Friday, June 20, 2014

Chatting with Students: The New Form of Raising Your Hand

I used to be slightly afraid of technology.  Not of technology itself.  After all, I grew up on technology.  I hardly remember not having a cell phone.  I was afraid of the trouble it could get me into.  There are so many things that can go wrong with technology in the classroom.  The least frightening, it just doesn't work.  The most frightening, students writing something inappropriate online directed at myself or another student.

Recently I stopped giving into the fear and decided to embrace technology.  I'm currently obsessed with using Google Documents in my classroom.  I have the students open up a document, share it with me, and give me commenting rights.  I do this for two reasons:

(1) I can see what they're writing about.  I don't have to constantly walk around the room looking over their shoulders.  Instead, I look over their shoulders from the comfort of my own seat.  I'm not lazy but it is way easier.  Plus there isn't that frantic switching of tabs when I walk around.  Now, I can watch them type like a stream-of-conscience.

(2) The chat feature is amazing.  About 1-2 paragraphs into their writing, I start asking them questions.  I will either write it in the chat box or directly comment on the essay.  However, it's not my questions that I love.  I love that they respond back with their own questions.  I really enjoy seeing the tab of their page blinking.  There's a nice little inquisitive question just waiting for me to unwrap.  

Using the chat feature on Google Docs allows students to ask me question without having to raise their hand and embarrassingly call me over.  Even better, I can put links in the chat box to direct them to webpages that will help them specifically with the problem that they're having.  For example, a student of mine couldn't figure out how to get started.  I let him brainstorm for about 5-10 minutes before I asked him how his progress was going.  He was honest and said not well.  So I sent him a link to a page talking about summaries.  I also created a sentence frame for him and typed it directly in his document.  It was instant differentiation without having to prepare.  I saw the problem and I helped him address it.  Later on, I asked him how he was progressing and he wrote back that he was doing much better.  He never had to raise his hand.  He never had to call me over. 

The fact of the matter is, sometimes students don't ask questions because they're embarrassed or there is too much rig-a-ma-role (is that how you spell it??).  Using the chat feature allows us to help students by eliminating both of those steps.  I implore you to try this in your class.  If you feel the need, set some ground rules.  Your students will love the opportunity to connect with you without... well, connecting with you.