Sunday, October 16, 2011

Preparing Students for Quality Online Discussions

I believe that it is my responsibility to spend time preparing students before they participate in an online discussion. Just like literature discussion groups in the classroom, I can't assume that just because I put them together in a group to talk about a book, my students will know how to have a meaningful discussion that helps build their understanding.

My goal for my students is that they communicate their ideas through their posts, by elaborating their writing, supporting their thinking with evidence, building on other students' ideas, acknowledging other students' opinions by agreeing or disagreeing,  and displaying courteous online behavior. I want them to understand the difference between online social chatting and discussing online for learning purposes. I want them to write to get their messages across and seek to understand what others are saying. And I want them to see how listening to and responding to others ideas impacts their own thinking.

Ranking Discussion Responses
I begin with a lesson called "What Makes a Good Online Discussion Response?' I have my students analyze actual threaded discussions with the goal of selecting the posts that they think are the best. For my 4th grade students, I choose 3 questions along with the threaded responses to the question. I divide my class into groups of 3. Their task is to choose 3 responses to each question that they believe are the best and rank them, with #1 being the best. Then, they are to take all of the #1 responses and decide which one was the best of all. I give them this team task sheet, which outlines the steps to take, including choosing someone to be the writer, the reader, and the task manager. We first do one together and they complete the other two in their teams.

After they finish that task, they  turn in their top responses to me. I conclude this lesson by asking my students do a self-reflection on an index card. 1. What did your group do well? 2. How could your group improve? 3. What did you do well? 3. What could you improve? I also ask for volunteers to share if they would like to acknowledge anyone in their group who they felt was a good team mate and why.

Determining the Criteria
The second day I post the selected #1 responses on the SMARTboard. I asked my students to explain why they thought the winning responses deserved #1. What made them so good? As they share, I list their ideas around the responses. Then, together we create a list entitled "Quality Responses". They copy those into their technology books (little essay books where they keep technology related directions and passwords). Here is the list that they came up with this year:

The Online Discussion Challenge!
Next, I present The Online Discussion Challenge! I tell students that they have 3 challenges that they need to pass before they can actually discuss online with other classrooms. First, I walk them through how to sign up and use Edmodo.  They write down directions in their Technology books. Then, I explain their first Online Discussion Challenge.  Their job is to write quality responses to 2 or more of the 4 questions that I had posted about a book that we are reading.

After students log into Edmodo, they begin the first challenge. After they completed 2 or more posts, they bring their technology book to me and read a book while I check their responses. If they pass the challenge, I put a little sticker next to You Passed the Challenge! If they do not pass the challenge, that is if their responses are lacking all the needed criteria to make the posts Quality, I call them over and give feedback about what they can do to revise or edit the posts, making them quality responses.

The second challenge is to respond to 2 other people's responses. I model how to agree or disagree with another person, explaining why you feel that way. We look at some posts and think about questions that they we might ask the author of the post, seeking clarification or elaboration of ideas. My students move onto challenge 2 and again bring their technology books to me as I check their responses before they move on to the final challenge.

The final challenge is to show emotion in a post using word or symbols. We compare real time discussion with online discussion and how in real time you show your emotions through body language as well as words. We look at the ways our message could come across with the wrong emotion if we use capitals, meaning we are shouting, or if we use certain language.

Once my students pass all 3 challenges, they are ready to discuss online. In this case, we have been reading the Global Read Aloud and we have a Skype partner classroom that has been getting ready to discuss on Edmodo, too. Although we've been practicing by discussing the book with our classmates, the real thing happens this Thursday when both classrooms get on Edmodo the same time. I can't wait!

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