A Silent Discussion with iMessage

Today I did an experiment in grade five. We held a silent discussion using iMessage. A silent discussion you say? Yes, everyone was “talking” but all 3 locations that students were at were quiet with only the sounds of typing happening.  So let me back up and explain.

Last week I introduced the idea of using an instant message program to have a silent discussion. I explained to the kids that we would be using an instant message system to do this. We would all be “talking” at the same time in an instant message about a question that was asked.  I asked them to help me brainstorm expectations for behavior. I used these to help created the rules for the discussion that appeared on the rubric that we will be assessing them on.

Rules for Discussion:

  1. Be Appropriate
  2. Use VCOP
  3. Reread what you have typed before you send it
  4. No Emojis
  5. Stay on Topic

I then explained how the discussion would work. I based the technique on Twitter chats that I have participated in. So questions would begin with “Q1, Q2, etc” and answers would begin with “A1, A2, etc.” The questions would come from me, but students were told that they could ask questions if they thought of any. 

Then we practiced with some very basic questions. I had originally planned this using Google Hangouts within the Google Apps for Education (GAFE), but that feature is not very well developed and it made the chatting hard to follow and not visually easy. So before I introduced the concept to my third grade five I decided to switch to iMessage. This also allowed students to use their iPads instead of laptops and desktops which were going to be more of a logistics issue.  

After the practicing I arranged to be in the same building with the teachers. I added all of the students to my contacts and put them into contact groups (only missing 3). The students came in this morning and immediately got onto their iPads and ready to participate.  We had about 3 minutes of technical sorting that needed to be done at the beginning to get everyone sorted and then we began. 

Q1: Why should you not judge a book by it’s cover?

 The students who are in EAL were with their EAL teachers during the discussion so that they could talk their time and have some assistance if needed with answering the questions. I wanted them to feel comfortable talking to someone to ask questions. 

One of the things that Cerys pointed out, when we were learning about what to do, was that in a normal discussion if the teacher moves on to the next question you can’t give you answer to a previous one. That is one of the reasons I wanted to trial this. I wanted to see if it would help those students who need more time to process, participate in a discussion. Also allow those students who prefer to not talk, participate. 

Q4: How can you show that you are a good friend when you are a shy person? Or if you aren’t a shy person- How could you help a shy person become a good friend?

You may notice the students started putting their names in their answers. This is because on of the teachers pointed out that it was hard to tell who was answering. While I have the students in my contact lists, they appear named on my screen but if the aren’t in your contact list it just shows their email address which can be hard to figure out. 

One of the things that I have noticed is that because this is their first time doing this many students were not able to do much more than read the question and type their answer. Following other people’s answers or building on them happened a few times but not as much as it does with adults. I am curious to see how long that might take grade five to begin to do this.  It might not every happen but the potential is there.  I think as well this could be done better if the discussion were happening more slowly.  I am sure that some students found the speed quick for answering and then felt that they didn’t have time to go back and read what other students had written.

Another reason that iMessage worked better is that I was able to print the conversation out from my computer. Now I can add the conversation to their rubric and reflection for the students to put into their portfolio. I was thrilled with the way this lesson went and I look forward to trying it in other grades and with other subject areas.  I really hope that the teachers could see the potential of having occasional class discussions this way. 

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