Backchanneling and Socratic Seminar

>I’ve written two posts (here and here) before on using Edmodo as a backchannel for student conversation during lessons. I discovered TodaysMeet in my twitter feed today and I’ve started thinking about backchanneling again.  Right now I’m locked into the READ180 progam, so I’m trying to figure out how I can incorporate these idea into that model. I definitely plan on using the ideas here when we do The Lightning Thief as a full-class read toward the end of the semester.

On Levels of Questioning
I think a big part of active engagement with a text is the ability to write the same types of questions the instructor of a class would ask about a given text. To really get students into a Socratic seminar, have them generate their own questions that will be used. There’s something to be said for ownership when it comes to what students do and don’t remember. Here is a link to the post I wrote this summer about levels of questioning.

On the Socratic Seminar:
These are the guidelines we received at the Advanced Placement Summer Institute I attended this summer. They are pages 54-55 in Ayn’s handbook (pdf).


Backchanneling and Socratic Seminar
There are a few things I know about myself as a student. First, when I’m taking notes by hand, I am less engaged whatever discussion is going on around me because I’m so caught up in getting all of my notes on the page. I also know that if I’m not engaged somehow, whether it be note-taking by hand, on twitter, or live blogging, I am more likely to let my mind wander during class. Do I honestly expect anything different from my students? Hardly.

In theory, the students in the outer circle (if you’re taking the fishbowl approach to Socratic Seminar) are paying attention to the conversation occurring in the inner circle. They might be paying a little more attention if they wrote the questions the inner circle is answering, but as a student, that still wouldn’t actively engage me. I propose a way* to further involve outer circle students in the seminar. (Note: I realize this will be a more of a distraction for some students than others.)

Have the outer circle students take live, electronic notes via backchannel about the inner circle’s conversation. They can make note of interesting things people say, aspects of/places in the text that they referenced to answer particular questions, and offer brief commentary on their peers’ conversation. When I was reading about Google Wave and its uses in education, people discussed using Wave for collective note taking. Using Edmodo, Twiducate, or TodaysMeet for backchanneling does the same thing. This frees up the inner circle to concentrate more on their conversation and less on taking any notes they would otherwise take. With collective note taking, the outer circle students are more likely to commit more of the conversation’s ideas into notes. It also allows students to pay enough attention to the conversation that they can redirect the inner circle by asking different questions as the opportunities arise (assuming the discussion questions are mostly provided by the students). Copy conversation and post to blog or wiki to refer to later.

*Originally I had two different (albeit similar) ways to approach this, but as I was typing decided that this was the better of the two.

Comments? Suggestions? Bugs you see in the system? All thoughts are welcome. 🙂


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