17 August 2016

Sra. Spanglish Tech Tips: Prism

Highlighting is perhaps the most basic way for a reader to demonstrate interaction with a text.
Highlighting is actual physical interaction that does not require readers to produce any new language, just interpret the input. Yet it allows readers to process and organize the input they are observing.

Color coded highlighting takes the interaction another step further with each color, allowing readers to demonstrate different levels of understanding without ever having to come up with words to express their ideas. It keeps the reader focused on the interpretation without interrupting that process to struggle with putting their understanding into words.

Prism takes that interaction and makes it social.

This year I will be teaching my first ever online class and exploring a new level of blended learning as I attempt to develop an English course to help our 13th year early college "super seniors" transition to a full college course load. What luck to find Prism before these classes start!

How it works

First you copy and paste a text--any text--into the content box. Note: all font styling and formatting will be lost in the copying, so you may have to get creative if you want to make titles or quotes stand out. I've tried CAPS, angle brackets, and asterisks so far, but it is kind of tedious.

You paste in the title, the author, the publication date, and a description (where I generally put the URL) in separate fields.

And then you label the three colors or "facets" with what you want them to mean before sharing the link with students, say, via Classroom or Blackboard or Canvas (hooray for three preps with three different platforms!)

What it looks like

To test it out, I took a text I will probably be using for the first unit in my Spanish III class and used the following facet labels:
  • Understand
  • Mostly understand
  • and Clueless

Here's what I imagine my Spanish III kids might do with the first paragraph:

I had an amiga do some highlighting too so I could see the "results," and it turns out there are two ways to review them.

One way, I can get a visualization by font size for each word. This could help me--and students--identify how much they really understand:

...as well as vocabulary we should discuss:

Visualizing by winning facet allows me to see where there is dispute:

Of course analyzing what is and is not understood just scratches the surface of what students can communicate with the highlighting!

Possible applications

Cultural comparison
For a quick comparison/contrast, you could have students analyze an authentic text with the categories
  • familiar
  • bizarre 
  • different 
You could also have students give personal reactions to perspectives from the culture:
  • I agree
  • I disagree 
  • I'm indifferent/unsure

Peer editing
You--or a student--could share a draft of their work and have peers make content suggestions:
  • Strong point
  • Please clarify
  • Not helpful
Or you could have them identify issues with mechanics:
  • Sentence structure
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Conjugation
  • Word order
  • Agreement
They could even use it to make sure that necessary organizational elements are included:
  • Thesis/topic sentence
  • Supporting research
  • Analysis

In-depth analysis
You could also see if students understand the main idea and important points in a text without having them explicitly say either. Perhaps you could give them a quote and highlight a text according to the sections that
  • support the quote
  • contradict the quote
  • neither support nor contradict
Or you could draw comparisons to other texts:
  • [character] would agree
  • [character] would disagree
  • I'm not sure
Or even other cultures:
  • person from ___ would agree
  • person from ___ would disagree 
  • I'm not sure

You could then use any of these visualizations as a basis for discussion in class or in groups, or you could use them just for yourself to decide what you need to reteach before moving on. Either way, Prism gives you data that helps you and your students move forward.

Can you think of any other categories that might be helpful?


  1. Wow! This is super awesome! I'm going to pass this along to my teachers to see what they can come up with for Chinese texts. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post, as always! I love how you have hacked this tool to meet your students' learning needs! If I correctly understand where you're going, you may want to check out ponder.co as it might be a way to help you implement some of these same reading strategies by doing less work as well as giving you richer data. I could be totally wrong (in which case SORRY!) but Ponder looks like it was created with your needs in mind, no hacks needed.