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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Back Channeling During a Read Aloud???

Have you ever heard of "Backchanneling"?  Well, if you are an adult with a mobile device, I'm sure you've done it!

Backchanneling is when you are listening or viewing something, (perhaps a movie, or sitting at a meeting, or attending a workshop), and you instant message someone else to comment in real time on what you are hearing/seeing.  Do you agree?  Are you learning something new?  Are you bored?

Teachers have been using backchanneling with their students in the classroom so that students can be more actively attending to what they are hearing and viewing.

To learn more about back channeling click here.

Last week I attended the Minds on Media workshop at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario.  I met a teacher who was presenting there named Heather Durnin.  She is an Ontario teacher who shared how she is virtually co-teaching with another teacher from Winnipeg.  She has done such incredible things with her Grade 7/8 class!  I am going to try a few of them out.

She and her virtual teaching partner used Skype to connect their two classes.  They had their student create collaborative projects using Google Docs.  That was amazing.  Each student also created a Wordpress Blog to learn more about one another.  But my favourite idea was how, using Skype, she and her teaching partner would take turns reading aloud to the students.  While one teacher read aloud, the other teacher used Today's Meet (a chat room) with a small group of students from each class, to comment on the read-aloud in real time.  The chatroom was posted on a screen. That way, if the students didn't understand something from the novel, they could post it and get clarification right away and both classes could view the conversation.  Students could immediately share their reactions to the story as it was being read aloud.

Today's Meet is free and very easy to use.  Click here to check it out.

I have started reading Iqbal to my students.  The text is a bit difficult, and it has some complicated vocabulary, but the story is excellent.  If you are not familiar with Iqbal, he is the little boy from Pakistan that was murdered for protesting child labour.  He had been an indentured servant to a carpet maker, and had escaped.  He went on to fight for the freedom of other children.  It was the story of his murder that spurred Craig Kielburger into creating the Free the Children network.

On Monday, I am going to introduce my students to the Today's Meet Room that I have created. I am going to start by having five of them on devices to "chat" while I read aloud from Iqbal. I won't have a moderator for the chatroom, so I will have to be watching it as I read, we'll see how that goes.

Too Much to Do, Too Little Time

I have so much to tell you!  Finding time to post is proving to be quite a challenge; my days are so full!  There is so much I want to do with my students and so little time to do it.  I've become a "Time Miser" counting every minute of every day.

I've decided to keep track of where we lose time in our day.  We have three recesses per day, and it takes my students, on average (I've been timing them), 11 minutes to come in from recess, settle down, and be ready for work.  Every time we transition from one subject to another, (example from French to Music), we take about 6 minutes to settle down.  I find timing my students, and telling them about how much time we are losing is helping.  They constantly want to "beat" their previous time.  It works especially well if I give my iPad to one of them, and ask them to time the class.

I have found that asking my students to calculate how much time we will lose over the course of the year if we continue to take so much time transitioning has proven to be an "authentic" problem solving task.

To "catch up" on lost time, I've been keeping students in at recess and after school.  Here in Ontario, it is extra challenging to be a Grade Six or Three teacher because in the beginning of June we have EQAO testing.  I am a staunch supporter of the test because I feel it provides invaluable insight into where we are weak and where we are strong as an educational system, but it also means that we have 10 months of curriculum to teach in 9 months; so the pressure is on, AND I CAN'T AFFORD ANY WASTED TIME!

The temptation is to skimp on the Arts or Phys Ed., the subjects that are not tested.  But in my opinion, the Arts and Phys Ed are just too important in helping to develop well-rounded cultured individuals who will be valuable contributors to our society.

I took my students to an Art Gallery earlier in the month.  They LOVED it!  They didn't waste a minute of time there!  It turns out they can listen attentively when the subject matter is of interest to them.  They hung on every word our tour guide said and proved to have plenty to say about the artwork they viewed.

I am hoping to take advantage of this keen interest in Art, I'm going to post their art on a Voicethread account where they can go online and discuss the Art that they and others have created.  As much as possible, I will link the Arts to our Language so that I can develop their Literacy skills through the things they are interested in and passionate about.

Here are two of our latest artistic creations, one focuses on the use of shape, the other on the use of line.

We had so much fun collecting leaves for these pictures!  Thank you Helena for  showing me the artwork you did with your students so that I could copy your idea!!!

Helena had shown me this art, but I felt we were too behind in our Math Curriculum to be able to do it.  But then she told me that the entire activity took one hour, collecting the leaves, creating the art piece, gluing it on the paper.  And she was right!  One hour for such lovely creations!  It was an hour very well-spent!

I got the idea for these water-colour paintings from Pinterest.  The students use  white glue to draw their lines.  We left the glue to harden over night, then traced the lines with a sharpie the next morning.  (Our librarian came in and read a story to them while they traced their lines).  Then I took six kids at a time to give them some "Guided Instruction" on how to create a wash with water-colour paints while the other students worked on a writing piece or read quietly at their desks. It's easier to teach them how to shade, mix colours, and use brush strokes when working with only six students at a time. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Speak Like a Listener, Listen Like a Speaker - UPDATED

I went over to my friend Margaret's for a glass of wine the other night.  This turned out to be a very smart thing to do!

I have been finding that my students have difficulty following instructions.  I've been trying to get down to the nitty-gritty to find out why this is.  I've established that they don't listen very well.  So I said to them, "While you are all very lovely children, you have a problem listening, you need to work on your listening skills".   Of course, telling them that had absolutely zero impact, hence the glass of wine at Margaret's.

Fortunately for me, I hang around with very smart people.  Margaret said that I need to teach my students to listen like speakers, and speak like listeners.  She made me realize that first, as a teacher, I had to unpack what good listeners do.  Then, I had to explicitly teach these skills to my students.  It dawned on me that if my students can't read, I teach them to read, ergo, if my students can't listen, I need to teach them how to listen.  Telling them they need to improve is pointless unless I tell them how to do it.

So this week, I defined the term "Active Listening" for my students.  After explaining what it meant, I asked them to brainstorm why Active Listening might be something that is beneficial for them to do.  They had no difficulty with this at all.  Turns out, they really do WANT to listen, they just don't know how.  Then we created an anchor chart of what Active Listening sounds like, looks like and feels like.

Our Learning Goals in Reading are:

I will summarize what I am reading because if I can retell it, then I know I understand it.  

When summarizing, I will list the key ideas, this will help me to remember what is important. 

We realized that being able to summarize what we listen to is as important as being able to summarize what we read.  We also realized that "hearing" is not the same as "listening".  Hearing is passive, and information may not actually go into our long term memories.  To put what we hear into our long term memories, we have to actually attend to it, or LISTEN to it actively.  

To understand Active Listening Strategies better, I found "Teaching Listening" on-line by Steven Brown from Cambridge University Press.  Next week, I am going to have my students practise Active Listening Strategies so that they can improve.  Steven Brown suggests that prior to having students listen, you tell them what you want them listening for.  Listening strategies to find key ideas are different than listening strategies to  find details. Who knew?  He also stressed the importance of having them practise listening to one another.  So next week, I'm going to put very detailed and dynamic photos up on the interactive white board.  They will have to tell a partner what they think is happening in the photo.  Their partner will then have to paraphrase what they said.  Then with a new photo, we will switch speaker and listener roles.  We will practise asking questions to clarify what we think we hear.  

Then I will have them all listen to a podcast, (haven't decided what the topic will be yet, but we are completing our Biodiversity Unit in Science, so I'm thinking it will be related to that)  *Update, found great "video-casts" on the National Geographic for Kids website.*  I will first activate their background knowledge, then I will ask them to listen for the key ideas (since in Reading we are practising finding the key ideas).  After the podcast, we will share what we thought the key ideas were.

Oral Communication is not just about Speaking, it is about Listening too.  And in Ontario, we have to report on our students' ability to listen.  Before we evaluate their Listening skills, we should at first teach them some, shouldn't we?  

I'm hoping this explicit instruction in listening will help my students with the third overall expectation in Oral Communication in our Language Curriculum: 

  • reflect on and identify their strengths as listeners and speakers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful in oral communication situations.

Keeping my fingers crossed!


These lessons went so well!  I put together a slide show of photographs showing children at play throughout the last century and around the world.  I described the first photo to the students, and gave them a brief discription.  Then I showed them the photo, they were surprised that it didn't look anything like what they had imagined.  They realized that my description hadn't given them enough information.  We repeated the activity with a new photo, this time they asked me questions for clarification.  Then we repeated the process with one group facing the screen, and one with their back to the screen. They worked with a partner with one partner describing the photo and the other listening "actively" by asking questions and checking for understanding.  This worked so well and they loved the activity.  At the end, I asked them what the theme was, or the message of the power point, and they said "children will play and have fun no matter where they are".   Here is the anchor chart we created together after the activity: