Using TodaysMeet in my English 8 Classroom

This is a guest post by Kris Campea, a grade 8 English teacher. Find her on Twitter.

TodaysMeet on a ProjectorI am a strong proponent of discussions in my English classes, and I’m always looking for new ways for students to express themselves, especially through using technology. I immediately realized the potential for Twitter in the classroom as a backchannel after participating in multiple chats. I decided that Twitter would be my go-to backchannel tool, and I even went so far as to create 40 gmail aliases so that I could create 40 unique to my class Twitter handles for students to use. Let’s just say that once I got the gmail aliases created, I really got tired at the thought of creating those 40 Twitter handles and then getting those to students and making sure that they weren’t abused.

Fortunately, I was saved when I was in a tech training, and the presenter mentioned TodaysMeet as a backchannel. I wish I could remember the who and the when because I would like to thank that presenter for saving my sanity! See, I no longer needed to create 40 unique to me Twitter handles. I no longer needed to worry about how 5 students over the course of a day or unit would share a handle appropriately. I could create a TodaysMeet room, give students the room link, have them join using their first name and last initial, and start discussing!

Before our first discussion, I did some prep work with the students about being good digital citizens: this isn’t a social tool, so no “Yo, Suzy! ‘Sup?” kinds of interactions. No text language–abbreviations? Yes, because of the 140 character limit–LOLs and IDKs? Nope. It’s still an English class, after all.

To practice using the backchannel, I incorporated TodaysMeet into our literature circle discussions of the story “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. Kris' class uses TodaysMeetStudents asked and answered guided questions about the text, and one student in each group acted as a recorder using the TodaysMeet backchannel, which I projected on the screen. What was really powerful about this process what that students would read the responses as they were recorded in the backchannel and that would spark more discussion! The room wasn’t silent, students were never at a loss for having something to talk about, and they taught each other about the story in a way that wouldn’t have been done if they just talked within their small groups. After each class was done with their discussion, I was able to save their backchannel work as a .pdf transcript.

The second time students used TodaysMeet was during our Socratic Seminars about Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. One thing I’ve found frustrating about Socratic Seminars is that the outer circle isn’t always engaged like the inner circle is. When we do Socratic discussions, I am sitting in the inner circle to redirect or ask for clarification if necessary, so I find it difficult to monitor the outer circle at the same time. With The Call of the Wild, I solved the problem by checking out our media center’s netbook cart, which has 20 netbooks (just enough with a few extra in my biggest class of 37), so that each desk in outer circle had a net book.

I asked for a volunteer from the outer circle to type in the questions asked in the inner circle into the TodaysMeet backchannel, which again was projected on the screen. Example of conversation in Kris' class.While the inner circle was verbally discussing the essential questions, the outer circle students were participating via the backchannel. (Side note: I reminded students about appropriate use of the backchannel before we started and explained that the outer circle was not verbal. No talking and typing at the same time.). When students in the inner circle paused or couldn’t come up with something else to say, a student would look up at the screen and see either a question or a comment and the conversation would continue.

Halfway through the class, the inner circle became the outer circle and vice versa. Again, I asked an outer circle student to record the questions as they were asked and then the discussion was up and running: inner circle verbally; outer circle non-verbally. Here’s where the power of TodaysMeet truly kicked in. A lot of students are very shy and struggle with Socratic Seminars because of the pressure to speak to a larger group; they don’t want to interrupt another speaker; or they are afraid of being interrupted. These students shine when they finally get to the backchannel. They can say what they want to say without nervousness or fear they’ll be talked over!

And as I did with their first discussion, I saved the transcripts for The Call of the Wild discussions as .pdfs. Check out the transcripts in this Dropbox folder if you’re interested in seeing what their backchannel discussions looked like.

I am looking forward to using TodaysMeet during the upcoming school year in discussions and other units of study.

Kris Campea