Recently I came across an article in a blog post by Larry Cuban in “Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice”. He had the opportunity to observe a 7th-grade teacher, John DiCosmo, as he conducted a class on John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”. John began the class by using a back channel called Padlet. He elicited responses from his students to the following questions: “What would you do if you found a treasure of millions, in cash, free and clear? How would your life change?” A back channel is net-worked or online chat software that allows participants in a classroom or workshop to carry on a secondary chat exchange while the primary instructor conducts the discussion. In this case, the students respond to the question anonymously as a stimulus for conversation. The question is a very appropriate way to start talking about the “The Pearl” as the novella is about the ramifications of the discovery of a potentially very valuable pearl. The student posts can be projected on a white board or smart board. They can also be mirrored onto a TV using a tool such as Apple TV. This article is about a 7th-grade classroom but the back channel technique could be used on other levels as well. Padlet allows the student to write a response and they can drag in images, videos, and other files. Mr. DiCosmo also created a video book trailer using fellow staff members to play the primary characters from the book. What a fun way to show the students what would be expected when they make their own book trailers!
Other back channel possibilities are Twitter, TodaysMeet, and Socrative. I have used TodaysMeet in a number of workshops both as a participant and as an instructor. It is very easy to use. Whichever software you choose, back channels are a great way to elicit real-time responses from your students. It can be particularly effective with students who might be reticent to speak in class