Keeping the conversation real

I have recently begun back channeling in my 5/6 classroom.  Back channeling is where you provide a space to allow a conversation to carry on, usually whilst you are teaching or throughout a lesson.  It allows a real time conversation to occur while you are teaching.

I used the Community Chat application on the Ultranet (Victorian Department of Education’s Virtual Learning Environment). This is a great space to use as it is in a walled garden but if you are not a VIctorian teacher you can still back channel through spaces such as Today’s Meet, Edmodo or Chatzy where you can set up a private room and students do not need to sign up to be involved.

Before beginning our first chat we discussed online safety and the importance to read over what we have written before hitting the send button.  Children were aware that once you post a comment it can not be taken back and they should check that what they mean to get across is actually what is written.  They also understood that there is no private conversation and everyone can see what you write.

At first I gave students an opportunity to just chat.  And I admit there wasn’t much of that!  Plenty of one word responses or questions such as ‘Hello?’ or ‘Cool’ but it didn’t take long for kids to extend these to ‘I love nachos’ and ‘I am so cool!’  Yes – I realised there was a little bit of work to do first!

chat roomphoto © 2005 doug wilson | more info (via: Wylio)

How does back channelling look in your classroom?

The next time I used it I gave students a task – to listen to the story I was reading and ask a question about the text.  The great thing about this was that other students started to answer these questions.  And all while I was busy reading a book!

Don’t get me wrong, there was still some chat about how much they loved Justin Beiber or how much they disliked Justin Beiber but after using back channelling with a group of adults recently I noticed a lot of discussion about favourite football teams!

But what was happening, was a great opportunity for students to ask questions that could be answered in real time. They didn’t have to wait for me to finish.  They could share their thoughts and respond to ideas as I was reading.  And I could then see all of this at the end of the lesson and follow up on anything I needed to.  Even students who don’t usually like to share were joining in.

We now use back channeling every time we read and I have loved seeing how the conversation behind the book is developing.  Of course there is still a fair bit talk about nachos but I see this disappearing.  I look forward to using more back channeling in the classroom.

Have you used back channeling?

What does back channeling look like in your classroom?

6 thoughts on “Keeping the conversation real”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I would have loved back-channeling when I was a student. I do believe it keeps some students much more engaged. And I had the same experience with my quiet students when I taught–finally they had a voice!

    1. Hi Susan,

      I think I would have loved it when I was at school too. I was a very shy and quiet child, which some might find hard to believe, and I never wanted to contribute to any discussions. I had plenty to say but never the confidence to share it. It is great we have these technologies now to allow all students to have a voice.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. We can get so bothered by conversation happening while we’re teaching. Makes sense. But when it’s not disrupting and it’s actually adding to the learning, what’s the problem? We desire this as adults, and young people want it to. They need to be provided the opportunity to engage rather than passively digest. Thanks for sharing this as it will hopefully inspire others to encourage the same.

  3. Hi Mel,
    What you’re doing sounds really interesting. This term, I’ve focused a lot on developing thinking and questioning with my Grade 4s – back chanelling seems like an excellent way for them to use and develop these skills.
    I’m now thinking of the many times when I’ve asked children if they have any questions (no comments, because there isn’t time for comments or if there is, well, only three comments because we’re running out of time and we need to move on to the next very important learning experience that has been planned out for them?!), and I probably never hear half of the questions children have for all the reasons that have already been mentioned and more.
    Looking forward to trying this out in my classroom next term! I will have to play around with the Ultranet over the holidays to see how Community Chat works.
    Thanks for a great post!

  4. This is a great idea Mel! I had briefly signed on with Today’s Meet last year. I tried it with my class, but as you mentioned, nachos and Biebs talk. This is a really authentic and engaging way to incorporate it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. HI Erin,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you will find the Ultranet chat really easy to use. I have even encouraged kids to use it when we are doing other work on the Ultranet. It certainly saves them getting up and moving across the room!

      You can also use a chat feature when you are writing in a google doc if you have used them in the classroom.


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