A sixth grade teacher in our school, @chris_reuter, has been using back-channeling in his classroom to promote discussion that includes all members of the class. Back-channeling is an activity where the class listens to a speaker or media piece and simultaneously talks about it online. He wrote an excellent blog post about the process and success he has had. Based on his success, I have been working with third grade students to incorporate back-channeling into their curriculum. We have used the website www.todaysmeet.com, which can be set up quickly, and is very easy to use. We had a few technical difficulties, but nothing we couldn't work around. (TodaysMeet is now age 13 and older only. Moodle's chat feature is another option to use.)
The objective for our first attempt at back-channeling was to have the students practice using the website and talking online. We discussed appropriate responses and the process: the students should read the driving questions, respond to them, and then respond to their classmates, which all went well. Today, we watched CNN Student News and had an online discussion about what is going on in Japan. The newscast moved rather quickly and I ended up stopping it at points to let the students catch up. Watching, listening and responding simultaneously was a significant skill for the students to learn, but some caught on right away.
Next week, we are going to practice these skills again as we watch and evaluate our own newscast. What I really like about the back-channel process is the ability for all students to respond without having to raise their hand, or fear talking in front of the class. At this age, we will need continued practice, but it is a process that is worthwhile.