In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations about the way the classroom is changing, and how this change is based on the way that the teacher now interacts with his students. One of the most important changes is based on the move away from whole class instruction/lecture towards collaborative thinking and working. In the classroom of old, it was fairly easy for the teacher to manage the conversations taking place and thus hear what students discussed. As the classroom moves away from a single speaker environment, how do teachers keep track of the conversations taking place in their classrooms; online and face to face?
The first conversation I had about keeping track of conversations was with a vendor. We were discussing the challenges faced by the teacher in a 1:1 classroom. When the expectation is that students are working collaboratively, sometimes asynchronously, how can a teacher keep track of the conversations between students? It’s in these conversations that a teacher can glean a great deal of information about student understanding. With a view of these conversations, teachers can intervene and reteach or clarify. The teacher can see the direction of student work and offer guidance or point out resources. However, most teachers do not have a tool to track these conversations, and the important insight into student learning is lost. What teachers need is a quick, searchable, savable, and integrated forum for students to chat and hold discussions. Otherwise, a vast majority of student thought is lost to the ether.
The second impact of the changing classroom on a teacher’s ability to track conversations is in the “new” classroom, where centers and small group instruction are gaining an ever greater role. As the teacher instructs small groups in one corner of the room, how does hear the “read to others” in a Daily 5 class, or hear one student give feedback to another on a piece of writing? In a STEM lab or makerspace, how does the teacher hear conversations without altering those conversations with her presence? Thinking about this pair, would you want to interrupt whatever is going on? No! You want to hear what they are discussing, and examine the source of their wonder. What you DON’T want to do is stop their work.
The physical limitations of the human ear require the teacher to get out of her seat- thus disrupting the small group instruction- and move around the classroom, thereby interrupting whatever learning is taking place in the other areas of the classroom. Even the best managed classroom and the most honed teaching strategies can’t help a teacher hear conversations from across the room. In a loud, collaborative classroom, teachers need a way to hear all of the conversations taking place in a way that does not influence the content of the conversations.
A question for you: How do you keep track of student learning as demonstrated by student conversations?