In the virtual version of TLAC Towers we’re planning a new workshop on Checking for Understanding Online and so have been studying footage of teachers with strong dynamic online classrooms, looking for exemplars. At a meeting last week Jasmine Lane presented video of a reading lesson taught by Rachel Harley at Nashville Classical Charter School and the whole team pretty much went crazy for it. Jasmine wrote this post describing some of the things we loved and a new term we’ve been using.
On a normal day in the classroom with everything going perfectly, attention and focus are hard to manage, but the shift to online learning makes this challenge doubly difficult. One way many educators have engaged students is to ask them type and send responses in the chat. This approach, while useful, notably has its own drawbacks. In a brick and mortar classroom, we might give students a specific turn-and-talk task with a single partner, but by asking them to read responses in the chat, we’ve essentially paired students with 28 others and have asked them to skim a stream of responses. While all students have the opportunity to share their thinking in this manner, the follow up step can result in information overload for both teacher and student. Rachel Harley, a 5th grade teacher from Nashville Classical Academy, has given us a few ideas to address this challenge.
Here’s Rachel in Action:
After having just done a read aloud, Rachel gives her students two minutes to type their responses explaining “what just happened” to her in a private message. One might be tempted to narrate while students work to fill the void of silences already longer and awkward, but Rachel does doesn’t talk over their silence, and instead gives students space to think deeply about their work.
Next, notice how Rachel slows the pace of the lesson down. Instead of asking students to skim all of their classmates’ responses and reflect, she intentionally selects a few exemplar responses and transfers them onto the shared screen to begin curating a discussion. Building on this, Rachel reads the exemplar responses and then cold calls a student to extend and further explain their thinking to the class. Sometimes we make it harder on ourselves as teachers and on our students by asking them to respond to an overwhelming stream of data. Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself. You’re on a call and the presenter asks for observations in the chat and suddenly there are 20 answers to try and read.
The chat function makes it possible for use to gather narrative data very rapidly and sometimes it’s too fast for us or our students to give ideas there due. We’ve started calling this idea “velocity of data”. And that’s why we loved Rachel’s moves here. She slows down the velocity of data by selecting just a few comments to share. This encourages processing for meaning rather than skimming for accountability. Through an intentionally curated discussion, Rachel centers student thinking and gives it the attention it deserves.
One big takeaway from Rachel is that while engagement is important, fast and speedy responses aren’t always the best way to check for understanding and clarify misconceptions. No strategy is perfect for every situation, but hopefully Rachel gives you a few examples of what can be done to optimize student voice when attention and time are limited.
If you’d like to learn more, this will also be a topic of discussion in our upcoming Webinar on Checking For Understanding Online. Watch this space for news.