Twitter Chat + Socratic Circles

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A few weeks ago we co-facilitated write-around text on text conversations with Emily Russell’s Language Arts classes in the library.  The activity was such a hit with students and Ms. Russell that we decided to take our collaboration to the next level by combining a Twitter chat with Socratic circle discussions as the culminating conversation for the reading of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  I shared Ellen Hampton Filgo’s write-up of her experience as an embedded librarian via Twitter with Emily and Jennifer Lund, my co-librarian; we all felt this would be another great medium for “written” conversations.  Because she had been using Socratic circle discussions with her classes since August, Emily asked if we could combine the Twitter element with this method of class discussion. We all felt this would be a wonderful medium for incorporating a Twitter chat into the classroom.  After some date shuffling due to winter weather, we scheduled Friday, February 7 as the big day to debut this activity with our students.

We visited Emily’s classes the day before the chat to introduce the concept of a Twitter chat, share examples of real world Twitter chats, and then discussed Twitter chat manners/etiquette for constructive conversations.  We also reviewed the hashtags that Emily had developed for each class period since we wanted to capture each discussion with Storify.  Emily then reviewed Socratic circle protocols and explained how that would blend with the Twitter conversations.   Students prepared questions for the discussion by sharing their lines of inquiry via notecard with Emily, and these became the springboard of initial discussions to spark conversation and additional question the following day in class.

To accommodate students who did not have a smartphone or who did not comfortable using Twitter, we offered a couple of alternatives way of participating in the virtual discussion:

1.  Jennifer and I brought about 5 extra laptops to the room, and students could elect to use the laptops to Tweet with their own Twitter account.

2.  For students who did not want to use Twitter, we originally planned to have them pass us their questions via an index card.  However, we forgot that Emily has a set of mini-whiteboards that students use in class, so we had students write their initials and questions  or comments on the whiteboards.  When they were ready to “Tweet”, students held up their whiteboard, and either Jennifer or I acted as a scribe Tweeting their question or comment on their behalf along with their initials.

Emily had planned ahead of time which students would be in the initial inner circle; we posted this information on the whiteboard via a PowerPoint slide to help students get seated quickly.   Emily took  a few minutes to review the procedures for the day and to answer any last minute questions.  She also reminded students to show love for each other by helping classmates who might be struggling to jump into the conversation by asking them a direct question to give them a gentle entry point into the discussion.  Jennifer and I were in the room each period to actively participate in the Twitter chat to scribe Tweets for our “unplugged” students, to share resources of relevance to each class discussion in a responsive manner, and to interact with students in the back channel while photographing each class discussion.   I also wanted to project a real-time stream of Tweets so that all students could see the Twitter conversation in progress on the whiteboard.  Initially, I began by using TweetChat, but after one class, there seemed to be technical difficulties with the site, so I switched to tchat,io.  This alternative turned out to be a great choice, and I highly recommend it if you want a quick and easy way to follow a Twitter chat.

Much like the write-around text on text, there was an arc of energy building with the conversation both in the Socratic circles as well as the Twitter back channel.   Overall, each class felt energetic and engaged!  We were also excited that fellow Language Arts teacher and collaborative partner Darrell Cicchetti and two assistant principals came to observe what was happening—the adults were just as jazzed as the students!  One of the most interesting observations was to see students continuing to Tweet comments as they walked out the door.  Jennifer and I were busy the entire period for each class as “embedded librarians”, and in hindsight, it was definitely an advantage to have two of us to help facilitate the Twitter conversations and to help distribute laptops, answer student questions at the beginning of the period on how to follow the hash tag on their smartphones, and to act as scribes for our “unplugged” participants.

I was easily able to capture each class’s chat with Storify and embed those conversations into a LibGuide for this activity. You can also see photo sets for each class for the day on the LibGuide as well.

The following Monday, February 10, Emily collected student feedback—what she calls “glows” and “grows”—from students via notecards as we wanted student feedback and suggestions for the future from each class.  Jennifer took the notecards and compiled these highlights of student reflections:

  • Overwhelmingly, students enjoyed using Twitter (got lots of favorites, loves, fun).
  • “What I liked most about the Twitter chat was how we were able to be on our phones in class, but still related to school. Let’s do this more often!” -6th period student
  • “What I liked about the seminar was the way the class connected. It was fun because the tweeting allowed the class to be involved in an activity that they’re used to.” -2nd period
  • “Likes – being a part of the conversation without having to talk.” -2nd period
  • “The tweeting was also very academic because we were able to tweet when we weren’t in the inner circle. We should definitely do that again.” – 3rd period
  • “Shy people didn’t have to feel left out because they had the option of tweeting to earn points.” – 6th period
  • “People engaged inside and outside the circle.” – 6th period
  • “I liked the Twitter seminar because everyone was participating and no one was left out. I really did enjoy how when someone was in the inner circle the people that were in the outer circle were resounding to our conversation or giving opinions.” – 6th period
  • “I liked how the outer circle tweeted while the inner circle talked. It made sure that everyone was involved and gave everyone a chance to talk.” – -2nd period
  • “…everyone stated their opinions and disagreed in a respectful way.” – 2nd period
  • “Everybody was into it. It was really intense and good points were brought up. Everyone had something to say.” – 3rd period
  • “I felt that we were teachers on seeing each others’ insight of the Glass Castle. I would let people start off on a topic and let the conversations start.” – 3rd period
  • A few mentioned how fast-paced it was – some thought too fast.
  • “I didn’t like how fast we were moving from topic to topic. We also should have gotten more in depth with it.” – 6th period
  • “Super fun, fast paced; loved hearing and seeing everyones’s thoughts and comments.” – 3rd period
  • “Too fast. I feel like we rushed and there wasn’t enough time.” – 3rd period
  • “One thing I didn’t like was how fast-paced it was and it was kinda hard to read everybody’s tweets.” – 3rd period
  • “I basically loved and enjoyed everything from the desks were set up to how people were still tweeting after the bell rang.” 2nd period
  • “More seminars!” – 2nd period
  • “I would like to do it again. Maybe more than 1 a month. Usually we don’t talk a lot in class but Friday everybody wanted to talk and share their ideas.” – 2nd period

Overall, most of the “grows” comments were related to the oral discussion piece – wanting better questions or more time for discussion, people to speak louder.  We will also definitely think about how to address the concern about the pace of the discussion and strategies to help students adapt to that challenge.  A few were self-reflective in their communication skills; for example, “I will speak up next time” or “I will work on my discussion skills.”  The majority of students mentioned they liked that everyone participated, everyone was actively engaged, and getting to hear other people’s opinions/thoughts.

In closing, I think we all feel like this strategy was successful, and we are already looking forward to incorporating it into Emily’s classes again and hopefully encouraging other teachers in different content areas to try Twitter chats and Socratic circles as well.   Jennifer and I continue to be elated to participate as instructional partners and co-learners with our teacher and students in the library and in the classroom!  We sincerely appreciate our teachers and students being willing to try new strategies and to help us pilot these kinds of literacy practices together.

Initiating Inquiry: Mindmapping and Fishbowl Discussions for Connecting and Building Background Knowledge

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Susan Lester’s 10th Honors World Literature/Composition students recently began a novel study of All Quiet on the Western Front.    Since students knew little about World War I, we gave students the opportunity to choose a World War I topic of interest to them ( a menu was provided but students could come up with their own topics, too) to research.  Susan and I decided to help students dwell in the connecting stage of inquiry by having students mindmap their research and then share those findings in a Fishbowl discussion group.  Using mindmaps that Howard Rheingold’s students created and published as our models, we gave students the choice for the tools and mediums they wanted to use to mindmap the key ideas and findings of their research on their topic.  Most preferred creating their mindmaps with concrete materials like paper and ink, but others like using Word or Bubbl.us.

After our Fishbowl meeting and having time to share our mindmaps last Tuesday, students shared their reflections on the effectiveness of mindmaps as a medium for sharing key ideas and information.

  • Students were generally quite positive about the process and indicated it was helpful in better discerning important information and big ideas as well as organizing that information; this feedback was encouraging since these were challenges students identified in our research  project last semester.
  • Other students shared they felt they were able to initiate and sustain a richer level of participation and engagement as members of their Fishbowls because the mindmap helped them easily remember key ideas they wanted to share and was a quick way to prompt talking points as opposed to looking a written reflection.
  • Several students also indicated they felt creating the mindmap helped them better synthesize and remember the information they were finding in their research.
  • Some students indicated they would enjoy having the option to create a mindmap rather than always writing a narrative reflection for Fishbowl discussions about their novel/book studies.
  • One student shared that the mindmapping helped her feel as though her Fishbowl now had multiple experts on different topics and that the group was able to cover a broader amount of information with more depth; additionally, she thought the mindmap sharing created a different element of fun for the Fishbowl discussion.  She described mindmapping as helping students to create a “3D” perspective about a topic instead of just “brushing the surface with a boring 2D” perspective.

A few students indicated they encountered difficulty in the mindmapping process and in looking at some student mindmaps, we could see others might need some help in the organization of their mindmaps.   For our next mindmapping endeavor, I think I will scaffold their skills by doing a group think and do a group exercise in which we create a mindmap together to help those who are struggling and to grow the skills of those who feel comfortable with that  strategy.  I am also hopeful I can encourage other teachers to try this strategy in other courses and continue to grow my best practices for teaching students mindmapping.

If you are using mindmapping as a tool for building and sharing background knowledge, what strategies or approaches are you taking help students learn this skill and medium?  I encourage teachers, professors, and librarians to share your ideas here in the comments.

Students Creating Conversations for Learning with the Fishbowl

The Inspiration

About a year ago, I was inspired by a blog post, Fishbowl 101″,  that offered an exciting chronicle of how one teacher used this medium for student-centered discussions for student engagement and for building a community of learners using face to face conversations as well as virtual tools for supporting and extending these discussions.   When I initially shared this medium for learning with our faculty last year,  I did not receive any responses, but when I approached  Lisa Kennedy and Susan Lester, two of our English teachers, at the beginning of this academic year about trying the Fishbowl, both eagerly agreed to give it a try to see if it could be a medium for increasing student engagement in the context of content area study.

Context and Purpose for the Fishbowl

Kennedy has just finished incorporating the Fishbowl method into her unit on Romanticism with her Honors American Literature juniors; I’ve embedded her student handout with guidelines for groups, guiding questions she provided the groups, and her rubrics; these materials were based on the document created by Anne and posted from the Learning and Laptops blog entry.

Kennedy Fishbowl Discussion Points System September-October 2011

We have just started using it with Lester’s class to support mixed literature circle/inquiry groups of students who are reading a variety of novels and nonfiction texts.  While I have not had the opportunity to observe Kennedy’s students, I actually had the pleasure of facilitating one of two groups from Lester’s class this past Friday;  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the students and watching them connect ideas as they engaged in conversation.  I was impressed with the way students interacted and the directions they took with the conversation once they relaxed and opened up the discussion.  Below I’ve embedded the initial document Lester and I created together to prepare them in advance of the first Fishbowl meeting that we had this past Friday.

Initial Student Feedback and Future Variations for Extending Fishbowl Talk

The initial student responses from both classes (11th Honors American Literature/Composition and 10th Honors American Literature/Composition) have been favorable, and we are looking closely at student work and feedback to tweak the process.  You can see the initial round of feedback from Kennedy’s students embedded below; Lester’s students will complete their initial responses to our first fishbowl meeting on Tuesday via our class blog.

Kennedy is contemplating incorporating live blogging into the next round of Fishbowl discussions as her students seem to enjoy incorporating visual elements into their conversations and have indicated having an archive of the discussions could be helpful; we’re looking at using CoverItLive or Google Docs as the liveblogging and archiving tool (see the great photo below from Dean Shareski’s photostream).

My cohort that I facilitated in Lester’s class is interested in having a “cohort” blog for extending and sustaining conversations outside of the face to face fishbowl meeting.    Although I would be the administrator of these blogs, the two cohort blogs for Lester’s class would be set up so that students could take ownership of initiating discussion threads and moderating the discussions.   I hope to have more to share about these spaces for learning for both course sections  in the upcoming weeks.

Challenge:  The Tension of Teacher Directed Discussion and Student Generated Discourse

One of the initial major challenges I’ve observed/experienced in helping facilitate the classes from a planning standpoint and from personal observation is the tension between a desire to scaffold students’ conversation in an effort to “guide” them to a meaningful conversation and the desire to give students more ownership of the discussions (in terms of content, questions, talking points) is one that is not always easy to negotiate.  In my research on incorporating the Fishbowl method as a part of classroom discourse, I discovered this challenge  is not unique.   There is a fine line between “coaching” and modeling for students and not leaving enough openness for authentic discussion.    As some of my colleagues on Twitter also pointed out, we as teachers sometimes find it difficult to let go and let students learn from failure and/or missteps as they learn by doing.   This challenge is one I hope to further explore  with Kennedy and Lester as we try to “let go” and make our instruction and approach to learning more student-led and inquiry driven.

Your Experiences?

If you have been or are using the Fishbowl for class discussions and networked learning, I’d love to hear about what is working for your students and any insights you could share from your experiences.   If you have resources to recommend for my resource list on the Fishbowl, I welcome your suggestions.