Backchanneling in the classroom-

This post is inspired by some reading I was doing of Edna Sackson’s blog post here. Sometimes as teachers we can spend hours planning great lessons and other times those ideas that just ‘work’ literally pop into our heads at the last minute or even on the spot. This is an example of the latter.

So the context for me using backchannelling came about one very tired Friday afternoon. As part of the PYP Sharing the Planet Unit, students had been working hard on their summative tasks: making ad campaigns on environmental issues encouraging people to take action and make a difference. We had 9 ads to watch, each about 2-3 minutes and give each feedback; it was to be our mini film festival.

Unfortunately, it had been a week full of interruptions: cross country, rehearsals for a performance, a few students ill- you know what I mean! It got to Friday afternoon and we simply had to get the ads watched. So we sat down for an exciting afternoon of ad watching. The students were particularly excited to share their learning and ads as they had used a green screen app, Green Screen by do ink, for the first time. As we started to watch the videos, the students asked, “Are we going to be giving and receiving feedback?”. (They love it!) “Of course!” I replied while thinking that we were never going to get through them all in the amount of time we had. I had also wanted to record the feedback given by the students to use in reports but annecdotal notes on a Friday afternoon-no way!

So, How could we ensure each student received feedback? How could we ensure all students gave feedback? How could we record the feedback? How could we ensure all students remained engaged? How could I record students’ feedback? My idea: use a Todays Meet.

I wrote 3 ‘comment types’ on the board:

1) What issue was shown in the video and what action was proposed (easiest to answer)

2) What were some effective digital skills used to make the video?

3) What persuasive techniques were used in the video? (hardest to answer)

Students had worked in groups of 3 for this. As we went through each group’s video, another group of 3 students were individually given one of the comments from above to use as a basis for their comment in the backchannel. To keep track of who was saying what to whom, students had to use the @ symbol and the first letter of each students name (e.g. Michael, James, Charlotte would be @MJC).

Examples of feedback from the TodaysMeet

Examples of feedback from the TodaysMeet


I had explored using TodaysMeet in the past with some mixed success. More often than not I found it more of a distraction than a help with students using losing focus quickly and writing silly things. However, the way it was used here worked really effectively. Students were really focussed as listeners, particularly as they all had individual accountability to make a comment. Everyone was really respectful- I think because they were all in the same boat of putting themselves out there. Once students had presented they quietly checked their feedback.

I think the key here was that it had an authentic purpose. I’m not saying it should replace verbal feedback but in this instance it really worked. It is also really useful having the comments recorded so I can gauge student comprehension of the videos (and their ability to provide useful feedback.)

So this was one of those ideas that just popped into my head- I’m glad I went with it and I’m keen to find new and authentic ways to use backchannelling in the classroom.

Here are the students watching the ads (not their screens!)

Here are the students watching the ads (not their screens!)




8 Things I Learned During Our First Class Skype/Hangouts

Inspired by encouraging words from the PYP digital citizenship workshop, I set a personal goal to conduct my first ever Skype or Google Hangouts with another class. It had always been something I had wanted to do and try- connect with another class but was never quite sure how to make it happen.

Well- it has happened now and I wanted to share what I learned and some tips.

Here we are in Google Hangouts with another class in the next suburb away

Here we are in Google Hangouts with another class in the next suburb away

#1 Connect with a teacher who you know. This meant that we were able to casually chat about the session without having to get to know each other. It was also the first time for his class so we were learning together. We are both at similar points with out digital technologies use as well so keen to experiment and try out new things. We also knew each others schedules really well and worked in neighbouring suburbs which just took away some of those initial potential blockers.

#2 Test the technology first. I think this is important! We both decided on Google hangouts and tested out the connection a few days prior after school. I had used my iPad in the staffroom and made the call. Everything connection wise went really smoothly, but the day before I realised I had been using headphones and hadn’t tested things out on my interactive whiteboard. So really, for this point I’m saying test the technology out in the exact conditions in which it will be used. I had to do a quick test at the recess before our session and had trouble with airserver and sound and ended up just running the session through the iPad with it’s own sound. Not ideal, but adequate for our first learning session!

#3 Build excitement with your class. Don’t just spring the session on them that day. I told my class on the Friday about our session to be run on the Monday. I gave them a little background as to why it was happening and then asked what they were expecting. Some of the first questions I received on the Monday morning were ‘Are we connecting with the other school?!’ and ‘We’re so excited for our Google Hangouts today!’

#4 Give some structure to the session. Do by considering different roles. I used the excellent Skpe Jobs Post here. We also took the time to explore these roles and the students were the ones who decided which were going to be relevant for the session. Allow time to do this as they had a lot of clarifying questions. This structure definitely helped the session have some structure and run smoothly.

Students learning about Skype jobs and deciding which one are relevant for our first session

Students learning about Skype jobs and deciding which one are relevant for our first session

#5 Allow plenty of time- more than you think you’ll need. We had decided on 25 minutes for our first session. I couldn’t believe how quickly that went! By the time we had established connection and done our introductions it was nearly time up! We only managed to get through 2 questions per class which was great but there were a lot more to share and the session could have been longer.

#6 Keep it Simple. Try and plan something easy for the first few times. Ours were simple introductions of schools and classes and then general questions related to our summative assessments and inquiry units. My class were asking about what environmental issues the students felt passionate about and what they thought some potential actions were to make a difference. The other class wanted to know about marine life and ocean protection.

#7 Use a back channel. This is one of the Skype jobs listed in #4. We set up a today’s meet and used that as our note taking tool for the session so that we might be able to refer back to it. As we were unable to project the other class onto the IWB we had the back channel up there and that added a ‘live’ element to the session.

Setting up the backchannel and initial greetings

Setting up the backchannel and initial greetings

#8 Reflect on the session with your class and the other teacher. Both the other teacher and I used email to take the time to reflect on how the first learning session had gone, focussing on the positives, challenges and unexpecteds. This debrief was really useful to know what to repeat and what to do differently. For example, we decided it might be a better use of time to pre send some of the questions through to allow more think time for the other class.

So there you have my 8 tips. Ultimately like anything new, I think it’s just a matter of getting in there and having a go. As we tell our students, be risk takers, and learn from your mistakes. We are very much looking forward to connecting with this class again and others around the world.

Learner, Teacher, Learner, Teacher…

Taking time to reflect on the 3 day digital citizenship PYP workshops, I was thinking about myself as both learner and teacher. When I was in the workshop I was both. Learning how to do new things with digital technologies, teaching others the same. This is a very happy place for me.

I consider myself a learner. And a teacher.

I wonder how many teachers out there consider themselves the same? I know how busy we all are but I am often surprised at how other teachers learn. There can be an element of reluctance that feels like an ‘I already know of all this’ or ‘Do I really need to know this?’mentality. Scary!

Gone are the ‘keeper of knowledge’ days of teaching and learning. There is so much depth in teaching and learning nowadays, with our students having so much to offer.

I know that conditions under which I best learn:

1) Build a trusting relationship with the teacher and those around me

2) Having TIME to process and practice what I learn

3) Making connections to my own experiences

4) Being able to make mistakes and learn from them

5) Receiving feedback on my progress

6) Applying my learning to other situations

I hope I enable these conditions for the students I teach, too.

How do you best learn? What do you learn from your students?

A Long Time in the Making

Today is the 3rd and final day of the Digital Citizenship PYP workshop. PD on the weekend is tough!

The focus of the the last 3 days has included:

Digital Literacy

Safe and Effective practice

Intellectual property

Digital Identity

Classroom Connections

Roles and Responsibilities

Risks vs Rewards

But mostly it’s been about learning. Learning for our students and learning for us teachers.

This video was one of our provocations and helped me to realise I do have something to say. I am in my 8th year of teaching. I have read a few blogs over the years and felt intimidated at the thought of starting my own.

I don’t know where it will take me but I feel committed to sharing my experiences as an educator and a learner.

I hope to use this blog as a place to share, connect, reflect, ponder, recount, observe………………