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)