backchannel chat

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

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Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?