Cross Post: Back channelling in the primary classroom #coetail


I’ve long been a participant in conference back channels through twitter and taking copious amounts of shared google docs. In fact I often feel bored and disengaged when I’m forced into a ‘sit and get’ situation where I can’t discuss what’s going on virtually But it never really occurred to me that this might be something that I should be using in the classroom until I read @whatedsaid reflection on Back Channelling in the classroom and all of a sudden it made a whole lot of sense.


Back channeling in class – photo by author

I often use videos as provocations to help in class. I set up the video, the kids watch the video and then they discuss big ideas.

However I don’t want the children to be sitting around for too long listening to me. And whole class discussions often require a significant amount of teacher mediation.

Rather than whole class sharing I tend to use learning buddy talk. However there’s buddy talk doesn’t really solve the ongoing problem, students want to share their thoughts with the class and they want to be heard. Moreover as a teacher I really want to hear those thoughts and participate in discussions.

Enter the back channel.

Basically it’s a chatroom where kids can engage in discussions amongst themselves in and also with me.  I really like using Today’s Meet because comments are limited to 140 characters, there’s no hassle with sign ins and there’s not a lot of text clogging up the page. The kids were able to use the platform easily though some found it difficult to read, write and listen all at the same time.

As a teacher I find the backchannel incredibly useful.

  • It gives talkative kids an outlet to share.
  • Less confident kids, can still be heard and enjoy sharing their thoughts more ‘virtually’ than in the real life.
  • ESOL learners who might not may not be as strong with speaking as they are writing can contribute to the class conversation.

But most importantly the discussions the kids are having ensure a rich source of data for me to be more responsive to the learning needs of the children in my class. A quick ‘?????’ comment in response to the provocation in the back channel showed me that one learner was having trouble. I stopped the video, rewound and reexplained while the kids were doing the same in today’s meet. The class is really positive about the experience

“The back channel helps me in my learning cause you can see and answer people so you learn from them. We can make it better by asking lots of questions and answer each other.”

“We can communicate without speaking over each other. It helps with our learning because we can see what others are thinking and share our ideas and bubbles.We could make it a bit more organised though.”

I love how after two quick sessions the kids are already thinking about how to maker their experience of a new classroom tool better.

A couple of takeaways.

  • What’s obvious to you is amazing to someone else. Educators have a moral imperative to share.
  • I learned about this idea in a blogpost. Through Edna documenting learning at her school, she is helping grow learning at a school thousands of kilometers away.
  • PD is borderless.  Edna’s school hosted the amazing @langwitches for some in-school professional learning. Because Edna’s school has their own prolific Professional learning back channel I stumbled upon this idea riding a bus to school.
  • Teaching observations are no longer oneway. I had a teaching observation when my class was using the back channel. I simply handed my principal a laptop and he joined the conversation with the kids and myself as well.
  • I’m now sharing my experience of trying it out a new tool for others to learn from my experiences.

from Teaching the Teacher

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