During a recent conversation with my Middle School Head, he described an activity he had just completed with his Sixth Grade Geography students. He had planned to show them a video and then lead a discussion of the main themes and supporting ideas. Pretty traditional. I'm not sure why, but he changed his plans and instead created group chat rooms through FirstClass, our email system, and asked his students to write comments as they watched the video.
I leaned forward in my seat as he described the results. The students were completely engaged, he said. They asked questions which other students jumped to answer before he could, they absorbed the content, and made the important connections he had hoped to lead them to himself. Even the quiet kids contributed more to the discussion than he would have expected had he gone with his original instructional plan.
"So you had the kids backchannel while watching the video," I said. "You're backchanneling with Sixth Graders. That's brilliant!" While he had no idea what I was talking about, that's exactly what he had done. And I think he liked it when I said it was "brilliant."
I had literally just finished reading a blog describing this very thing. This happy accident confirmed what the blog's author, Chris Webb, reported, only with Eighth Grade students: engagement, ownership, collaboration, and they were present, not day dreaming or waiting for the class to end. The blog referred to TodaysMeet, a website that allows teachers to set up simple, private, and free rooms for backchanneling events. Teachers can even retrieve a transcript of the discussions.
So kudos to my Middle School Head/Geography teacher. And kudos to all the other fearless, brilliant teachers willing to try something new in the pursuit of learning.