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May 12, 2009

Engage Student Discussion: Use the Social Network in Your Classroom

Watch a typical whole group discussion in the classroom and you'll most likely see a "hub / spokes" flow of information. Teacher to student A and back to teacher. Teacher to student B and back to teacher. So it goes as the "bluebirds" get to show how smart they are. 

Over time, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until "approved" by the teacher. That's because in this style of discussion the teacher is most likely searching for specific replies - sort of playing "guess what I'm thinking" with the "best" students in the class.

Students tend not to listen to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates - "will that be up on a test?" When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer   comments are valued - "what are you doing this weekend?" Often teachers then conclude that small group discussion doesn't work.

In my workshops I train teachers in discussion techniques that foster student reflection and interaction. The strategies are focused on getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging student-centered dialogue. 

With practice, teachers find that students are eager to engage and participate. We know they want to contribute, because outside the classroom, students are flocking to social networks to share their thinking with one another. It's unfortunate that our students can't be part of the (offline) social network sitting beside them in class.

While students don't need classroom computers to be part of an engaging discussion, technology can be a catalyst to foster engagement. I was interested to see the following video of The Twitter Experiment - Bring Twitter to the Classroom at UT Dallas.

"UT Dallas History Professor Dr. Monica Rankin, wanted to know how she could reach and include more students in the class discussion. She had heard of Twitter... The following is a short video describing her "Twitter Experiment" in the classroom with comments from students about the pros and cons of Twitter in a traditional learning environment." (Filmed by UT grad student kesmit3.) Link to notes on the experiment.


BTW - I found this video via my Twitter network. Follow  @monicarankin  @kesmit3 

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Been running a series on Twitter being used in the high school classroom all week. Check it out: www.teachpaperless.com

I mentioned before my involvement with Socratic Seminars. In trainings we often spoke of the limitation of the one-to-one-to-one discussion model requiring all comments to filter through the teacher. That is why the circle was preferred as not only allowing but encouraging students to talk to each other. I've yet to enter the world of Twitter, but I'm encouraged by your entry. Thanks, again. I'll be sure to send the link to your blog to my colleagues....Randy

Shelly, Sorry I missed your live Twitter feed. Be sure to DM me @edteck if you do it again.

Re: Socratic seminars - guess the Greeks used them pre-Twitter!
I used to teach AP US and Comparative Gov't in seminar. One week, one product, one seminar to share it. And little, if any lecture. My roles was to design the task, assist students (as needed) in prep, and sit back during the seminar and observe.
The kids scored great on AP exam. More importantly they discovered themselves as learners. Plus I was able to extend AP success to a broader range of students.

Re: Twitter - Follow me when you get going. I can introduce you to my "followers."

Peter,

Thanks for the blog mention. This was a wonderful experiment and exciting project to work on with Dr. Rankin. I hope more teaching professionals and educators of all kind are as open and willing as Dr. Rankin is to try something new.

Kim

Kim,
It's wonderful to see student and teacher collaboration. We all have so much to learn from one another. Keep up your great work!
Peter

Peter - very interesting post. I have been searching for how I can use twitter for my pre-AP World History class. This gives me lots of ideas.

Someday when all students have laptops (instead of textbooks; they will be cheaper at some point than 7 textbooks) this would be ideal. But, I am thinking that there will be certain activities where this would work wonderfully with our laptop cart in my classroom.

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