Sunday, May 31, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #12 - Activities part 2

I know that in my last blog post, I promised that this time I would write about how some other teachers are using backchannels, but I've had a neat experience with one of my classes I just need to write about. I will return to the topic of other uses of a backchannel just as soon as I can get to it: hopefully next week but perhaps not until school has let out in two weeks.

I came into a situation about a week ago when about one-third of a class was not prepared for our scheduled Socratic Seminar, so I had to alter my plans slightly but very quickly. I decided to just involve all of my students in the backchannel discussion I had planned, and since I had already set up a CoverItLive session for the activity, I decided to just to go that route rather than changing to a more open  backchannel platform at the last second.

I came at this with the premise of having a silent discussion with the kids, but most times when I run a silent discussion, I use Chatzy. I post a question and the responses can just fly. I don't have to moderate, and I can just watch how things develop. Since I had the CoverItLive session all ready to go, I needed to stick with that platform, and it struck me to try this alternative form of the silent discussion.

I got all the kids that were ready to participate in to the session and posted my first question. These students had backchanneled with me before, so they were used to the software and the process. Here's how I changed things up: I told the students to go ahead and answer the question posted but that they wouldn't see any of the answers for at least 5 minutes. At that point in time, I would post (after screening) all of the answers to the questions, giving the students time to read all the responses that had been generated. I then asked this follow-up question: "Reactions? What do you think of the above posts? Anybody screwed up? Anybody really hit the nail on the head? Thinking anything new?" I also schooled the kids on the Twitter style of directing a message at a specific classmate, and boy, did I get some interesting follow-up discussion as students challenged and questioned as well as reinforced and praised their peer's thinking. It was a good, solid discussion.

And I had to ask really deep questions as well because the process was taking longer than a normal Seminar with all the reaction discussion that was happening. I was forced to choose my questions more carefully and ask about what I really wanted to see if the kids were getting from the novel. You know, the time was well worth it though. My slower processing kids had time to gather their thoughts and didn't have to worry about who was going to get to answer the question first. What a wonderful way to differentiate instruction!

The kids seemed to love the new format, but just don't take my word for it. Click on the following links below to see both the two discussions and the feedback I solicited after the first of the two Seminars.


Of Mice and Men CoverItLive Discussions (links to my class wiki)

Feedback after 1st Discussion

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #11 - Activities part 1

What kinds of activities can you run with a backchannel? In this week's post, I'll speak exclusively to the ideas I've come across within my building. Up next, I'll talk about the ideas others have come across for using a backchannel in the classroom.

One way a backchannel  can be used is as another layer during a Socratic Seminar. I found, especially with my larger classes, that I could only effectively engage 10-15 students (an inner-circle) in a Seminar and really gauge whether or not they read a novel or other work. In a normal class, that often left me with another 10-15 students (an outer-circle) who were left with a strictly listening activity. I could have the outer-circle take notes on what was being said, but that didn't allow them to interact with the text. However, with a backchannel in place, the outer-circle could now react to what the inner-circle was saying, ask questions of each other, and from time to time even discuss their own question independent of the inner-circle. This got ALL the students in my class involved and thinking about the chapters or text assigned. One aspect of this I personally found to be cool was when I could then take a discussion from the outer-circle and pose the question to the inner-circle to see what they thought of the issue that had come up.

Another use of a backchannel  is for a totally silent discussion. Again, this is a discussion based on something the kids had read, and often times, if I have a really good question, there is only one question posed to the students at the start of the teaching period; otherwise, they guide the discussion, answering the core question as well as posing off-shoot questions for the remainder of the class period.

Finally, I know that teachers have started to run backchannels during movies they show in class. I had personally given up showing students movies and videos a number of years ago because of the difficulty in finding an engaging and meaning activity for the viewing. With a backchannel, the students can ask questions about the movie or video that is confusing to them. Sometimes I answer the question; other times, the students answer each other's questions. The backchannel can also be used to garner student feedback, check for understanding, or preview a difficult or important concept. While I'm still not a huge fan of showing video clips in class, they are at least a more meaningful and engaging affair now that I have the ability to run a backchannel.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reflection & Growth

I surprised myself this past Friday when I tweeted the following: "Well, KTI [Keystone] summit staff was not meant to be once again, and oddly enough, I'm much more at peace with that this year than I was a year ago."

It was surprising because, and I'm no longer ashamed to admit it, I was devasted a year ago when I received the same news for the same program. And I was serious about my message. I'm happy for the people selected to be on the Keystone Summit Staff and at peace with the fact that I'm not.

Not on hour later, another Twitter contact messaged me that a presentation she had participated in on backchanneling had gone well, and she was sharing the link to a recording if it (If interested, click
here to watch the recording).  Why was this important to me? She got into backchanneling based on my K12 Online Conference Presentation from last fall and a subsequent conversation we had at EduCon 2.1 in January. Because of my work, I had encouraged someone else to expand on my ideas, explore new aspects of backchanneling, and share with her colleagues in the state of Maine. Then I got to thinking: This wasn't the first time this had happened.

Twice before, I have chatted with educators about the concept of backchanneling. In one case, I talked with a group of preservice teachers exploring the use of technology in the classroom setting. In the other, a gathering of teachers in Canada, on their own time nonetheless, were also exploring practical uses of backchannels.

Much of this post, I suppose, could come off as self-promoting or self-serving; however, in thinking about all of these occurrances, I realized I am teaching and I am sharing. My audience is just taking on a different venue than what I once perceived as important. 

So I really am OK that I'm not going to be on the Summit staff. My educating will continue in various other venues as the opportunities present themselves. My message to you: Do whatever you can, whenever you can. You never know when you will touch lives.