Keeping Track of the Conversation

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?





  1. Nice post, Dr. Greenlinger. I did some work earlier this year where I tracked a series of student-led conversations. I found that between 38% to 60% of the class participated in the conversation. I have been using the discussion board conversation feature in Zaption to check for student understanding. This data helps me understand who “gets it” and who needs “more support.” It’s not quite the same as listening, but it’s close.

    1. Thanks, Dr. Petri. I think the important thing for a teacher of a social, collaborative, and interdependent classroom to do is to make an effort to measure learning in real time, not just at the end.

  2. Conversation is a private affair. Even if students are in the class, and discussing learning. Until they voluntarily invite the teacher to participate. A teacher needs to consider their discussions as a matter of privacy.

    “How does the teacher hear conversations without altering those conversations with her presence.” The thought is disturbing at first glance itself. It’s equivalent to tracking personal talk.

    In our quest to improve instruction, we should not forget the intent – learning. Learning is and will remain a private affair. Classroom conversations (unguided) are student’s instrument to imbibe our instruction. Wiring it up is like listening to them talk.

    This experiment can achieve perfect results only if students are wired up without their knowledge. The moment students realize that the teacher is listening to their talk – either the teacher would loose credibility, else the quality of learning would take a blow.

    Good teachers, even if they are endowed with perfect ears, tend to ignore the chit-chat of the class. Yes, they use it to mark the learning temperature of the classroom. But as per as personal conversations are concerned- they ignore it. (Except for the cases, when they carry an evidence of bullying).

    There is another logic. Students – if they fail to understand the concept – are prompted to ask the teacher. The activity helps build confidence. And, it helps them imbibe the concept.

    The interruptions, are necessary. It acts as a trigger for the brain. Students become alert, they interact, again, it helps imbibe the concept.

    What’s ur say?

    1. I think the line that I don’t see eye to eye with you the most is “learning is a private affair.” Nothing could be further from the truth in today’s classroom. Learning is collaborative, social, and interdependent. Learning is no longer the sole responsibility of the teacher. The classroom of the past was filled with chit chat for teachers to ignore. Today’s classroom is geared toward a more diverse type and pace of learning for students, and for teachers to have a an accurate gauge of the real time learning, they need to be able to hear what students are saying to each other.

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