In past posts, I’ve mentioned using “Socratic Dialogue” with my students. Sometimes this is referred to as “Socratic Method”, “Socratic Seminar”, or “Socratic Circles.” You can learn more about this teaching technique here and in my post on “Socratic Questions.”
I recently ran across an excellent post on the Langwitches blog called, “Socratic Seminar and the Backchannel.” The article gives a detailed description of teacher Shannon Hancock using the fishbowl method of an inner circle and outer circle with her 8th grade students to discuss The Alchemist. What distinguishes Shannon’s lesson from others of its kind is that she allowed her students to use Today’s Meet as a backchannel to comment during the discussion. Normally, the outer circle of students remain fairly passive, but her technique makes the discussion much more interactive and collaborative for all who are involved. I must confess that I have used a backchannel in my class before (Socrative and Google Docs are other great alternatives to Today’s Meet), but this particular use never occurred to me.
Even if you do not have enough digital devices to exactly replicate Shannon’s lesson, I encourage you to take a look at the article, which includes a wonderful video of the class in action, as well as examples of comments made on the backchannel. I love the way Shannon introduces the lesson, as well as her encouragement of the students to collaborate by having a short discussion with partners at the half-way mark.
Watching Shannon Hancock inspires me to work harder to make our classroom Socratic Circles more meaningful and deep, whether we use technology or not.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the “Back Channel” during a technology conference. For those of you who have not used this before, it’s basically an online account where audiences can post questions and comments during a presentation instead of interrupting the speaker. Every once in awhile, the speaker can refer to the back channel, and speak to the points brought up by the audience.
Today’s Meet is a common web application used for this purpose. When I tried it a few years ago, it was blocked by my district. There are others (some people use Twitter, Edmodo, or Google Drive) that I’ve tried since then, but I gave up for awhile, frustrated with technical issues I kept encountering. Plus, I don’t really lecture a lot, so it seemed unnecessary.
This time, I decided to use Socrative. Socrative has been a free student response tool that I’ve used for several years, and it never lets me down. There are apps available for the teacher and student, but you can also use the web-based version. I generally use Socrative for exit tickets or quick quizzes ( the students absolutely LOVE the Space Race option!). But there is also a Single Question, Short Answer option that I decided to try out as a Back Channel.
Before the Google Glass presentation, I explained to the students that we would be using Socrative for their questions and comments, and that we would periodically pause to hear our guest’s responses.
I loved how this worked. With a few scheduled pauses, we could glance at the list of questions, and see which ones had already been answered, which ones were common or unique, and address any misconceptions. The only thing I didn’t like was that one student got silly with her comments (and subsequently got her iPad taken away).
I’m planning to start using this for Genius Hour presentations. It seems counterintuitive to have the kids typing while someone is speaking, but it actually appears to keep them more engaged, as most of them are genuinely interested in coming up with good questions and comments. It’s also nice that Socrative allows you to download or e-mail yourself a record of the responses. Copies could be given to the presenters to help them with a reflection about their project.
Socrative has a new 2.0 beta version, which is much more visually appealing here. (I used it when it first came out, but there were a couple of glitches. They have probably been resolved since then, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out recently.
If you plan to try Socrative for the first time, here are a few “housekeeping” tips:
Either download the student app or add a desktop shortcut to the web app on each student device.
Show the students how to access the student page, and to input the room number. Younger students may need help figuring out how to get to the numbers on the keyboard!
Have your students enter just first names or initials when prompted.
If you are doing a Single Question, Short Answer activity for a Back Channel, be sure to choose unlimited Student Responses, and request their names (this provides accountability).
Make sure students log out when the activity is finished, so students who use the device the next time don’t get confused.
Of course, not every classroom has one to one devices. You can have them pair up, pass a device around at tables, or have recorders who type in questions or comments that students have written down. (This way, all questions/comments can be in the same document, instead of various pieces of paper.) If you are really low on tech, Jared Stevenson (@eduk8r_Jared) mentioned during the #txed Twitter chat last night that he once saw a teacher who used a special spot in the room for students to post their questions.
The point, as always, is to give students a meaningful voice. Socrative is just one way to do this that I’ve found to be very efficient and to enhance our learning.