By: Liz Jorgensen

If you are like me, you are taking things one day at a time this school year, trying to keep your head above water as you redesign basically every lesson you have ever taught, and could use all the tech help and suggestions that anyone has to offer.

This past week, I wanted to hold an anticipatory agree-disagree discussion about big ideas for the first book that my students will read this school year. Normally, I have students write down whether they agree or disagree with several statements that relate to the text, and then I do a Philosophical Chairs discussion in which I have different sides of the room represent Agree or Disagree, and the middle represents Neutral. For each question we discuss, I have students move to a side of the room which represents what they chose for that question.

But of course, we can’t be moving around the room and bunching together like sardines around ideological flags on hills because as I told all my students, that spreads The Rona.

Instead of physically moving, I told them that they would digitally move and that we would still discuss the statements.

Padlet

One way to sort of achieve a digital version of Philosophical Chairs is to create a Padlet for the discussion. Choose a Canvas set up for the Padlet so that the posts can be moved anywhere on the open space of the Padlet. I had an Agree note posted on one side, a Disagree note posted on the other, and a Neutral note posted in the middle. I instructed students to create a note with just their name on it and to move it to whichever side they stood on for each question as we discussed it.

For most of my classes, this worked great. It achieved the same purpose of Philosophical Chairs in that it allowed students to see who they were “standing” with, it gave structure to the discussion, and it allowed me to encourage a comment or two from a quieter student if I could see that they had taken a particular stand on an issue.

In my last class, however, the inevitable happened, and a mysterious extra post appeared on the Padlet. At first, it only contained the letter “G,” but that was slowly followed by an “O” and then an “A” and a “T.” I laughed it off that a “GOAT” had magically joined our class, and I told them that in my book, they were certainly all the “Greatest of All Time,” so the title could belong to any one of them. For the rest of class, “GOAT” joined our discussion and moved to different sides of the Padlet as we discussed the ethics of lying, gender equality, race in America, euthanasia, wealth and poverty. I never found out who the guest GOAT was, and I still don’t know because there is no way on Padlet to see who is posting what if they choose a name other than their real name. So for the rest of class, I prayed real hard that either class would end real soon or Jesus would come back so that no words worse than “GOAT” would magically appear on the Padlet. My prayer was answered, and class ended without any extra posts. Hallelujah.

I have seen lots of teachers talk about doing something similar with Google Docs or Google Slides and having students drag boxes with their names to particular sides of the document. However, since all of these venues are a completely open forum, there is no way for teachers to limit how many posts are created by students, what they call their posts, whether students delete posts of themselves or other students, and there would also be no way to tell which student posted something inappropriate if that were to happen. It’s probably fine to use these venues with a really mature or trustworthy class, but that is not the case with every class. Luckily, the extra post that was added to my Padlet was not offensive and was just funny, but I wouldn’t want to get to the point where students felt that they had the power to post truly graphic or inappropriate words or images simply because I had no way of tracing it back to who posted it. Therefore, after my last class ended, I brainstormed what I could possibly do differently, and here is what I think I will use instead next time.

Office Forms

Our school has access to the online Microsoft Office suite. This means that we also have access to Microsoft Forms. Forms has a function in which you can create a form that anyone can answer with a link, but it also has a setting that allows you to automatically collect email addresses of participants with their submissions.

I think that next time, I will create a simple Form that asks, “For the current statement under discussion, how much do you agree or disagree with the statement?” Then I will have as options Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. I will also ask for the name of the student. I will have students resubmit the form every time we change topic to a new question. After students submit, I can very quickly pull an excel doc of the responses and put that up on the board, which would be very similar to having a running Padlet of responses up on the board, except… Their school email address would be attached to it, which I think would highly discourage any student who contemplated trying to derail class by submitting a less than savory “name” for their response.

*****

It’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged this year with all the new demands placed upon us. However, I love that there are still venues like the WVCTE blog which allow us to help each other think of new ways to both engage students in learning and also keep them socially distanced and safe. Hopefully this article helped you think through some ways to engage students in authentic discussion in your classroom using technology that is appropriate for your students.

If you have tried something new and had a “GOAT” experience (or worse!), don’t give up! Hang in there, search for a different technological platform which will better fit the needs of your classroom and your students, and try something new the next time.

And remember that, no matter what, you are working hard to deliver quality instruction to the next generation during an international health crisis. Therefore, you are the real G.O.A.T.

Liz Jorgensen (formerly Keiper) is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @LizJorgenTeach.

WVCTE is wondering…

  1. What are other ways that you have digitally helped raise engagement of your students during discussions?
  2. What are other tech platforms that could work well for assignments like this?

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