or to capture information much beyond the provided monosyllabic responses. However, it does capture a wealth of data about which articles students read, how long they spend reading, and how they react.

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Ponder could be a great student motivator. Student comments precede the article titles as they appear in the feed ("Sally marvels" or "Sam begs to differ"), encouraging others to read the same articles and record their own reactions. The newer "elaboration" feature is nice, too, letting students add their own text. In general, however, the preselected content keeps analysis to a minimum. Ponder may be an effective way to provoke conversation among older students, who've been the app's main audience to this point. It's easy to imagine it in a college humanities seminar ("Several of you marked this section as 'well considered.' Talk a little more about that"). The app's developers say they're committed to making the tool useful and high-impact for students and teachers. It continues to catch up to the more flexible, easier-to-use features of the corresponding website, and some new features are aimed at helping to measure and promote better learning outcomes.

The app's developers are self-proclaimed lovers of data collection and data's implications for education. Indeed, this is one of the app's best features; teachers get extensive data about what students read, how long they read, and what they've tagged. Though this data can be useful, it doesn't necessarily suggest information about learning outcomes or reading comprehension. In a culture in which students habitually fail to read deeply or think critically, introducing a social reading tool that rewards broad reading over deep reading could be a step backward. With carefully curated content and strong expectations set by the teacher, Ponder could be a boon to a class's exploration of current events or opinion pieces. However, without guidance and context, it's a race to click, tag, and fly through as many sources as possible. That might make the class feed longer, but it won't guarantee that learning is any deeper.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
2

Articles appear in a snazzy, Pinterest-like tiled display on users' feeds. Users can dive deep into data about each article, and they can see their classmates' sentiments and highlights.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Teachers can create a class reading list and a space for students to share their reactions to the text. As students read, they select passages and provide "micro-reading responses,” which appear in a class feed.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
3

The website's instructional videos and support sections can be complicated to navigate, but the developer's blog and how-to info are a big help. "Sentiment sets" in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Irish Gaelic are a nice touch.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

3
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Featured review by
Tom Y. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
3
An application that leverages social learning, but doesn't provide a platform for the deep reading habits students need to gain higher level reading skills.

This application is like a readers-only Twitter account. A good tool to get students into the habit of reading within small groups, but lacks the capabilities to allow students to engage deeply into what they are reading.

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