Why we call ourselves Short Answer.

A series of Short Answer logos in a square

Share This Post

“Why did you call it Short Answer?” We get it all the time. Or, as a teacher friend put it recently: “IT’S CALLED SHORT ANSWER!? Dude, your last name is SPARKS, HOW did you not start there?” It’s the latest in a long line of…let’s call it skepticism….towards our name. It’s two words and three syllables, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It’s not unique from an online search perspective. It could potentially be limiting if we want to add other types of questions to the platform (which we do). It’s a bit literal, so it might not elicit an emotional response in the way that a marketing department might prefer.

To some extent, I agree. What transcends all this is that the name is true to who we are. So how did we arrive at “Short Answer”? 4 emotions.

Frustration

In my first year teaching at Louisville Public Schools as a high school social studies teacher, I would use a ‘check for understanding’ (CFU) quiz every Friday to gauge how well my students had retained information from the week. More importantly, I wanted to see how well they could use the information we’d learned throughout the week. For this reason, my Friday CFU quizzes were initially made up almost entirely of short answer questions. I liked that students had to recall and apply their knowledge, synthesize what they’d learned, and articulate it. The questions left no room for luck. They reflected my (somewhat self-righteous) desire for rigor.

It didn’t take long to realize the flaw here: Grading these responses took my entire Sunday. To double that frustration, my students generally ignored the feedback I’d spent hours providing. Over the course of the year, my short answer questions slowly became multiple-choice. Less insightful, but easier to grade. “If only there were a tool that made short answer questions as easy to use as multiple choice” I thought. This, among other things, became the original impetus for Short Answer.

Amazement

I was teaching middle school social studies at Milford Public Schools when I first fell in love with edtech. There was a popular tool called Socrative which had a ‘Short Answer’ feature. On the surface, it was borderline mundane: Students respond to a free response question, their answer pops up on the teacher’s screen, then they read through all responses and vote on “the best”. But students were so engaged by it, even my more reluctant students. I’d have to stop kids from yelling “VOTE FOR MINE!” when the answers would pop up on their screens. There was just something inherently engaging about creating something, sharing it with others, and seeing how they reacted to it. The room would just transform.

It wasn’t until grad school, when I had time to reflect on all this, that I realized how special this engagement was. It treated the root cause of disengagement in the classroom – a lack of student agency – because students were the ones driving the learning experience. Their creation, and the actions they chose to take, determined the learning experience. For a brief moment, they were in charge. That experience had almost unlimited potential worth exploring….so we explored it. And, in part, named our tool as an homage to it because of the inspiring experiences it created in my classroom.

Realization

The first two emotions stem from experience, the third stems from everyday language. I noticed that, in complicated discussions, I’d often hear the phrase, “The short answer is…” as a turn of phrase. It’s used as a way to condense complex ideas into a clear, concise response while also recognizing that there is much more detail and complexity to an issue. As an intellectual exercise, explaining  “the short answer” requires us to synthesize a vast amount of information and distill it to the essentials. In creating Short Answer, we’re working to create a platform that challenges students to do something similar by providing the ‘short answer’ to the essential questions of a lesson, unit, or class. It’s a deceptively complex task that we believe elicits higher-order thinking and learning better than almost any other response task. That actually leads to the last emotion.

Dissent

“Short Answer” is also born of a…gentle contempt. When we began to research K12 digital instruction and assessment tools, we noticed a clear overreliance on selected response tasks for formative assessment. Multiple choice questions (MCQs), in particular, seemed to be the dominant mode through which formative assessment was taking place in the classroom. MCQs have their place (keep an eye out for a future blog post on this), but we believe their primary value lies in the ease of grading rather than their ability to elicit meaningful displays of student understanding. It was clear to us that, when it comes to eliciting deep, meaningful understanding from students, constructed response tasks were much more meaningful. In building “Short Answer”, we’re working to build a platform where short answer questions are as easy for teachers to use as multiple choice. So, in some ways, the name is a subtle rebuke to what we see as an overreliance on multiple choice. 

So, yes, it’s a bit literal, but it reflects our experiences and philosophies as educators. It’s a celebration of simplicity and clarity and an endorsement of deep understanding over superficial scoring. It represents what we believe teaching and learning should be – an engaging quest for knowledge, understanding, and the joy of learning. Consider this our ‘long answer’ on our name. The Short Answer is it represents who we are and what we work for.

More To Explore

Teachers taking place in a Short Answer workshop at the spring NETA conference in Omaha, NE
Uncategorized

Writing Instruction for the Age of AI Workshop

New AI tools like ChatGPT have upended K12 writing. Seven states have recently joined the Department of Education in calling for, “more professional development opportunities

Ambassador badge, with "The Ambassador Program" written underneath
Uncategorized

Short Answer Ambassadors

Intro Hello there, my name is Adam Sparks. My wife Alexa and I are the creators of Short Answer! First, we want to say thank

Select your role to sign in

Select your role

Want to learn more?

Stay ahead of the curve with practical tips, research, and exclusive content from Adam and the Short Answer team to create transformative learning experiences for your students.

Short Answer

More social, engaging, effective classrooms.

Check mark

Sign-up submitted, we’ll be in contact soon! In the meantime, stay up to date with all things Short Answer below.