The research is clear: The more students talk in class, the more they learn. If we want to improve student learning, we need to move beyond talking at our students and expecting them to sit quietly, passively receiving information. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Even when we know what’s best, it’s hard to change deeply ingrained teacher behaviors. That’s why 80% of class time in high schools nationwide continues to be lecture.

Fortunately, there’s a new tech tool that actually helps with this.

TeachFX provides a teacher with a detailed analysis of how much you’re talking (and what you’re saying), how much students are participating, and how much of class is silence and group time. It forces us to reflect on our own practice — which is a critical first step to any kind of change.
I was excited when I learned about TeachFX because it fits perfectly with what I wrote about in Beat Boredom and what I promote in my workshops: interactive teaching strategies. It seems like this feedback tool might actually move the needle.

I interviewed founder Jamie Poskin so I could learn more about his vision — and see how similar his thinking is to mine. Here’s what he said.

 

Q&A with Jamie Poskin, founder of TeachFX

 

Q: Jamie, I know you and I share a passion for student engagement. Why is engagement important to you, and when did you first realize it was so critical to student success?

A: When I was teaching, and even before that as a student, I always thought of class almost as a holy time. We’ve all come together, maybe having read something or done something else to prepare, to be in the same place and explore ideas that matter to us, together. There’s something so beautiful and meaningful about that for me. I always want to make the most of that time — what could we do in this room together that we couldn’t do independently? And we all need to be talking and participating and engaged to make that a reality. A classroom where it’s only lecture or where a student’s “participation” is just demonstrating that he knows “the answer” is such a tragic waste of this holy time.

Q: Your website calls TeachFX a “Fitbit for teachers”. Can you explain what that means and how it works?

A: TeachFX is all about empowering teachers with regular feedback on student engagement. So, you use our app on your phone or laptop to record your class, and then we’ve built this artificial intelligence algorithm to generate a class report that visualizes who was talking when, what was said, where you used wait time, whether you were asking open-ended or closed questions, and really how your lesson unfolded. The tool is like a Fitbit in that it tracks these super important metrics about your teaching without you (the teacher) having to do any extra work — it does it all automatically.

Q: Why is monitoring teacher talk time relative to student talk time so important?

A: Well, there’s decades of research, from Stanford’s Rachel Lotan (who has been a huge inspiration and help to me as I created TeachFX) and many others, that shows that student talk is what causes student learning. You want higher test scores? You gotta get the kids to do the talking, because whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking. But for me it all comes back to equity. Lecture is a low-quality form of instruction that doesn’t meet the needs of all learners. If we really believe in supporting ELLs, students with disabilities, and students from low-income backgrounds, we need to make sure our instruction is accessible to these groups. Lecture and worksheets just don’t cut it!

Q: What response do you get from teachers who have used TeachFX?

A: I mean, let me just read a few comments from the last workshop we ran… “This improves all aspects of teaching and learning.” “It’s good, personal feedback for teachers.” “TeachFX is about way more than measuring talk time.” “I think this is a fantastic tool to improve lesson design.” “It was absolutely enlightening.” “Thanks for helping me be a better teacher.” The tool really inspires teachers to look at their pedagogy with fresh eyes, and to make changes in their lesson planning and in their day-to-day interactions with kids to be more student-centered.

Q: Once a teacher has used TeachFX and had time to reflect on their data, what’s next? How do you encourage them to build more student voice into lessons?

A: We find that teachers usually have lots of ideas for how to increase student voice once we help them focus on it. And they experiment with those ideas and use the TeachFX feedback to see what’s working. We also provide a bunch of resources on our website — from quick tips and tricks to more in-depth reading (we even have your book up there, Martha!) — as well as workshop series that we run with districts and schools.

Q: Do you find some teachers are skeptical or worried that this tool will be used against them in some way?

A: Well, we are very religious in our belief that teachers should be able to use TeachFX to improve their practice without fear of being judged or evaluated. So TeachFX data is completely private to the teacher. Admin can’t see it. No one can but the teacher. So if you’re a teacher using the tool, only you can listen back to your class and see your metrics. And you can delete a class at any time. Because of that teachers really embrace the tool. Why not? It’s for self-reflection. Built by a teacher for other teachers to help improve their craft.

Q: What is your vision for the future of TeachFX?

A: We want every teacher in the country using TeachFX. In our studies, we found that using the tool at least once a week led to huge positive changes in teacher practice — resulting in 88% more student participation in class. With that kind of efficacy, and the impact that has on kids, we can’t rest until this is something available to absolutely everyone.

 

I’ve been using TeachFX for a few months now, and I can honestly say it’s made me more aware of the times when I break my own rules against talking too much. It’s also changed the way I talk to students — and stopped me from finishing their sentences.
If you want to see one of my analysis sheets, email me at Martha.Rush@neverbore.org, and I’ll send you one.
Find out more at https://teachfx.com/