Friday, September 24, 2010

Puritan Exam Project example

synopsis of the presentation goes here

This presentation includes slides that will walk students through the Publish/Embed process to get the presentation posted within the blog.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Backchannel Chatter in the Classroom

Backchannel chatter is the use of any type of texting communication by students while a lesson and/or discussion is in progress.  Previously, this texting was frowned upon by educators and looked upon as a distraction.  After all, students are expected to be respectful and pay attention to the discussion, each other, and, above all, the teacher, right?

In previous classes, I experimented with allowing the students to use Google chat.  It was an interesting experience, but really had no point.  I was determined to find a way for students to communicate during class without losing focus.  Over a year ago, I had bookmarked Today's Meet in Diigo.  I hadn't given much thought to it until I saw a twitter post over the summer about a college professor using Twitter as a discussion tool in her classroom.  Monica Rankin, a History Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, found a way to increase class discussions by giving everyone a simultaneous way to answer, comment, and be heard.

Rankin inspired me to find a way to imitate this in my own classroom.  I considered that in an oral discussion students are limited in there responses - in a text discussion, responses are only limited by the time it takes to key in the comment or question.

As with any online experience, I prepared the students with my expectations of use and proper netiquette.  Today's Meet allows for the chat to be set up in increments ranging from two hours to one year.  I boldly chose one year, keeping in mind that I would not be allowed to delete student posts and that no sign up is required to post (only typing in your name).  I expressed that we would be using the chat as a professional tool and that students should log in with their first name only (their real names - there was some goofing around as they learned the tool).  I let the students know that the chat was there for class discussions: sometimes we would use the chat in place of oral discussions, and sometimes they would use it to discuss another angle of the classroom discussion during an oral discussion.  Either way, it was agreed that students would stay on the general topic when using the chat.  Students were excited that they would be able to look back at the posts throughout the school year and were equally excited that at the end of the school year, all of the posts would still be there.

The first few days using Today's Meet were a little hectic.  I had to reteach the expectations of using the chat and model the use of it by projecting the chat during discussions.  I verbally commented on posts and commented at the end of each class to praise students on their ideas and remind them again of expectations of use.  After using the chat for two and a half weeks, I have been amazed at the level of discussions that have been produced.  I use the same chat for two accelerated junior English classes, and the students from each class look back at previous posts to see what the other class discussed.  Students have begun to comment more freely about their thoughts and opinions of the literature and the literary periods through the chat.  Backchannel discussions have started over angles of the literature that I had not intended to discuss.  Occurring simultaneously with the oral discussions in the classroom, I was excited at how easily the students slipped back and forth from the online conversation to the oral discussion.  There was no reason to be left out of a discussion, either one.  I acquired the feedback that I craved when I set up my lesson:  did they "get it"? Did they understand the writing style of the literary period? the culture of the literary period? how the culture, historical events, etc. shaped the literary period and vice versa?  YES!!! . . . and I had documentable proof that I could show to my colleagues like a giddy kid showing off a birthday present saying, "Check this out!  Isn't this awesome!"

The most rewarding moment so far happened in today's class.  The oral discussion was bombing . . . I couldn't pull the comments out of them.  The awkward silence that I let occur . . . the one that usually gets someone to step up and comment . . . grew into unbearable moments of deafening silence.  I announced that the chat seemed to be having a much better discussion going than the oral discussion, and that we were going to continue our discussion in the chat.  I went over to my laptop and fired off a few questions and began having discussion with several students simultaneously.  The discussion blossomed into the level of intensity that I had expected from the oral discussion . . . then . . . surpassed it!  Students were watching me type on the screen and were answering my post before I could even click the "Say" button.  They were responding to other student comments - asking each other questions - praising each other's comments/opinions - WOW!!

I would score the chat and backchannel chatter experience with Today's Meet as a huge success.  Students were provided with a tool to make their voices heard, to be active participants, and proved that they could handle the responsibility that comes with posting online in a public venue.  What if they didn't have that venue?  What if?