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Collaboration and discussion for the students who miss out

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If last year showed me anything it is the importance of collaboration and interactive in an ELA course. Moving to the virtual learning was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do as a teacher (and I also think that I am pretty good with technology). The big thing for me was how we were going to be able to cover my final units when students struggled to be engaged (or did I struggle at engaging them???). I truly think that my strength as a teacher is my ability to facilitate classroom discussion and encourage collaborative learning, so when we went online this was definitely a bit of an underwhelming situation for me.

If I could go back in time, there are many things that I would like to do differently. I say “I would like…” because I think that what teachers were asked to do did not necessarily line up with the things that we wanted to do. I also want to add that we were not prepared for how quickly that transition went so we were definitely flying by the seat of our pants a little. With that said, I didn’t even really try to incorporate these elements of collaboration and discussion. And what I did learn is that the students were fully content to just sit quietly behind their screens (or not – if I’m being honest, sometimes I didn’t even know) quietly and just work through their own assignments. No wonder most of my students HATED online learning.

Taking a look at those three core principles definitely made me extremely critical of my own teaching in that environment:

  • idea generating: this is literally brainstorming, to collect the divergent thinking within a group;
  • idea organising: this is where learners compare, analyse and categorise the different ideas previously generated, again through discussion and argument;
  • intellectual convergence: the aim here is to reach a level of intellectual synthesis, understanding and consensus (including agreeing to disagree), usually through the joint construction of some artefact or piece of work, such as an essay or assignment.

Now these are very simple things, and I do it all the time in my face to face classrooms, even though I maybe have never phrased them as such. A great example would be giving each group a different news article, and then having them discuss the articles through different critical lenses. This is very typical for a high school ELA course. But not in the virtual world.

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And here is where I know that past Rob would want to improve. Why not do this? This works so well in the classroom, why can’t it work in the digital world as well. This is a perfect and awesome lesson that you could do in breakout rooms, or in a forum (of course, keeping note of the points for how to develop meaningful online discussion…

So here is my plan…

In my course, I want to implement blended classroom discussions. This year still has not been a fully normal year. I have students who are still staying home and trying to just complete assignments by logging into the course page, finding the assignments, and completing them. This definitely shouts out to me as a correspondence course more than anything. I have this idea…

I want to get these students that are still at home involved in some meaningful discussion with the class. After fiddling around a bit with Jamboard, I thought that I might not have much use for it. But, I wonder if I could maybe do something where students can read articles from home and post some ideas about it. Then some people in class can respond to it. There might even be a Flipgrid possibility here where they can present their ideas, and other students can respond to it. I feel like there are some cool tidbits that we can explore. That examining of news articles through critical lenses thing I was talking about before could easily transfer here. In my head, this sounds like a pretty nifty idea, but I might have to troubleshoot it a bit.

I am building my course in Moodle, and there is definitely a forum function in it, but I am definitely hesitant to do those forums (fully aware of my negative bias against forums here). I also wonder, if this could also be a discussion with the students to see what they would want to do.

We shall see…..


5 thoughts on “Collaboration and discussion for the students who miss out

  1. Hi Rob! I think having different articles for students to work on is a great idea. It reminded me of an online PR project I had several years ago. I think you are right in that the forum on Moodle wouldn’t be a great outlet for it, because of the way discussions are nested.

    Thinking back on my PR project, we were divided into groups and given an item to create an ad campaign (poster, tag line, a commercial script, etc). We were using the forum for brainstorming (brain dump as I call it because we were all posting images, links to videos, words) which was not a great idea because the thread kept getting nested and some ideas got lost in the nesting. While if you were to use a Jamboard or Flipgrid, all of the information will be there for students to see, and it would be easy to categorize as well.


  2. Great idea with using Jamboard or Flipgrid, Rob. I have used Flipgrid and my students really enjoy the tool. We have done blogging in class as well, but Flipgrid offers a more interactive use that might be ideal for your students working from home – would give them a chance to speak with other classmates rather than just communicating with blogging/text. Great post. Love the ideas. Have a great break!


  3. Part of being a great teacher, is being able to look back on what you have done on the past, reflect on what you could have done different and then take active steps to make changes going forward. I think it is great that you are reflecting on your past teaching and how you could change things with your new knowledge about online learning and communication. You have great energy, and I enjoyed reading your post.

    I am also using Moodl, it is all very new to me, so I am glad that there are other people using it as well.


  4. Rob,

    I only just got around to reading your post now – I can relate! Though the high school world is something far different than elementary, class discussions are important and effective at all ages. Reminiscing on when you were my coop, I remember how you were able to engage students and facilitate discussions. Not only did you pique student’s interest through discussion, but you were also able to build relationships. The loss of in person discussions was huge during online learning and I’m not sure that I was able to find anything that was really a good substitute at the grade 5 level. When students aren’t as mature, experienced or tech savvy… it is hard to find a meaningful replacement.


  5. Hey Rob, great post! I really appreciated your honesty about your initial digital learning experience. I also empathize with your notion of how the pandemic created sudden parameters on digital learning that didn’t translate to effective policy, and felt limiting as an educator.
    The three core principles you identified also resonated with me. They seem like a very logical/sequential plan for great learning, and I think it’s a neat lens to view digital learning through. I will keep these principles in mind while finishing up my second module. Thanks for sharing.


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