Ponder is the first “micro-response” tool. It gives teachers a view into the "invisible" process of learning through higher-order critical thinking.

What everyone reads.
What I read.

What is Ponder?

Ponder Chrome extension screenshot Ponder is a browser add-on and iOS app. Once installed, Ponder allows you to create micro-responses anywhere on the web (on text and video) and measures reading activity on sites listed in the Class Reading List.

A Ponder micro-response consists of 3 parts:

  1. Extraction. While you read or watch a video, you can highlight words, phrases, sentences or mark a spot in the video that provokes a response in you.
  2. A sentiment. For each selection, you are asked to choose from a range of reactions. Some are for registering confusion: “Syntax! I don’t understand the meaning of this.” Others are for evaluating claims: “Too much. This smells like hyperbole to me.” And still others are for staking out emotional ground. “Tsk. I disapprove.” See our guide to Ponder sentiments.
  3. Themes. Readers select from a set of themes defined by the teacher, tying what they’re reading to specific concepts from the curriculum. (e.g. This is part of the protoganist’s “Character Portrait” and is an example of “Hubris”, not “Pride”.) See our guide to themes.

Ponder micro-responses are shared through a Class Feed that aggregates class activity by topic area, student reactions (Sentiments) and course concepts (Themes). Watch a demo of Ponder. Take a look at selections from some of our current class feeds here in our Public Feed.

What is it for?

Every learning tool has baked into it a set of assumptions and biases. Here are ours:

  1. Students are more engaged if they have a say in what they’re engaging with.
  2. An excellent course reader is the backbone of any syllabus. Still, primary and journalistic texts are always going to be more interesting than textbooks.
  3. Self-direction can’t be “taught,” but, like a muscle, it can be developed through assignments that leave room for self-determination.
  4. You can teach techniques for higher-order critical thinking, but "getting really good at it" can only be achieved through cultivating a regular habit of close reading.
  5. The only way to “debug” reading problems is to gain a view into what students are thinking while they read. Writing is better than multiple choice for such assessment. However, what's needed is a solution that allows students to “practice” critical reading several dozen times a day in a way teachers can actually stay on top of and respond to.
  6. Critical reading is most fun when it’s a way to challenge how you think and feel about the world and least fun when it’s an end in and of itself.
  7. We should be just as interested in what our students think of a claim as we are in their ability to identify one.

Yes Ponder is a browser add-on which allows students to create Ponder “micro responses” on any web page, but at its heart, Ponder is also a fun way to read. Ponder encourages students to read for the sake of enjoyment and pushes them to think critically by way of asking them to get specific about what they think and how they feel.

With Ponder, teachers can give students reading assignments as specific as “Read this text to identify and respond to the arguments in support of the thesis statement.” or as open-ended as “Find examples of insincere apologies in the news.”

Over the past 2 years of piloting Ponder both in higher ed and now K12, we’ve found the best responses are the ones that draw other students into reading about new topic areas or prompt them to re-read text they’ve already read more closely.

The ability to extract from a text, the aspects which will be of interest to other people is in its own way an effective way to assess understanding and critical thinking when reading. In that sense, Ponder micro micro responses take critical reading beyond identifying the thesis statement and supporting evidence and turns it into a hunt for the surprising, counterintuitive insights that is the reason why reading is a pleasure and not a chore!

Who is Ponder for?

Teachers looking for new ways to scaffold the critical reading process and seed classroom discussion.

How would I use Ponder in my class?

Use the micro response to get your students to pay closer attention when they're doing assigned reading. With Ponder, students identify passages that stand out to them either because they're confused or have a strong emotional reaction or simply come across something they find especially insightful. Then take it one step further and ask them to analyze the text and apply class themes (you define) to each excerpt.

Ponder also works all over the web. This means you can give your students the freedom to go out in search of articles and essays that are relevant to what you're teaching, enriching class discussion with their own interests.

Sample Ponder assignments:

  1. Identify and evaluate the evidence in support of the thesis statement. Are you convinced?
  2. Identify places in the text that contribute to a portrait of the protagonist's character. How do you feel about this character? Do you like them? Do you trust them? Do you admire them?
  3. Distinguish between acts of heroism and hubris in this story.
  4. Find instances of "insincere apologies" in the news.
  5. Look for dubious claims of scientific method in the media.
  6. Distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning in this crime story. Does it hold water?

At the start of class, pull up the Ponder feed to go over responses where people were confused, where strong emotions were roused and where insights were found. Ask your students why they chose to respond to a particular passage, why they reacted the way they did and how it's relevant to what they're learning in class. Take the opportunity to call out a response from a student who's otherwise quiet in class. In class after class, teachers tell us that Ponder is a great way to engage students who are too shy to speak up in class.

Isn't Ponder just another annotation tool?

In a word, no. Here's why:

  1. With Ponder, there is finally a way to manage open-ended, self-directed learning. It works everywhere on the web so your students can go off-syllabus armed with the scaffolding Ponder provides for higher-order critical thinking.
  2. Real-time Radar Unlike free-response annotation tools, Ponder micro-responses take 2s to evaluate and are aggregated and visualized to give you a forest-for-the-trees view of how your students responded to a reading or video. For the first time, you can assign reading and video responses today and review them in time to discuss in class tomorrow.
  3. Content-Area Literacy Ponder is the only literacy tool you can use across all subjects. It's being used in a broad array of classes from English to Business to Chemistry to Latin! See for yourself on the Public Feed.
  4. Flip Ponder now supports video!
  5. Higher-Order Thinking through Inquiry-Based Learning, Not Quizzes With Ponder, learning happens when students figure out how to ask questions, not answer them. Students engage directly with the material, not through an intermediary layer of quizzes and pop-up questions.

How does Ponder "teach" digital literacy?

  • Unlike e-reader apps where an instructor uploads material for students to consume, Ponder is not a closed system. Instead it sits on top of the "real-world" web allowing students to research and browse in much the same way they will need to in college and the workplace.
  • Ponder doesn't rely on instructor prompts (i.e. quizzes and questions) to engage students. Instead, teachers lead by example. If the instructor makes interesting contributions to the class feed, the students will follow suit.
  • Ponder teaches collaboration by explicitly encouraging students to think about what they're sharing in terms of how interesting it will be to their classmates and how relevant it is to class. To coin a phrase, Ponder encourages "intentional sharing" over reflexive sharing or obligatory sharing (ie. sharing for the sake of completing an assignment).

How much does it cost?

See our pricing page.

Do you have an API so I can integrate Ponder into my site or service?

Yes! Our api page has an overview and documentation.

Who's using it? And does it work?

It works! Ponder has been running in classrooms since 2012 from elementary school through graduate school across the U.S. and abroad. Listen to our teachers talk about how they use Ponder.

"...a digital native technology that works in harmony with the internet."
"Ponder…provides teachers and students with constant and concise data reports."

Get in touch

Interested in trying out Ponder in your classroom? Fill out the mini-form above, chat with us or send us a note.
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Ponder uses Open Calais to perform text analysis of web pages visited by our users.