For years word clouds have been fan favorites of teachers and administrators alike. These early web tools burst on the scene to provide new avenues to engage students and stakeholders. Over the years these tools have been used to increase student engagement. From a pedagogical sense they can be used as part of an anticipatory set or as a means to review prior learning, check for understanding, and close a lesson. They can also be used more broadly as part of a larger student project to assist with making their learning more visible.
Even though words clouds are used as a pedagogical strategy in class their true power lies in their ability to communicate ideas at a glance. They can be used to highlight successes and achievements as well as articulate how stakeholders feel about our schools and districts. There are many other benefits of using word clouds in general. They are relatively easy to comprehend, can provide clarity on overreaching ideas, and are easy to share across digital networks. It is no wonder that these tools have been embraced in education and business.
Popular word cloud generators include Wordle and Tagxedo. Even though these are extremely popular there are some apparent downsides. Let’s analyze the description of Wordle:
Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.
Herein lies the problem with tools like this. For starters they are openly referred to as toys. The second issue stems from the fact that the cloud itself is created in a relatively low-level way when it comes to thinking. All one has to do is input words and paste text to create a cloud. My issue with Wordle and Tagxedo is that little to no critical thought is aligned to what could be a powerful way to aid in conceptual mastery. This is not to say that word clouds can’t be used to support higher order thinking skills. The key here is to begin to look beyond traditional tools and begin to integrate those that allow students and stakeholders alike to respond to open ended questions.
Enter Mentimeter and AnswerGarden. Both tools can be used for formative assessment. Responses to an open-ended question of your choice can be used to create a word cloud. Each is simple to use and will only take minutes to set up. With Answer Garden all responses form a growing word cloud, which can be exported to Wordle or Tagxedo if you wish. You can even set up an administrator password to remove inappropriate responses. When setting up Mentimeter there are seven different question types to choose from, one of which is a means to have answers curated into a colorful word cloud. It even has a profanity filter.
With all the tech tools integrated in schools we need to also be more mindful of the questions to which we ask our learners to respond. Let’s move away from the use of toys to support low-level learning and begin to integrate the power of word clouds to support high-level learning.
Source: A Principal’s Reflections