Back Channeling and Socratic Seminars

In May of 2011, I wrote about my experience using backchannel at one of our schoolwide assemblies. A few weeks ago I was so happy to see the tool used in one of our English classes. The teacher used it during a Socratic Seminar on John Updike’s short story, “A & P”.  The twist is that the student seminar leaders and the teacher were backchannel chatting during the discussion. The original purpose behind the use of the tool was to archive notes for students who were out for school trips. While they were able to archive the notes, they found out that it was helpful in other ways.

Seminar Logistics
The seminar leader and the teacher were in the circle and both had access to TodaysMeet. There were two other students who are adding notes to the backchannel and they were outside the circle. The other students participated in the seminar and they were not able to see the chat.

Prior to visiting the class the teacher told me that one of the unintended benefits was that the co-leaders were able to use the chat to coach the leader during the seminar. In this situation the teacher prompted the leader with the following:

“either ask for clarification or ask them to expand or move on to next question. :-)” Teacher at 2:28 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
“follow-up questions?”
“Good …”  at 2:32 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
“5 to 10 minutes more–only time for one more question after this…”  at 2:44 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
This instant feedback from the teacher really helped the student leader develop skills at facilitating a discussion. Imagine the power of the entire team of seminar leaders coaching each other during the seminar.
The seminar also provided students with the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities that match with the  following IB aims:

IB English A2 Aims

  • communicate clearly, fluently and effectively in a wide range of situations
  • understand and use accurately the oral and written forms of the language, in a range of styles and situations
  • understand and use an extensive range of vocabulary and idiom
  • express ideas with clarity and fluency
  • structure arguments in a focused, coherent and persuasive way, and support them with relevant examples
  • engage in detailed, critical examination of a wide range of texts in different forms, styles and registers
  • appreciate the subtleties of technique and style employed by writers and speakers of the language
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