“The Chat” is one of the key tools available to teachers in online… and one of the best tools for building dynamic, active and inclusive learning environments. You might even call it a ‘silver lining’: a small thing that works better online even if the, overall context of online learning is not nearly as good as a real classroom. Using the chat involves asking students to respond to a question in whatever meeting platform you are using. It’s primary benefits are its speed, visibility and simplicity. Students can write without having to open a new window or toggle to a new place so they can be writing withing seconds and you can bring pace and energy to your classes. And students can see that their peers are writing, which reinforces for them the normalcy, even the universality of active participation.
So: A great chat allows you to build participation ratio and to surface ideas worth developing. We say “surface” because it tends not to illicit writing of depth and permanence. It’s a starter that leads to some other activity.
So what does a great chat look like? I’m happy to share two super examples.
First, check out Shelby Daley, a 6th grade English teacher at Uncommon Schools’ Ocean Hill Collegiate:
Shelby is trying to surface ideas in anticipation of a further activity (reading) and to build and value active participation and deep thinking.
Her tone is lovely; so sincere and engaged: “Can you drop your answer in the chat? I’m really curious to see what you’re thinking cause this is so different from how we celebrate birthdays in our community,” she says. “So inviting of student ideas” is how one colleague described her style.
Interestingly she doesn’t resolve the question (yet). The goal is to surface ideas and value reflection and participation so she merely shares a series of students thoughts read lovingly from the chat while telling them (and showing) how interesting she thinks they are.
Cleverly she cuts off the chat after letting students weigh in. This allows her to copy and paste it right then and there so she’ll know later s who actually participated and can follow up with anyone who didn’t, but she’s also thinking about focus and attention. “Scholars love the chat feature so I close it during direct instruction to ensure they are focused,” she told us. She doesn’t want them to love the chat so much that they’re talking to one another all lesson long.
Finally, Shelby transitions from the chat directly into reading and a bit of pencil to paper reflection. This is wonderful. Pencil-to-paper writing is still important, even online, and it’s great opportunity for kids to get to use writing in that format to develop their thoughts privately.
Now here’s her colleague Mika Salazar, a 7th grade science teacher. She’s using the chat for retrieval practice (hooray!) to make sure that students are learning gets encoded in long term memory.
We loved the playful way she made the activity feel fun and like a game show by having students get their fingers ready on the key board. Great narrate the positive to make sure they with her too, by the way.
Similar sunny, upbeat, and engaging tone as to what we saw in Shelby’s room. She narrates the chat back to students too, showing them that she appreciates every answer even when the first question is easy and everyone gets it.
The second question takes it up a notch. First cold calling students to read the question is a great way to make sure they stay engaged, focused and involved. She breaks her question apart into four shorter answers so it feels faster and more lively. Again as soon as students engage actively they can feel the appreciation coming from Mika: “I see those fingers typing. Thank you, Dillon, Thank you Naomi. Excellent Shalimar…”
Then she stretches them a bit. When they all get that A is the crest of the wave she asks them to chat again: “What’s another word I could use for crest.”
We’re two minutes into class and already sailing, the lesson dynamic and engaging and everyone feeling important to the flow of the lesson
Great stuff, Shelby and Mika …. and thanks to you both for sharing