Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Classroom Backchannels

I recently began to use a backchannel while reading aloud to my students. This has given me the opportunity to interact with them in a new way that is beneficial to them as well as myself.

TodaysMeet is a great tool to use as a backchannel in the classroom. I appreciate TodaysMeet's definition of a backchannel - “The backchannel is everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter.” Why would we not want to know what our students are thinking, wondering, and processing as we read or share with the class?

Today, I asked students to use TodaysMeet to share predictions, questions, thoughts, and observations as I read Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor aloud to them in class. I explained that comments must be related to the story and that students must show that they are listening and comprehending the story through the comments that are being shared on the backchannel.

As I read, students were allowed to randomly post comments on the backchannel, but I also paused several times and asked students to make purposeful comments. For example, I would ask them to predict what was going to happen next in the story.

I also asked them to share how they were feeling at different times during the story.

Many of my students that do not like to share in front of the group feel very comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas on the backchannel. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share as the students that are always the first to answer or are often the loudest are sharing quietly on the backchannel just like the rest of the class. I have noticed the the backchannel gives them the opportunity to be more reflective and thoughtful with their answers.

TodaysMeet only allows a comment to be 140 characters. This means students are not able to ramble or go off topic. They are forced to keep their thoughts clear and concise. They must find ways to get their ideas across in a way that will reflect their intent for their peers to read and understand.

In order to use TodaysMeet, you simply visit the website and set up a room. Students then go to that room using the specific link and join. They are then able to “talk” and “listen” by typing in their comments and reading the comments of others on the backchannel.

Backchanneling can be used in so many ways in the classroom. I recently used it with students as we Skyped with Angela Moses's 2nd grade classroom. I wrote a guest blog post about this experience on the STAAR Techers website. My friend, Terri Eichholz, wrote about using Socrative as a backchannel for Genius Hour. This is such a great idea and something that I hope to try soon. I recently read a wonderful post on Langwitches Blog titled Backchanneling with Elementary Students. I also found this wonderful graphic on their website as well.

Image Source:

Finally, you can find everything you might want to know about using a backchannel on Cybraryman’s Backchannel page. He has listed a wealth of resources about backchanneling, what it is, how it can be used, and why it is beneficial.

If you are using a backchannel in an interesting way in your classroom, please feel free to comment and share your ideas. I am new to using a backchannel and would love to learn more from those that have been using it as well.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Curious Classrooms

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~ Walt Disney

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. ~ Albert Einstein

Every Tuesday, I visit the first and second grade classrooms to introduce thinking strategies and encourage creative thinking. I recently decided to begin introducing the habitudes that I read about in the book, Classroom Habitudes written by Angela Maiers.

I began by asking the students for their definition of curiosity. We talked about what it is, how it is helpful, and how we can use it to become better thinkers. We looked at a picture from 101 Questions, which is a wonderful website that encourages questioning. I love this website because not only were we able to practice questioning, but inferencing as well. As we looked at the picture, we came up with several questions. After we had finished coming up with our questions, I asked students to infer based on what they could see in the picture.

Based on this picture, students asked things such as:

"Why is he jumping off of the cliff?"
"Is the water deep?"
"Is he jumping into the ocean?"
"Is he crazy?"

I then asked them to infer the following based on what they could see in the picture:

What time of day is it?
Who is with him?
Do you think he has done this before?
How deep is the water?

As we made inferences, we explained our answers and gave evidence from the picture of why or why not we thought they were correct.

After this activity, I explained to the students that we were going to go outside and collect one object each from nature. I explained that they could choose a rock, flower, grass, or anything else that they found as we took a quick walk. We went outside and I gave them about five minutes to search for their object and come back together as a group. The beautiful weather made this part of the assignment even more fun.

Students returned one by one with their objects. They were excited and very proud of what they had chosen. They couldn't wait to show me their objects and wanted to know what we were going to do with them. When we returned to the classroom, I gave each student a notecard. I asked them to put their name on one side and on the other side, they were to write down five questions about the object that they had collected.

This part of the lesson was a great opportunity to discuss sentence structure. We discussed starting our questions with a capital letter and ending each sentence with a question mark. We also talked about using a variety of question words like where, when, how, and why.

I then gave them time to observe their item and think about their five questions. I was so impressed with their questions and their level of engagement. They were discussing, sharing, and focusing on their objects. As they finished, I snapped a few pictures of their finished products.

This was such a fun activity and a great way to introduce curiosity to young students. As a teacher, I want my students to open new doors and do new things because they are curious. Curiosity encourages learning and creates learners that seek out problems to solve. As educators, we should strive to create a curious classroom in which students question, discuss, share ideas, and ultimately find answers and solutions to those questions.