To follow, submit your email address

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.


  1. I would be concerned about comprehension suffering - when students are doing more than 1 thing at a time. There are well documented studies in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" stating that although we THINK we can do more than 1 thing at a time... we actually perform much more poorly than if we focus on only 1 thing. Students watch TV, chat with friends, and listen to music while completing homework, and use this as proof that they can multitask. But in point of fact - they are not doing as well as they could be.

  2. Yes, you raise a very valid point. I told the students up front that this was an experiment, and as our goal is to focus on meta-cognition, I asked at the outset what might be the pros and cons to such an activity. Several of them said straight away that they might become distracted from the story. We tried it out on Monday, and afterwards, some of the students said they chose not to follow the screen, but the vast majority found the clarification on screen helped them understand the story better. I put four students on the back channel, and I actually have a student teacher, so she moderated the chat discussion.

  3. With Today's Meet you can actually keep a transcript. It was fascinating to go back and re- read their commentary. It gave me some valuable info as to what the students were thinking as I was reading aloud. It also gives the class something to read and refer back too. But it really helped having an adult moderate because she was able to answer the questions.
    I asked the students if they thought using the back channel was helpful, and they said that they liked knowing that they didn't have to follow it, but they could refer to it when they were having trouble understanding.
    Today they asked if we could do it again. We didn't get a chance to, but I will try it again, and then I will do an assessment (one I've used previously with this novel), and I will be able to compare results and see which group demonstrate deeper comprehension. That will provide some concrete evidence as to whether the back channel helps or hinders.


Please share your comments and ideas. When it asks you to "comment as" you have the option to select "name/URL" and can leave your name only or comment as "anonymous" if you prefer.