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

Ponder

Novel, fun micro-reading responses may not favor deep learning

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Teachers say (2 Reviews)
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Grades
8-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Engaging, social, accessible tool for close reading could help cure note-taking resistance.

Cons: Included response options may encourage clicking to completion, rather than the kind of critical thinking and analysis teachers might expect.

Bottom Line: Somewhat resembling a social media tool, it's an inclusive way to support reflective reading and learning.

The site’s FAQ section offers multiple suggestions for planning, as well as for aligning instruction to the Common Core standards. There are suggestions on how to use Ponder for independent reading assignments, reading groups, and research projects.

With the feedback and data Ponder provides, you can better differentiate the reading materials you're assigning, both on Ponder as well as for in-class reading. Should you want to include your own reading materials on the site’s Reading List, you can add links and PDF files with the site's Create a Course Packet option. Also, if you’d prefer not to grant access to a certain Web source, you can disable links from a reading list.

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Ponder is an add-on tool for Web browsers that teachers can use to assign, and keep track of, students' reading on the Web. Students can also use the tool to create what Ponder calls "micro-reading responses." After signing up, teachers create a class profile where they can compile a Reading List and select Themes that students will read for throughout the course. Overall, the service is designed to make critical thinking and analytical reading easier for students -- and easier for teachers to assess.

Students join and begin their "micro-reading and response" experience: reading on the Web, selecting excerpts, and choosing both "Themes" and "Sentiments" that best match their thinking and analysis. Students can also add brief "elaborations" to add their own text and ideas on the clipping at hand. Students' posts become part of the Class Feed that all users can access and respond to. Both the class feed and a user's own personal feed are chock-full of data about each article, from the number of words to an article's total number of readers (on Ponder's service) to the time users have spent reading. Teachers can track their students' reading selections and the pace at which they've read.

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To make the most of Ponder, teachers should view the service as a tool for the long game, not a quick fix. Teachers should spend time configuring the site to their liking: Adding to the Reading List and selecting Themes will pay off once students get in the habit of using it as the data pours in. Ponder tracks the number of words students read and the amount of time they spend reading, which can be amusing and rewarding to students, as well as instructive to teachers. The Sentiments and Themes that students choose are also collected, and this is especially helpful as the Sentiments act as prompts that offer three kinds of reaction to the text: comprehension-based, analytical, and emotional. Meanwhile, a new "elaboration" feature lets users enter their own text in addition to the Sentiments to further expand on their reactions.

Students will take to using the browser immediately, lured by “not needing to write anything” and by the intuitive, click-based navigation. However, this social reading tool might reward speedy, cursory reading over the kind of deep, thoughtful analysis that many teachers expect and require. Sustaining engagement will depend on teachers' consistency in using the data to augment their instruction, such as configuring Themes that encourage discussion, reflection, and application.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Students will enjoy leaving pen and paper behind with this browser extension and note-taking tool. The chance to interact with their peers, while showing what they've learned with a series of clicks, has potential to entice.

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

Students use the tool to highlight excerpts from a selected text and then choose corresponding responses, or “Sentiments," and Themes. However, analysis and critical thinking might not go as deep as many teachers will expect.

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

There are video tutorials, simple directions, explanatory screenshots, and a FAQ section, which includes helpful information for teachers and students alike. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

5
(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Anthony V. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Stuyvesant High School
New York, NY
5
Ponder saves me time by extending activities beyond my classroom and keeping tabs on student interaction.

In addition to meeting the expectations listed above, I wish to share these observations:
- Students found the application intuitively simple. Little preparation was required.
- Time dedicated to document reading and analysis could be moved outside the classroom. Time was now available to discuss the documents in class.
- Students from different classes could now interact with each other. This was impossible in the traditional sence.
- The data generated was continuous and timely. It provided a multi-dimensional interpretation of student/ document interaction.
- Normally reticent students became active. They were able to interact with classmates and contribute to group analysis of documents in a non-threatening environment.
- The Ponder staff were enthusiastic and worked arduously to solve any and all issues that arose. They encouraged feedback and my students and I obliged unapologetically. I was happy to see that this partnership resulted in a significant upgrade to the service, it’s accompanying mobile platform, and browser plugins.
While I have an affinity for technology integration, most of my colleagues do not. If they use technology, it must be simple, dependable, and deliver what it promises. Ponder satisfies all three.

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