Quiet prompt

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This article is about a format used within an exposition for the explainer to get feedback from the learner(s), and/or for learner(s) to self-assess.
View list of in-exposition feedback formats

Definition

A quiet prompt is a technique used in exposition (whether in-class explainer exposition, text exposition, or video exposition) where the learner is asked a question and told to think about it, but does not have an opportunity to communicate the answer to others (the explainer or other learners). After what might be a short pause, the exposition then continues to the "correct" answer (and possibly also calls out misconceptions) and the learner has an opportunity to self-assess and self-correct.

Learning contexts

Quiet prompts in class

In the in-class explainer exposition portion of a class, quiet prompts are an alternative to cold calling, group calling, polling, and voluntary participation. Unlike all the other methods, with a quiet prompt, learners do not share their answers with other learners, and therefore, neither the learner not explainers get feedback on what other learners are thinking.

Quiet prompts for self-learning from text or video expositions

When self-studying from a text exposition or video exposition, quiet prompts may be used by the text or video. Here, the text or video poses the question to the learner. The learner thinks about it, and then the text or video explains the correct answer and possibly calls out misconceptions).

One key difference between quiet prompts in class and quiet prompts in text and video expositions: due to the synchronicity of a class, the amount of time given for a quiet prompt is controlled by the explainer and uniform across learners. In contrast, for text and video expositions, learners generally have the option to take as much or as little time as they need. In the case of video, this could be by pausing or fast-forwarding the video.

Advantages

  • One of the main advantages of quiet prompts over other feedback formats is that they translate well between in-class and self-learning. They therefore generate a more uniform experience for people attending a class live and people watching a recording of the same class.
  • Even in a class setting, quiet prompts may be more useful when technological limitations or other constraints make it more challenging to switch around who is speaking. For instance, in virtual classes, coordinating the muting/unmuting of participants can be challenging.
  • Quiet prompts can proceed faster than other forms of feedback because it saves on time spent by learners communicating their answers. This saved time can be used to give learners more time to think about the answers, or just used to proceed faster with the material.
  • Compared to individual calling methods such as cold calling and voluntary participation, quiet prompts generate more uniformity of experience across learners because all learners are being asked the question. It's not too different from polling and group calling in that respect.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages here are largely the advantages of cold calling in reverse:

  • Unlike cold calling, learners can easily zone out as they are not being put on the spot.
  • Learners don't get to interact with the explainer and other learners, so they don't get to break the ice.
  • The explainer doesn't get feedback from learners, so there is no shattering of the illusion of transparency.
  • Learners don't get a clear idea of what other learners are thinking, which reduces their ability to self-assess and self-diagnose.

Another way of thinking of these disadvantages is that they forgo some of the unique benefits that a class setting (multiple learners, synchronicity, explainer authority) makes possible, by using a strategy that is equally available for self-learning.

Investment and effort needed

Effort on the explainer's part

The key kind of effort that explainers must undertake when using quiet prompts -- whether in a class setting or asynchronously with text and video explanations -- is to have a good prior understanding of learners' state of understanding and likely misconceptions, to make up for the lack of feedback from learners that would be present in cold calling.

With the understanding of learners' state of understanding and possible misconceptions, the explainer can more deliberately call out the misconceptions when explaining the answer.

For these reasons, quiet prompts are a better fit for explainers who have a better model of learners' state of understanding and possible misconceptions. This superior understanding could be obtained either through personal experience or explicit guidance in a class script prepared based on research and experience by others.