This summer the entire HSE administrative staff participated in a 2 day workshop titled “Undoing Racism.” For two days all of the central office administrators, principals, assistant principals, and deans sat in a large circle talking about some pretty heavy topics. Several times things came to mind about the discussion, but I found it hard at times to share that thinking with everyone in the room. I didn’t want to be judged. My own insecurities prevented me from actively participating in the discussion at times.
In your classroom, there are students who are actively engaged in your lessons, who have ideas that could be beneficial to all in the room, but for whatever reason they are afraid to speak up. Using a backchannel during your class (especially a lesson that is heavy on direct instruction, or possibly during a video in class) could serve a couple of purposes. A backchannel could allow students to share thinking while they are receiving information, it allows more students the opportunity to share their responses (those times when you can’t call on all the hands that go up – just have them all enter share their response in your backchannel), and a backchannel could even be used for a quick check formative assessment to see where kids are in the middle of a lesson (ask a question, tell kids to type in an answer but wait for your instruction to post, and then have them all post at one time).
Sites such as TodaysMeet.com can allow us to set up a place for our students to go where their voices can be heard, but they don’t have to worry about being singled out or having everyone watch them. Everyone gets to have a voice. And it only takes a moment to set up a room (that you can leave open for the entire school year).
Have you tried a backchannel in your classroom? What went well? What were some of the struggles? If you’ve never tried it before, start small. Have students pose questions or connections while watching a video so that you can more easily monitor the discussion.