Monthly Archives: July 2012

Are you talking back?

I’ve been working on my workshop for Learning Forward’s Summer Conference in a couple of weeks. I think the best part of putting together a workshop is the deep reflection that it triggers about my work and my learning.  As I gather resources, I keep finding that each piece is connected to another story of learning. An example of this is the growing use of TodaysMeet in my work and the support I provide teachers in the classroom. Introduced to the tool by Blair’s bold move with the high school (see his reflection here) I’ve used this backchannel in a number of ways. I don’t have time to highlight the role  backchannel can play in learning during the workshop beyond how we will be using it, so wanted to capture a few ideas to pass on to participants if they choose to dig a bit more deeply.

  • During a workshop of 143 teachers during the opening days of school, I had a backchannel room set up for six roving administrators to capture the questions and insights of the small group dialogue.  This not only gave everyone in the workshop access to other group’s thinking, but it provided a script for me to reflect on what we were thinking as a staff. I was able to pull out key themes that emerged and use it as a formative assessment tool to determine next steps to move us forward.
  • In the 7th grade science classroom, we built out a room for students to use while watching and critiquing each others’  public service announcements that they created as part of a unit of study on climate change.  Using a rubric that students had built out,  they captured evidence while they watched the video, providing a deeper reflection and more explicit feedback. They were also able to ask the presenters questions while they were assessing and play off of each other’s questions while giving feedback. Aaron, the teacher, then used the script to analyze quality feedback, highlighting examples of quality feedback real time with students so they had the opportunity to deepen their observations right away.
  • In the IB Language and Literature class (grade 12), we built out a room for students that were leading a Socratic Seminar. The room took on multiple dimensions. The goal of the room was originally for the student leaders to capture the questions and comments of the seminar for a number of students that would be missing class due to travel. However, it shifted to the leaders using the room to support each other in facilitating the workshop. Sandy, the teacher, was also in the room, coaching students’ in real time. Admittedly, this was the most fascinating use of  backchannel. It provide a visual lens into students decision making in ways I’ve never been able to access. Students wrote comments such as, “they seem to be stalling out on this question, let’s build on Tess’s comment and introduce a new question.”

Although just a brief snapshot of the role backchannel can play, I continue to see more and more potential with this tool. Its power lies not only in providing the teacher (or workshop leader) access to participants’ thinking so they can adjust instruction immediately, it deepens participation and connects thinking in unique ways.