Third Graders on Backchannels

A backchannel is a secondary route for the passage of information. Back in my day, backchannels involved elaborately folded pieces of notebook paper covered in gel pen missives. These days you can allow students to use technological backchannels to communicate to one another while the teacher instructs the room at large, or focuses on specific students.

Some of my current third graders figured out how to use the chat function in a shared Google document last year, in second grade. I’m still impressed with them for how they used it well, for the most part. Though some students occasionally spam the chat with keyboard mashing or off-topic chatter, most use it like this:

backchannel

I thought it was really apt that they were using a the rubric for this kind of backchannel today. It saves students time because they don’t have to wait for the teacher’s attention, and I can focus on students who face bigger challenges than spelling and grammar. It’s also very engaging to them (especially since I encourage them to use emoji in moderation).

This type of backchannel is good for me to use, because as the creator and sharer of the document in Google Classroom, I can have it open on my own computer. Even if kids try to hide something, as long as I don’t close the tab, I can scroll up and find it. The worst message I’ve seen posted in the chat has been keyboard mashing, since they know I can see and share their messages via screenshots. They’re also aware that I might pop in “undercover” using a classmate’s account, because maybe I was looking over someone’s shoulder when I saw a big question (or poor choice of message) appear.

I can get and give pretty immediate feedback from students this way, too, and they can give feedback to each other. When I have a whole class on it, the chat frequently moves too fast to reasonably keep up with, but I could see it as a great tool for small groups collaborating on a project together.

 

I might see what they can do on Padlet next.

“What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet (3rd Grade)

So I was trying to think of how to explain Alice Keeler’s Participate In a Twitter Chat template to a colleague planning to moderate a district Twitter chat next week. I used the template to participate in a #gafe4littles chat last week and I thought it might make good training wheels for coworkers just getting started with Twitter chats.

And it occurred to me. Why am I not using this for my kids?

I have been struggling with delivering feedback effectively to third graders in particular, given that I only see them once a week in the computer lab. It stinks that some kids fall behind in some activities (due to absences and other things), while others are ready and rarin’ to go for more. It’s not fair to hold either in holding patterns while I struggle to meet all their needs.

So today I made a “What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet and posted it into their Google Classroom.

what-should-you-be-working-on
The spreadsheet was easy to put together once I figured out which kid fell behind in which activity. I copied and pasted my list of students from Google Classroom into the leftmost column. Then, in Column B, I put their “first priority” activity – which was both a title, and a link to where I had posted it before in Google Classroom. In Column C, I put their “second priority” activity, and I even had a Column D “third priority” list, though it didn’t go that far across for most students. The doc linked to in “Choice of Sponge Activities” is a simple list of educational fun or game sites I know the kids enjoy (that is also contained in the “About” section of Google Classroom). For the first time in five years, I was able to tell students they had “choice time” without several of them asking which activities were “allowed.” The doc itself also contained names and links, and no child who used it needed it explained to them after they had used the spreadsheet.

What was amazing to me was how little I had to explain. I feel like I showed it in detail to just a couple of kids, and they helped transfer knowledge to each other. They are already accustomed to navigating tabs, clicking links, and using their Google accounts to log into other sites. It was really convenient, because this class had a new student in it, and I needed to take some time to set up his accounts and guide him. I think the kids really liked it too, because it simplified for them what exactly they should be working on! They could tie loose ends on one thing, and they knew what they needed to or could do next without checking in with me first. It was very freeing for them, too! I am so excited to try this with the other third grade classes this week.

In terms of delivering feedback, I am betting I can adapt a spreadsheet even further to indicate to a student how successful they were at a task, or provide a link to feedback they can follow. I am not all the way there yet with that challenge, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

I feel I am definitely getting better at seeing something that works for someone else, and adapting it to work for me, my students, and my environment.