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


Damian said...

Hey Scott,

When I ran inner/outer circle discussions, I think I did a pretty decent job of it, but was never quite 100% satisfied with all the downtime for the outer circle. I think your previous post on backchanneling could serve as a very useful model for schools with the technological means to make it happen.

By the reactions you posted, it seems like it went over well with the kids. Were they apprehensive about sitting in class, silently typing to each other at first? I'm not clear on what exactly this looked like in class; was it silent up until the answers were collected, then expounded upon orally, or was it all done online?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments Damien. I'll attempt to address your questions.

I didn't find the kids to be particularly apprehensive going in to this backchannel situation since they had already done backchanneling in class before. At first, there were a few quiet whispers between adjacent students, but most students quickly settled down to "find" the item they wanted to share for the posted questions. Also, the classroom was far from silent, as when I posted both responses and replies, the students often had guttural reactions, laughs, ah-hahs, etc. that reaffirmed their peers work in the activity.

For the most part, though, the room was silent during the activity, and the activity was pretty much run online, except for my interruptions to check for incoming posts before I moved the class on to a reaction phase of the discussion or on to a new question. I did that because I really did not want anyone's voice to be cut off in the activity, and I believe many of the comments shared by the students reaffirm that choice.

Let me know if there is anything else I can address on these issues.

Way Down Yonder On The Pasquotank said...

Thank you so much for this post. A colleague and I were talking about backchanneling over dinner this evening. We wanted a how-to. Thank you so much.

H Songhai said...

Some very useful information in this post.

I just started testing out Coveritlive a few weeks ago. During my last week of school I did a rather crude end of year reflection with my students using Coveritlive. The students really dug it, but I knew something was missing. But this post settles that missing piece for me.

Waiting five minutes before posting the responses is the key! Thanks. I'll be stopping by to read your blog for more tips on regular basis.

H Songhai

nisha said...

I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful.

Jackie Arbutina said...

I've never heard of Chatzy until you mentioned it, and I spent some time looking it over. Wow! This would be a great tool to use if students are properly taught how to use it...even for my 5th graders! Something I will add to my technology "to-do" list for next year's lessons1

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a great handle with using technology in the classroom. Lots of good ideas!