Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Are They Talking Behind Your Back?

Whether you want to admit it, or not, there are two societies thriving in your classroom; one is in plain view which you take credit for leading fearlessly, and keeping under control,and then something very human begins to happen right behind your back. Whether we like it or not, an “underground” society emerges which you as the teacher are not privy to, a secret society inaccessible to you because of the role you play: “The Teacher”. Regardless of how cool you may think you are as a teacher, and how much you think your students admire and respect you, students do talk behind your back! is a service allowing us as teachers to enter the teen psyche and surreptitiously discover what they are talking about “behind our back” during a lecture, a discussion, a guest speaker, a viewing of a film, and so many other school activities requiring them to be a passive audience member. EMPOWERS you as the teacher because students are held accountable for listening; they are no longer spectators, but participants in an interactive audience requiring them to hold their own by providing comments, questions, speculations, arguments, answers, solutions, evidence, opinions, explanations, reflection, analysis, application…the list of possibilities is endless and dependent on the criteria YOU set for the * “backchannel” conversations students undeniably have behind our backs. Obviously we cannot control the conversations students have outside of our classrooms, but EMPOWERS us to control the conversations students are having “behind our backs” inside our classrooms.

* Backchannel is a term used by James Socol, creator of Socol says “backchannel” is “everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter… where people ask each other questions, pass notes, get distracted, and give you the most immediate feedback you’ll ever get.”
The temptation for students to pass notes, and have sidebar conversations is virtually eliminated with EMPOWERS you as the teacher to know exactly what students are thinking, and therefore instantly obtain feedback about a student’s depth and breadth of understanding during any type of presentation.

How does work
Step One
Prior to any type of presentation, demonstration or listening activity, visit to create and name a room where your students will be talking to each other while they hear the presentation.
  • You can choose to have students talk to other students who are in the same classroom at the same time; or you can collaborate with another teacher to have two or more classrooms engage in a conversation by listening to the same content at the same time. Every student will need to have his/her own computer. If computers are available for every student in a school building to use all at the same time, an entire school can view a presentation and engage in conversation on integrating subjects, grade and achievement levels, and encouraging cooperation and communication among all students and teachers.
Step 2
Decide when you would like to delete the room, i.e., in 2 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, one day, one week, one month, or one year. The type of presentation students will be listening to will determine the longevity of the meeting room. If you plan on having an on-going discussion, you may want to extend the time so you can return to the same room where the feed of previous posts will appear and serve as a recap of a prior conversation.

Step 3
Once you have created and named your “talking room”, provide your students with the URL of the room. For example:
Create a room
Name a room: Lab demonstration # 1
Delete a room: in 2 hours
Click on Create a room.
  • Note: If the name you chose for your room is already taken, a red X will appear next to the URL under the heading of Name a room.
  • Once you click on Create a room, the next window to appear will be a split page with two sides; “Listen” on the left and “Talk” on the right as well as a window for students to type their names.
  • It is important to set specific norms regarding the names students will use. When working with middle school students who may hesitate to share their true thoughts and feelings for fear of how their peers may perceive their posts, a teacher can EMPOWER her students by asking them to generate a pen name, which only she will know. The teacher can keep a log of the student names along with the secret pen names. This will ensure confidentiality and afford students the piece of mind they will not be criticized for their posts.
At this point, the teacher will have a URL to provide her students once they enter the classroom and before a presentation. The teacher can write the URL for all students to see and enter once they each have their own computer. Upon typing and entering the unique URL of the teacher created “talking room”, students will see the split page of Listen and Talk and will need to enter a name and click join to begin adding their posts.

How can EMPOWER you and your students
Students can use to engage in conversation after listening and viewing a myriad of activities, such as a lab demonstration, a lecture on any subject, a guest speaker, a film, an audio recording, a student presentation, a play, a written exercise practice while learning how to write a second language, a debate, and so much more.
  • You can even have a silent Socratic discussion after reading a specific text; instead of discussing the text out loud, both you and your students can post questions and responses on rather than having an oral discussion. This may enable the more reticent and timid students to gain confidence in their role in the class since they can use their pen name to posts their thoughts and keep their posts anonymous.
How will you use in your Empowered Class?                        Share your ideas

Teachers can use a as an assessment tool in a variety of ways. Student posts offer teachers instant feedback showing a student’s understanding of concepts being discussed. Student posts can provide teachers with an instant assessment or even a summative assessment of concepts taught. The possibilities to use as an assessment tool are endless. An Empowered Teacher needs to determine the content of what students will hear and/or see and identify how this content will help students meet the specific learning goals the teacher would like to students to reach.

Teachers can even use posts on to teach students Self-Assessment. Teachers can use both teacher and student models as examples of quality posts. Teachers can allow students to experiment with the technology first so they can feel comfortable writing posts and then lead them in a discussion about posting etiquette and what makes for an acceptable and unacceptable post. Providing a rubric indicating the frequency and quality of the posts, and posting etiquette is a must! Before using it is essential to explain norms for acceptable posts and provide specific examples of unacceptable posts. You may want to ask students to give you examples of what would be considered acceptable and unacceptable posts.

The discussion can be used as a springboard to study and explore other topics, which will naturally come up in the conversations.

Allow and accept the natural digressions, which may surface away from the topic at hand since it is not unusual for people to get off topic if for a moment during discussions.

Assist students in evaluating and interpreting their posts and those of others; Teachers can print the posts(feed) and have a follow-up conversation out loud about the thoughts posted. Questions teachers can ask are endless such as, what were the patterns? What comments stood out? Who had the most insightful remark and why? The wittiest? The strangest? Evaluate the off-topic comments as well and discuss what effect they had on the conversation.

Always consider their strengths and weaknesses of your students and their varying degrees of ability regarding critical thinking, spelling, typing speed, etc. prior to the session and after. The teacher should take time to self-reflect on what were the advantages and disadvantages for the different ability groups. What modifications can be made next time using What worked well and what needs tweaking? What did students appear to be confused about? What may have caused the confusion?

Bring your students’ hidden questions and thoughts to the surface of your classroom to promote conversation, critical thinking, and most importantly to determine the homogeneity and/or heterogeneity of your students’ thoughts. lets you enter your students’ mind. Empower yourself in your classroom by guiding what your students are saying “behind your back”.

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