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Backchanneling with 4th & 5th grade

In this past week, I worked with 4th and 5th graders and their teachers. We introduced the concept of “backchanneling”.

What is a "backchannel" you ask?

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.

Backchannels are used more and more in the educational field, during face to face conferences and lectures, as well as virtual conversations. With smartphones and portable computers one can participate and contribute to a conversation, provide documentation and help facilitate by connecting others who are not present.

How were we going to adapt this concept to our elementary school classroom and students?

21st century skills demand that we prepare our children to communicate, collaborate and connect to each other, but also to information. Media and Information literacy are extremely important areas of integration to our current curriculum.

Using a private chatroom as the platform to practice all the above mentioned skills was to harness the students' excitement for chatting as a means of communication, review material previously discussed in class and collaboratively compile and organize information.

It was also a good opportunity to talk about Internet Safety and to remind students, that everything they write online “can and will be used against them”.The same rules for student behavior in the physical classroom apply to our virtual classroom.

While their teacher and I were having a conversation about the topic of their Social Studies review (Colonial Times), students were to:

  • Not speak aloud to anyone during our backchannel and to communicate only via chat.
  • Listen to the conversation between the teachers
  • Summarize important facts that collaboratively would make up a study guide for the Social Studies test.

I explained to the students that we were using a backchannel for various reasons and that it would not be as easy as they might anticipate. They would have to practice multitasking

  • Listening
  • Reading the ongoing conversation
  • Writing a summarized comment

After the about 20 minute review, the 25 page long chat log that I saved and printed out, revealed the following:

  • keyboarding skills come in handy (Please take a look at Mrs. Hernandez' Keyboarding page for links to practice this skill)
  • some students randomly posted off topic comments
  • students posted repeated statements (did not follow the log by reading what had been posted previously)
  • Some students did not only posts incredible summarized comments, but also added great additions from their own background knowledge about the subject.
  • Students also added facts to the chat that had been previously mentioned in their classroom, but had not been repeated during the live conversation.
  • Students started using the backchannel to ask questions.

It was extremely important to go over the chat log with the students.  I reminded them to listen for inappropriate and off-topic comments as well as to take notice of repeated comments. I made sure that I pointed out well written comments and congratulated their authors for contributing to the “collaborative study guide”. I feel that students have a good idea now what we expect of them and what kind of skills they are practicing.

We will give them more opportunities to use a backchannel and practice many of the 21st century skills in the classroom.

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