Archive for Pedagogy

The Franken-Paper: Constructing a Best Response


This post originally appeared on my first attempt at blogging on January 10, 2013. I’ve shut down that blog and am slowly moving posts over.

A key challenge in the collaborative classroom is balancing the inherent benefits of group work with the accountability and data of individual assessments. In my IB courses in particular, there’s a desire to prepare students for the types of exams that they’ll see at the end of their IB studies, while not losing the goals of the IB learner profile, which include Reflection and Collaboration. By adding a couple of steps to our assessment process with mock IB-style written exams, I am able to integrate a crowdsourcing element to our assessment which helps all the students benefit from each other’s work, without sacrificing the data from an individual exam.  I call it the “Franken-Paper;” a response produced by the class, spliced together with the best responses to each individual question.

1. Design open-ended questions.

Following the IB model of exams for our Information Technology in a Global Society course, I know that there are a certain number of questions in each category and level of complexity that students will encounter. I also know that the exam questions will always come from the same “command terms,” or question stems (i.e. “Define,” “List,” “Justify,” “Compare,” etc.) specified in the course syllabus. With that as a framework, I try and design the written assessments to always include open-ended questions matching the command terms and structure of the prompts that they’ll see in the IB exams.

The key, though, is simply to make sure that all questions are free-response and open-ended. Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank or other “guided-response” prompts don’t work with this system.

2. Choose the “best responses.”

As I’m reading all of the submissions, I keep a document open in the background to capture the best responses. Most of my exams are submitted electronically, so it’s easy to copy and paste, but with hand-written mocks I’ll simply type the best answers in.

When I encounter what I think is a particularly good answer to a prompt, I write it down. If at some point I come to a better answer in another example, I’ll replace the first example with the second. The goal is to come to the end of my marking with the best answer for #1, the best for #2, etc. These often (in fact, so far always) come from different students’ submissions– no one student has the best answer for all questions. This is key to the discussion and analysis that comes later.

In the case of many possible “best responses,” I try and give the nod to representing the widest range of the class as possible– the higher the number of students that can identify their own contribution to the final product, the better.

3. Present the “Franken-Paper.”

I now have a exam that is spliced together from the best individual answers that the class submitted. There are a variety of ways to handle what comes next: I can distribute them for reading and have a discussion in class following, ask the students to evaluate these answers based on the rubric, or present them myself and identify what made each answer the most successful one in my reading. Since these are open-ended questions, I’m careful in this stage not to identify something as “the right answer,” but as the answer which in my reading best fits the criteria or rubric. Any disagreements, questions or alternate answers should be discussed at this point in order for everyone to see why this was a successful answer to the question or prompt.

The key is that I do all of this before I…

4. Return their individual papers and reflect.

Now that we’ve discussed the group’s best combined thought and knowledge, we can examine each student’s individual response. Any reflection, goal setting or self-evaluation now combines their individual performance as compared to other successful examples. Finally, the best response paper goes in their archives to study and review the subject in the future. Rather than having incomplete or unsuccessful responses to draw from and study, they have the best product of the class to learn from and continue to use.

The easiest variation is to divide up many of the submissions and ask the students to decide a “best answer” out of the group. This works best in small groups chosen to avoid anyone in the group choosing or discussing their answer. You can also use Google Docs to have groups construct one synchronously, using their group’s chosen best answer or using a Jigsaw method.

Seth Godin, Presentations and “Hitting Direct Instruction Home Runs”


(Griffey Image:

“The home run is easy to describe: You put up a slide. It triggers an emotional reaction in the audience. They sit up and want to know what you’re going to say that fits in with that image. Then, if you do it right, every time they think of that you said, they’ll see the image (and vice versa).” Seth Godin in Presentation Zen.

Godin is describing presentations in a business context, but he may as well be describing a lecture or class presentation. Direct instruction has a limited role in an open-ended or student centered classroom, but it is still a role and a part of most teachers’ toolboxes. And when a teacher decides that direct instruction is the most appropriate strategy, who doesn’t want the kind of “home run” that Godin describes?

We’Il look at how Godin suggests crafting a presentation to achieve that result, and how we can adapt those suggestions to a class setting. First, though, there’s a key question upstream: what is the point of our talk? Traditionally, a lecture was the best way to deliver large amounts of information to an audience. The lecture is born of the idea that an expert will convey information in the most effective method possible, especially because a lecture is completely scalable: the costs and resources needed to lecture to an audience of 10 and one of 100 are not markedly different.

A large part of the push against the lecture in today’s educational realm is that this is no longer the case. First,  we understand from brain science and pedagogical research that the lecture is actually a very inefficient way for the audience to learn, no matter how convenient it is for the lecturer. Secondly we have better ways of distributing information, such that we can provide our audience the content that we want to convey in ways that are much more flexible, permanent and tailored to our audience’s needs. So the question is: why lecture? Or, to tie back to Godin, why present?

Both Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, and Seth Godin approach presentations as something different than the delivery of content. Godin says that “the reason that we do presentations is to make a point, to sell one or more ideas.” Here, I anticipate a bit of skepticism from other educators. After all, we are not trying to sell something- we’re trying to teach. I’d argue, though, that the idea of “selling our ideas” is at the core of engagement. Replace “make a point” with “provide purpose,” or “relevance” or any other engagement buzzword from the teacher-effectiveness scale of your choosing, and the concepts map. Instead of delivering the content, deliver the relevance. Deliver the “why,” or the “so what.” Godin continues: “If you believe in your idea, sell it. Make your point as hard as you can and get what you came for. Your audience will thank you for it, because deep down, we all want to be sold.” Sell the importance of the content in order to prep your students and get them engaged and prepped for the learning activities to follow. So how does Godin recommend that you reach for one of those “home run presentations?”

You just replaced your "Igor Stravinsky" slide with a picture of people rioting at the Rite of Spring Premiere. You now have her attention.

You just replaced your “Igor Stravinsky” slide with a picture of people rioting at the Rite of Spring Premiere. You now have her attention. (



“First make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true.” Again, think back to the idea of relevance. What is the picture or image which speaks to the “why” or “so what?”




This stressed out smiley face is producing absolutely no emotional response in your audience. (

This stressed out smiley face is producing absolutely no emotional response in your audience. (




“Second, don’t use cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.” If you have identified a concrete point of relevance, jump on Google Images and find a good picture which supports that point.






A “blinds” transition will not make this slide any more compelling.




“Third, no dissolves, spins or other transitions. Keep it simple.” You hate it when your students do it. So don’t do it. If your presentation needs that much spicing up to make it exciting, go back to #1 and #2.




Is this really the best use of these students’ class time?







“Fourth, create a written document.”







Number four is the essential step for the classroom which allows one and two to exist. It’s also the hardest shift for us in the classroom. Remember the original purpose of the lecture: to be the most efficient means of disseminating information. With the backlash against multitasking building in relationship to what we are discovering about brain science and “task switching,” consider that notetaking is the ultimate form of multitasking: trying to process speech and visuals, in real time, and have enough executive function to sort important information from unimportant, or the bullet-able to what needs to be dictated word-for-word. Think back to the last time you sat in a lecture and had to take furious notes– did that process help you follow the talk, or hurt you? Now recall the last talk which inspired you or was particularly effective and memorable. How many notes did you scribble during that talk? Is there a connection?

Again, this hits to the heart of why we’re standing and delivering at this point in our instructional design: to provide relevance, context and meaning to the content. I am not the most effective or efficient means of delivering content to students. You are not either. We are lousy content delivery vehicles. We can use myriad better methods to give them the content which they will consume and make meaning of after we have primed the pump by selling them the vital importance of that content using our expertise and passion for learning and our disciplines.

Godin continues: “When you start your presentation, tell the audience that you’re going to give them all the details of your presentation after it’s over, and they don’t have to write down everything you say.” In other words, “Put your notes down. Take this message in, and think about it.” What would your students do next if all you did was sell them the “why” and then turned them loose on the how/who/when/where?


Do you agree with this “redefinition” of the role of direct instruction? Do you use this approach? Does this pair with brainstorming/preflection or inquiry activities in your class? Comment below!