Back Channeling With Six and Seven Year Olds

I’m not much of a movie-showing kind of teacher. When I first began teaching, I knew a teacher who showed reel-to-reel movies every afternoon.  I didn’t understand that. For me to show video in my classroom, there needs to be a very clear curricular reason and it has to tie in directly with what we are presently learning. It also has to be the best way for my students to learn something.  I sometimes show videos from our Discovery Education account to introduce or clarify concepts for students, but full-length movies rarely happen. This week was one of those uncommon occasions.

Back ChannelingWe have just finished a unit about fairy tales and I decided to show the students a fairy tale they were not familiar with to see if they could identify the characteristics of fairy tales in a non-book format. I also wanted them to look for some of the viewing elements from our curriculum such as colour, shape, size, movement etc.

In the past, I have tried showing a movie and stopping it frequently to allow students to reflect on what they have seen. The students don’t really enjoy this, as it interrupts the flow of the story. (“Can’t we watch it all first?”) But, if I wait until the end, the students have forgotten much of what they have seen. The reflective moments have passed.

This time, I decided to try back channelling. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to using an online connection to share your thoughts and have a conversation during a lecture or presentation of some kind. I wondered if this would be a better option for my students than what I had done before. Since each of my students have their own iPad, I decided to let them tweet during the movie, using our Twitter feed as a back channel. The children had never heard the term back channeling before, but I explained that it was something that people did to help themselves to be better listeners and to show what they were learning. They could tweet their learning as they watched. The students couldn’t believe their luck. An entire movie with their iPad in front of them.  (“We NEVER get to watch movies,” said one of the students who is in my class for the second year, his voice full of wonder.) This was clearly going to be awesome.

The students are all used to tweeting on our classroom Twitter account, so there was a strong comfort level with this process. Before we began, I reviewed with them the characteristics of fairy tales from the anchor chart we had made together. We also looked at our anchor charts for viewing.  The students knew that we would need a hashtag (we’ve made them before) and quickly thought of one, #fairytales13. We tested to make sure no one else was using it and we were ready to go.

I knew there would be a lot of tweets , so before we started, I typed a quick tweet to warn anyone who follows my class of this and we began. The students tweeted out fairy tale characteristics that they noticed

And then moved on to some viewing elements.

After the students left for the day, I aggregated their tweets together using Storify. I now had a record of all of the tweets from that event for reflection and for assessment purposes.

It was interesting to watch my students through this process. They all wanted to share what they saw by tweeting (and did!). Some spent a lot of time thinking as they wrote their thoughts and others were very confident, sharing many tweets. Some students were so caught up in the visual display that they had difficulty taking the time to finish their tweets. Some shared many brief snippets while others put several observations into each tweet. (Frankly, this all reminded me of the various adult personalities I see tweeting during a keynote at an educational technology conference.) Many of them scrolled through the tweets of their peers, commenting aloud to each other about similarities and about the ideas other students had had.

I had seen other teachers back channel with young students before and we had done a whiteboard version together last fall, but for various reasons we had never done it using our iPads. Throughout this viewing experience, I watched as my students listened, watched, reflected, wrote and read together. They were supporting each other as they were learning and they were all able to clearly show what their learning was. Our first back channeling experience was a success.

Will we do it again? Absolutely!

15 thoughts on “Back Channeling With Six and Seven Year Olds

  1. Hi, Are there other ways you can do the connections if you don’t have access to the ipads? I like the idea of recording the connections as they happen. Would it work to have someone scribe on laptop or use sticky notes, or would this be too distracting? I would love to try to do something like you describe.

    Charlene/Diamond Mom

    1. I think the sticky notes are a fantastic idea for a low tech solution. The only downside is it’s less social because they can’t really share with everyone each time they make a comment. But it still gives them an opportunity to share their understanding and reflection as it happens.

  2. Wow! Just wow! I am so amazed by this idea and how the kids handled it that I don’t have words. This will be going on my list of things to try in the future. I never show movies, either, but do use short videos from Discovery, too – maybe we could try it there. I also feel like this will be the reason that pushes me to finally create a class Twitter account. Thanks for sharing!

    1. That would be awesome! Let me know. Maybe we can watch the same Discovery video and tweet at the same time. That would be fun. I bet we could get others to join us.

  3. If you didn’t have access to twitter you could maybe use wallwisher, or an Edmodo wall! I love the concept. I have done something similar with year 12 students so as not to interrupt the ‘flow’ but to allow a way for students to ask questions and clarify things.

    1. Good point. Yes, there are lots of alternatives that could be used. I used Twitter because my students were all comfortable with it and that would be one less hurdle.

  4. A fabulous example of using Social Media to enhance learning in the Primary Classroom. Thank you for sharing! I am going to retweet this webpage AND share it with the students in Masters subject ‘Social Networking for Information Professionals.’ What a great example!

  5. I love the idea of back channelling during a movie. We back channel during mystery Skype or regular Skype calls. We use (old wall wisher). I think we will back channel during our Bill Nye Magnetism video tomorrow. Thank you for sharing a great idea.

  6. What a wonderful idea! My class just started following your class (@JenYoungTeach), so we must have missed these posts! I have used to do a similar thing while I read a book. Students were on laptops and putting “post-its” on the board with their thoughts as I read. is also very simple to use. I am curious about how you use twitter with your students. I do not have ipads, but I’m assuming they are already logged on to your account on twitter, so it makes it easy for them to tweet. I’m not sure it would be as easy for my students to do from laptops, since they would have to log on to twitter each time. It is definitely something for me to try!

  7. Divide students in small groups and distribute easy-to-read fairy tales to each group. Have students work as a team to record the characters, setting, and typical plot elements that they find in their fairy tales. You may wish to do this activity several times, with groups focusing only on character one day, only on setting another day, and only on plot on a third day.

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