Posted by: shineonali | April 24, 2011

Friday Success

“Take Two” with Chatzy on Thursday went well!  Everyone got into the room, and no one was accused of being spam.  The kids had time to just get in there and be social, and then I threw out a pretty easy discussion question–what are you looking forward to about Middle School?  We added to our conversation about chat etiquette, how you can use a chat to learn, and how it “felt” to take part.

Now we were ready for the real deal–using the tool for a more academic purpose. Jeff had helped me with this idea, because I was struggling–as much as I liked the idea of a “back-channel” chat during a read aloud or class discussion, I felt as though, for at least half of my Grade 5 students, it would be too distracting.

The Introduction

I put a lot of thought into setting this up, both organizationally and motivationally.  The students often “letter off” in their six table groups, ABCD.  This helps in Science, when we are working in groups on  experiments.  So I used the same format to pass around the responsibility for “driving” the laptop during this activity.  Each group logged onto a laptop, joined the class chat room, and changed the screen name to an IDENTIFIABLE group name.  I told them that this was the first of two big differences today–they’d be chatting as a group, rather than as individuals.

Next, we gathered at the front of the room.  I gave my little speech…

This morning you heard a lot during the presentation about Antarctica, and we haven’t had a chance to follow up on it. Since we are also learning to use online chat, we’re going to combine the two.I know that a lot of you are super excited right now just by this new tool—you would be happy to chat about anything in class.  But eventually you might think to yourself…hmm, these people are sitting right across from me.  Why am I typing and not talking?!

I don’t know if you noticed this one surprising thing…EVERYONE was “talking” in our chat.  People who have their hands up all the time in class discussions talked, but also people who NEVER do.  Sometimes those people are shy, or they need a little more time to think about the question and form an answer…so that might be one reason you would use an online chat even when you’re in the same classroom.

But today I want us to experiment with ANOTHER way that we can use online chatting in our classroom.  This time, it’s to ENHANCE, or add to, “face to face” talks.  We often have discussions in small groups, and then the groups get to share some of their ideas after with the whole class…and often different groups have different, great ideas.  But what if there was a way to find out what other groups are talking about WHILE your group is still discussing?  You could then use those ideas in your group’s discussion.  You’d remember more, learn more, and realize that there are many ways a discussion could go. You could let other groups push your group’s thinking!

So for the content of our discussions, we’ll base our questions on the Antarctica presentation.  I’ll pose a question—I’ll also type it into the chat.  First, your group should talk about it.  Let everyone share.  Then, someone will type a sentence or two, representing an idea the group wants to share with all the groups.  (That’s the second big difference—you will be more likely to write one or two sentences at a time today, rather than just a few words.)

As you start to see other groups’ ideas, continue your own group’s conversation.  Perhaps you will want to then add something new to follow up. Perhaps a question, or taking an idea further…

Try to let the chat enhance the face-to-face conversation, not take it over.  You don’t need to be typing all the time…and remember, it’s an experiment, our first time.  We are trying it out…be patient!

There weren’t too many questions, as the students were eager to get started.  I sent them off to talk about the first one, which was relatively simple.  What did you learn this morning? Later I asked about the most important message they heard, what surprised them, and what they were still wondering about.

The Chat-Enhanced Small Group Discussions

As I circulated, I leaned in and SLOWED down the inevitable “type first, talk later” students. That happened every time we switched “drivers”, actually!  Some groups tended to chat, as a group, with the class, while others seemed more naturally to share their own ideas before referring to and adding to the chat.  I don’t think the thoughtfulness of the the small group discussions was always reflected in the on-screen chat.  And in the reflection later, students did say that it was a challenge to have your own conversation as well as keep up with the chat.  They’d come up with an idea to share, and then realize it was already there.  (I think that’s okay, actually!)  I didn’t love everything I overheard–there was some bossiness, but that happens in lots of cooperative activities.  That came up in the reflection as well.  Students said that they sometimes got frustrated when a slower typer was in charge of the laptop, or someone who just hasn’t been speaking English as long. They wanted to just take over and type quickly and accurately for them!  As I walked around, most of my attention was on the group interaction and discussion, not so much on the onscreen chat itself, and especially not on the errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Yet in the follow up discussion, many students nodded in agreement when someone brought up how easy it was to make mistakes, and suggested that people slow down and reread their posts before hitting enter.

I was truly amazed at how engaged all the students were in their conversations.  Often in small group discussions there are students who participate minimally.  Or sometimes I suspect that groups as a whole have somewhat lackluster discussions, perhaps because they know they will probably only be expected to share out one or two ideas with the whole class, if any.

This is the chat: room 229 april 22   What interests me as I reread it, is that it gives me a great sense of the discussions that were going on–I’d never have so much data in a regular class discussion.  I think I can see evidence of those places where groups might have gotten a little too involved in typing messages into the chat, and perhaps we can take a look at where that happened and notice how it might have affected the depth of the conversation.  As Jeff mentioned in his follow up, by looking at some of the confusing parts of the transcript, we could introduce students to the convention of using @ in front of a name when you want to direct a question or response to a particular user.  I can tell from some of the errors that they didn’t do as much coaching as I was worried that they were doing when the EAL students had control of the keyboard.  It sounded sometimes like a dictation!  At the bottom of the transcript is an after school chat that two very quiet EAL girls had.  These two hardly ever speak in class, and were beginners in August.  They both speak Japanese, but had this whole conversation in English.  You can’t see them properly in the transcript, but their chat is liberally sprinkled with emoticons!

What Next?

After these first introductory experiences, I’m thinking of this enhanced-chat format as a vehicle for all kinds of learning standards.  The TAIL standard that best addresses it seems to be

Standard 3: Students use appropriate media and environments to effectively communicate ideas, knowledge, and understanding to audiences ranging from local to global.


Standard 5: Students connect with peers and recognized experts to collaborate, develop their own understanding, contribute to the learning of others, and contribute to the global society using a variety of media

I will definitely use this format again.  It will be perfect to bring closure to our historical fiction unit of study in reading.  The book clubs can discuss some of the big ideas we’ve uncovered in the unit, enhanced by sharing their thinking with other book clubs. I love that I will have more of a record of these ideas!

I have been keeping the room open outside of school hours for now.  A handful of students have been chatting with each other.  I’ll also try to give them a few more chances to do some “light” chat room stuff at school.  If they never get to “play” again, I think that it will lose its appeal!



  1. Fantastic use of back channelling. You have certainly reminded me of it’s powers in the modern day classroom. Well done.

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