The Backchannel

Today I had a second grade class in the lab. They were typing up their paragraphs about their Wax Museum subjects in a shared Google Slideshow.

Some students found the “chat” function, but clearly didn’t understand it at first. Instead of instructing students to close it, I explained it was there for us to use as a backchannel – a way for us to have online conversation while also working on our activity. I asked that we use it for on-topic talk (rather than everyone typing “hi!” or “hello!” all at once).

They did remarkably well with it!

One student, who was clearly excited about the backchannel, immediately used it to ask a question – should he capitalize the “a” in Johnny Appleseed? I was able to type back an answer. Several other students asked questions, and answered each other faster than I could! For example, one student asked, “How do I make an exclamation point?” and another student simply typed, “shift and 1” faster than I could reach my own seat and type a response. I also used the backchannel to add more directions, such as, “If you finish typing your paragraph, add a picture of your person.” (That’s something we’ve worked on previously, so they knew how to do it.) It was also a good way to deliver little reminders, such as “Press tab to indent!” and “Make sure you capitalize the names of months!”

As students wrapped up what they were doing and class started winding down, the backchannel because less and less on topic. But I didn’t mind, because they all got their work done, in less time than their homebase teacher expected. And now they know another effective way to help one another and reinforce their own typing skills.

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