Chapter 2 - Discussion & Communication
Effective discussion is at the heart of every successful classroom. The sharing of information and ideas encourages students to engage actively with course materials and to articulate opinions based on sound critical thinking. Fortunately, computers and the Internet open the doors to a variety of exciting, new ways to discuss and communicate with your students. The conversations can start in class, but they can continue long after the bell and students can contribute any time during the day or evening. Certainly nothing can replace the impact of face-to-face dialogue, but hopefully this section offers you new ways to generate discussion with your students both in and outside of class and to communicate more effectively with the world outside your classroom walls.
- Geting Started with Blogging
- Creative Uses of Email and Chatting
- Videoconferencing with Skype and iChat
There are many blog creation and hosting services on the Internet, but Blogger, Google’s popular and free blogging tool, is one of the quickest and easiest to use. In workshops we often have teachers blogging in less than ten minutes! All you need to do is create a free Google account. The tutorials below will help you get started.
How to Sign Up for Blogger
How to Post to Blogger
How Add an Image to a Post
Blogging Administration: Protocol, Privacy & Security - Who Should be Responsible for Classroom Blogs?
In some schools, teachers create and administer classroom blogs, making fundamental design, content, and acceptable-use policy decisions. In other schools, administrators make these decisions. Before beginning a blogging project, make sure that you check your school's Acceptable Use Policy, and also talk with your technology specialists. Your school may already have an infrastructure as well as a set of guidelines in place.
Blogging Privacy and Security
Both the teacher and the student should keep in mind that any malicious or inappropriate content on a school blog may result in disciplinary action for a student, or even a teacher. The Web, by nature, is public, and as teachers and administrators, we should not reveal the identities of our students online to strangers. Again, before beginning a project, make sure that you check with your school's Acceptable Use Policy and also speak with your students about proper web protocol.
Classroom Blogging Examples
Whether you are using your class blog as a means to commuicate with your students and their families outside of school, or as a tool for continuing class discussion, we have many classroom-tested blogging activities from various disciplines to share with you.
Life of a Hobo: Interdisciplinary Blogging Activity (Middle School, High School)
Tom's interdisciplinary creative writing/historical simulation activity calls on students to research the plight of homeless teenagers during the Great Depression and then create their own fictionalized account of a day in the life of a Hobo. Students posted their story on their blog and read each other's work. Students commented by articulating what they liked about the story they read -- and what made it seem authentic. Students were then interviewed in character and recorded as part of a "1930s Radio Show" podcast. Music, clapping, and special effects were added to give it an authentic "studio' feel.
Blogging provided a venue to publish student work to a broad audience. Indeed, the assignment has been profiled in Web English Teacher, and other web sites, and hundreds have read my students' stories. It is gratifying and motivating for them to know that others read their work. As for podcasting, the 1930s were the "Golden Age" of radio, so it only seemed natural to create a radio show podcast. We used Apple's Garage Band and I interviewed the students in small groups and later edited the assorted interviews. I added music samples from the GarageBand program and recorded my students clapping to simulate a live audience sound. I simply copied and pasted the clapping at different points of the podcast./p>
Students were nervous but excited to participate in an assignment that stressed creativity and artistic expression while being grounded in historical authenticity. It was an overt attempt on my part to gain a deeper understanding of my students' abilities and personalities by offering an assignment that tested a different type of intelligence normally found in formal essay assignments. It also personalized the experience of the Great Depression for the students. -- Tom Daccord
Excerpt from a student story:
When you’we gotta worry ‘bout starvin’ and freezin’ to death you forget to keep track of what day it is, but I’d estimate today’s the 15th of December, year 1932. It took me near three weeks to get here. “Here” is Lancaster, California. I left home in Abilene, Kansas when Dadi told me he’d got word from Aunt Sarah in California. “Aunt Sarah’s got a place for you to stay with her and she’s found you a good job in a shop downtown Lancaster,“ he said. “You go put your things in the bag that I’ve left you upstairs and I’ll take you to the train in the morning... I made quick friends with a hobo ‘bout my age named Jim. He warned me ‘bout the bulls and told me where the camps that made the best mulligan stew were on the way from Kansas to California. I spent ‘near three weeks ridin’ the rails, walkin’ on route 66 to get from station to station and stoppin’ at hobo camps in between. Pretty much ‘came a ‘bo myself...
I-Search Literature Project: Reflective Journaling (High School)
The I-Search is an independent literature research project where students keep a daily log of their interactions with the works and authors they are researching.
Students choose a piece of literature they wish to investigate in depth, read scholarly critiques about the work, and then respond to what they read. Few structured guidelines are provided; stu- dents are encouraged to follow whatever theme or topic interests them and discuss their interactions with the literature. The I-Search blog serves as a personal diary of sorts as students record their reflections on the literature they are studying. During the process, students respond to comments made by their teacher, and possibly peers, and use these as the basis for developing a more sophisticated exploration of literature.
Peter Raymond, an English teacher at the Noble and Greenough School, says that the I-Search project he undertakes with high school juniors “encourages a deep personal exploration” with literature within a public context. Student posts “become increasingly sophisticated, personal, and refined” as students develop a comfort with the blogging process and better understand the work in question.
Role-Playing: What Would You Bring to Walden? (High School)
This role-playing activity was designed by a teacher who had only been blogging with his students for about two weeks! In this activity, teacher Chris Bagg shows his American Literature students the list of items that Henry David Thoreau brought with him to Walden Pond, and he then asks them to compile their own lists. The student work that emerges is a delightful combination of the insightful and the hilarious.
Here's one of Mr. Bagg's first posts:
The responses range from the thoughtful to the hilarious. Our favorite:
The response includes some thougtfully chosen items, a recognition of limitations (the handbook), and a playful, clever nod to the original text (Garlic Salt)
In presenations, we often ask teachers about how they might do this activity without a blog. We once asked, "How long would it take to read these responses in class?" to which a teacher wisely replied "Too long!" But in this blogging format, these reponses can be shared easily online to stimulate conversations in the classroom.
9/11: Are We Safer Five Years Later?” (High School)
Tom gave this blogging assignment on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which coincided with the first week of school. Since educational blogs are most effective when students are given opportunities to express their ideas and feelings on topic that interest them, Tom’s objective was to engage his students on a current topic on a both a personal and academic level. It was also an opportunity to get to know a group of students he had just started teaching. Many students opened up on the blog and revealed deeply personal responses regarding the events of that day.
Teachers can email students homework assignments, class notes, multimedia files, and various other course materials, and that’s just a start. Creative uses of email can help spur discussion and active learning.
"Whoever is doing most of the talking or most of the typing is doing most of the learning (and the more people listening the better)." Class discussions provide excellent opportunities for people to listen, think and speak. They have a few problems though. First, only one person can speak at once. Second, some people are too shy to speak.
Chatting solves these two problems. Chatting is as natural to our students as picking up the phone is to us (for many, chatting is actually more natural). While chatting, students can all talk and listen at once. Many students who are nervous about speaking, have no trouble typing their thoughts.
Justin says, "I often use chatting exercises when I need to be absent for a day. I email the students instructions, have a substitute sit in to supervise and open up our laptop cart, then let the kids work all period."
Sample Assignment from Justin a first In-Class Chat:
Email Subject: Abraham In Class Chat
The leader from each group should invite the other members into a chat. From this point forward NO TALKING, ONLY TYPING.
Each person will then in turn ask one of their discussion questions. You will be given 15 minutes to discuss. The goal is to discuss questions as deeply and thoroughly as possible. I'd rather read an in-depth examination of two questions than brief discussions of six. GO DEEP!
You will get a 5 point grade for this exercise. While I will raise the standards later, for now the grade will be mostly based on the following:
- Do you stay on topic?
- Do you carefully read and respond to each other?
- Do you ensure that you finish each question before moving on?
In the future, I will also expect you to actively challenge one another and to incorporate evidence from the source material.
When you are finished, the leader should copy and paste the chat into an email and send it to turninreich.
A sample chatting exercise on the Bhagavad-Gita:
Pablo Toribio-09 [10:11:31 AM]: Why is Arjuna is reluctant to fight?
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:11:54 AM]: because he doesn't want to kill all of those people
Pablo Toribio-09 [10:11:55 AM]: Arjuna is reluctant to fight because he believes those people are his family.
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:12:02 AM]: and his teachers
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:12:07 AM]: yeah
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:12:09 AM]: and his great uncles
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:12:22 AM]: his family, he didnt want to kill them
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:12:29 AM]: right
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:12:39 AM]: he felt like he was close to these people
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:13:12 AM]: yeah, and he thought it would be cruel and unnecesary to kill them
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:13:17 AM]: yeah
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:13:28 AM]: +, he says he doesnt want a kingdom
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:13:30 AM]: right
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:13:32 AM]: he became overcome with grief
Pablo Toribio-09 [10:14:04 AM]: "Then Arjuna saw in both armies fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons; father of wives, uncles, masters;brothers companions, and friends. When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face i both lines of the battle, he was overcome by grief and despair and thus he spoke with a sinking heart."
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:14:20 AM]: right
Vinesha Collymore-09 [10:14:44 AM]: so that's our conclusion for number 1
Jess Lippincott-09 [10:14:49 AM]: then "I have no wish for victory Krishna, nor for a kingdom, nor for its pleasures"
- Have students work in groups of 3-5
- Give students clear expectations for grades
- Require students to email you their work
- Encourage students to challenge each other and to draw from the sources you are using
- I usually give students a few questions I want them to work on, and I usually have them come up with a few on their own.
Starting a Chat Room with Chatzy:
Chatzy is a free, virtual chat room that you can use with your students. Go to www.chatzy.com, and click on the link for Virtual Chat room to get started.Fill in the appropriate form windows and you’ll come to this page:
Next, you’ll need to click on "Invite People."
In the "To:" Box, email all of the people who you would like to invite into this chat room.
They will receive an email with a link to your chat room. After logging in with the password you selected, your students can begin chatting.
These rooms are persistent, so anytime you want to use them, students can go back to the same web address. If you made permanent teams in your classrooms, you could easily get this activity up and running after the initial investment of time.
Classroom Uses of Email
There are lots of great ways to use email as a tool inside your classroom, here are just a few.
Email the experts - Oftentimes journalists, authors, professors, and other experts are willing to spend sometime responding to questions from students. Instead of having students write a response to an article or book to you, their teacher, have them write something to the author. Who knows? you just might hear back!
- Click here to read the author of The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, respond to Will Richardson's English students.
Write a letter to the editor - Publishing your opinions in a local newspaper is one of the great means of contributing to a democratic community. With the advent of email, submitting your thoughts is easier than ever. Many Language Arts classes have units devoted to persuasive writing, and it can be incredibly empowering for students to take a shot at using the media to persuade not just their classmates, but also their entire community.
Letters to the editor are typically printed in response to published articles or on issues of regional importance. Papers often accept letters up to 250 words, though they will often edit them down. The best letters to the editor are snappy, concise, and direct. Drafting them so that every word counts is an excellent exercise for budding writers.
- Click here for tips on op-eds and letters to the editor and email addresses for the opinion pages of the nation's 100 leading newspapers.
Get involved with an international ePals organization - Email also provides an excellent opportunity to communicate with schools around the country and around the world. Some of the best email pen-pal exchanges might come from connections you have with friends who are teaching across the country or overseas. If you need help finding pen pals in other parts of the world, one great resource is http://www.ePals.com/. On an average day, 25 new schools join the ePals community and you can search pen pals by country. ePals connects schools across the world and can provide language translation services and content-filtering. The connecting service is free, and ePals also offers school-wide blogs and email accounts.
There are a variety of other services that will connect pen pals across the world, and a Web search for “Pen Pals” will find many others.
Vidoeconferencing is easier than ever. Through your computer, you can reach out to teachers and students from around the world.
With Skype you can make free phone calls to other Skype users over the Internet. Skype also features videoconferencing so that all you need is a webcam to make live video calls! You can download Skype for free from the Skype website.
Classroom uses for Skype
Skype has tremendous potential for classroom use. Teachers can quickly and easily invite guests from all over the world to speak to their students. A sick student could participate from home or a sick teacher could run class from home! Social studies and foreign language teachers can use Skype to connect with students in foreign countries. Language arts teachers can connect with the authors of works they are reading. Science teachers could demonstrate a lab activity using Skype's video capability. Students in all subjects can make presentations and classrooms in different districts (or different countries) could collaborate on a project using Skype.
Three-part Skype Video Tutorial
Before you watch the tutorials, download the Skype program at www.skype.com and install the product. Then double-click the Skype icon to start up the product and add a username and password into the "Create a Skype Account" window. On the Personal Profile page, add some personal information about yourself. Check that your microphone and speakers are on. Now you're ready to watch the tutorials below and begin "Skyping!"
Searching for Skype users and adding contacts
Making a video call with Skype
Chatting in Skype
Tips for classroom use of Skype
If you plan to use Skype in the classroom explain to your students what Skype is and how it works. If you plan to have students set up their own accounts, then talk to them about privacy and security. If students are under the age of 18 it's probably a wise idea that they not reveal their full name, nor complete a Skype personal profile.
Skype uses a lot of bandwidth and some school IT departments ban it. Point out the educational uses of Skype to your IT director and see if your can reach an accommodation. Tell your IT director that they can unblock a port. Learn more at Skype in the Classroom.