Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Using Back Channels During A Vow Of Silence

This past year, 4th grade held their second annual No-Talk-A-Thon; a vow of silence fundraiser to help support our sister school.
Based on the book No Talking 
by Andrew Clements

We used Class Dojo to keep track of the hours we kept silent. For every hour we were silent, the child added a point to their avatar.
And everyone chose hours they were comfortable with

This year I deliberately tried to use back channels as a main medium of communication throughout the day, along with individual whiteboards and pantomiming. When the kids entered the classroom, the morning message directed them to look at their emails. They were then greeted with this message:

Hi everyone,
And welcome to our day of silence. To help us with our day of silence, I've set up some special rooms for us. I'll explain all of them before we begin.

General Discussions
Work Related Discussions (Writing, Math, etc)
Class Story: Told In 3 Word Chunks

Book Clubs:
Clues In The Woods
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
The Westing Game

Good luck with your fund raising!
Mr. Ryan

I'll explain what these virtual rooms were and how they turned out.*
General Discussions
I thought it was important to have a room for general chatting. We didn't have many opportunities to use this, and the kids preferred their individual white boards when "talking" during break or between subjects. However it was used to communicate thoughts to the whole class. For example, one student needed to tell the class that the third graders were trying to get her to talk, so it was a nice warning system.
Rating: 3 out of 5 General Stars 

Work Related Discussions
This was probably a good idea. But because of the way the lessons were scheduled on this day, outside of Book Club (which had its own discussion rooms) there really wasn't a need for peer discussion.
Rating: 2 out of 5 cubicles

Class Story
This idea was lifted directly from the book No Talking. But instead of speaking, we wrote a story in 3 word chunks. If TodaysMeet worked closer to the definition of what a backchannel was (a real time electronic discussion), this would have been more successful. I wanted it to be a time filler during down time, but everyone's down time seemed to overlap, and the story wasn't updated in real time. The end result was a little incoherent.

The kids loved it anyway. And it created several teachable moments such as, "You're a better writer than making just poop and fart additions to the story." A piece of advice that I should have been proactive with instead of reactive.
Rating: 4 out of 5 toilets

Book Clubs
At the time, I was running three book clubs focused on the mystery genre: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, and Clues In The Woods by Peggy Parish. Therefore for each book club discussion, I set up a different room. Here's a sample from the Sammy Keyes book club:

It's hard to write about what you are thinking! Especially if you can't type fast. Still there was an overwhelming positive response to this and all three book clubs begged to do it again even if we didn't have a vow of silence. It was a great exercise in learning how to quickly and concisely communicate complex ideas through writing.
Rating: 5 out of 5 clubs

*I wish I had screen shots of all the rooms. Unfortunately I forgot to do this before the allocated time ran out for the virtual rooms in TodaysMeet. The ones that I feature in this post were captured by Gretel Patch who was our school's wonderful tech coordinator. She also maintains the blog Ed Tech Didi. 

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