Back Channel Chatting about Macbeth

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about Macbeth recently. I am teaching a section of 9th grade English this year. Currently  we are reading Macbeth, and it’s hard for many of the students.

As we go slowly and carefully through the original text even my class of 16 can seem too large. I need to have a small group looking closely at a given passage, and often I need to be involved in this close examination. Since I cannot read my students’ minds (and thank goodness for that!) one of the best ways for me to know they are engaged is for them to speak up. However, only 1 person can contribute to a discussion at a time if we don’t want chaos. Enter back channel chat. This is a strategy I have used before in 5th grade.

So the issue that I was trying address was participation.

  • I want more participation from more students.
  • I want a little more of a peak into their heads, on the limited topic of Macbeth.
  • I want to provide other modes of participation.
  • I want to de-emphasize speed and quickness. Sometimes in conversations the topic moves quickly and leaves some folks out.

The basic outline: I decided to combine the fishbowl format with live blogging or back channel chat. Fishbowl conversations have a small group in the center of the room (in the fishbowl) and the rest of the students outside the center. The center group engages in a discussion and the outer group evaluates the discussion either in terms of content or participation or habits of the inner group or listens and gives feedback at the end. By combining this with back channel chat, I turned the outside group into a second discussion group. However, this group had their conversation exclusively online using Todaysmeet. This online conversation was on the same topic generally, but also veered off or took a different tack at times. (See this teacher’s post about fishbowl and live blogging for more information.)

Here is a room set up for one type of fishbowl conversation.  CC photo by Flickr user Learn4LIfe

Here is a room set up for one type of fishbowl conversation.
CC photo by Flickr user Learn4LIfe

What I noticed was with a smaller group in the fishbowl, more people participated. No surprise there. However, adding the Todaysmeet option is what really makes this a winner.

  • Typing provided a different format for participation.
  • Several people could comment “at the same time” since they were typing. No one was interrupting each other.
  • It was a perfect format for those “I agree” comments that say I am listening and engaging but might not have something new to add here.
  • Students who would never interrupt to add something, had a lot more say (type) than usual.
  • Repetition wasn’t such a problem.
  • I could go back over the transcript later.
  • I got more information about who was thinking what.
  • I “heard” from a wider range of students (everyone).
  • When it was time to be in the fishbowl, there were also fewer people and more of a chance for each student.
  • Students asked questions that might sidetrack the main conversation and got answers from other students. I swear this happened.
  • And, students asked if we could do this again. They worked harder and wanted to do so again, even if they wouldn’t say it that way.

While it’s not necessarily an everyday strategy, I think it’s one to keep.

What strategies other strategies increase participation?

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