Friday, March 28, 2014

Back Channeling in the Primary Grades

If you've attended a professional development session in the past year or two you'll notice that more and more presenters and participants are utilizing a back channel to share learning.  A back channel is a space to share real time learning.  Often it's a conference or session hashtag on twitter, or a shared Google Drive document, or a room in Today's Meet, or the comments section in a Google Hang Out.  Back channels happen in real time and highlight key learning  shared by the speaker or presenter.  For those that are able to be in the session, it's a great way to collect personal thinking and it's also a place to refer back to.  For those that are not able to be in the session it's a great way to learn from those that were in a session.  Back channeling has may positive benefits.

Like most new things I'm discovering on my learning journey, I try, when possible to make it something my young learners can do too.  To no surprise back channeling is one of those things.

Often when we watch a live webinar, or a video I encourage my students to take notes of the important information being shared.  My grade one students have back channeled in three different ways.  Let me explain how.

Using a White Board to Back Channel

Last year we watched a live Discovery Education Webinar on Amphibians.  While watching the webinar my students were asked to recognize and highlight the important facts being shared.  They wrote these important facts on their personal white boards.  Although they were developing writers (aren't we ALL?),  they were able to pull out a lot of important information, in their own words.  As my students were listening, watching, and writing I was able to see (in real time) what they were learning from the webinar.

 After the webinar my students and I reviewed what we felt were the important details of the webinar. Many of my students also blogged about what they learned on their individual blogs.  It was successful back channelling at the most basic level.   In fact a week later we shared what we learned with Mrs. Cassidy's class and my students had remembered many interesting and important facts.

Using Today's Meet to Back Channel

*Note it has recently come to my attention that you must be 13 years old to use Today's Meet. Obviously my students are not 13 so as fantastic as this is as a site for back channeling my students will no longer be using it.

Just before spring break we watched a Discovery Education video on salmon and we used Today's Meet as our tool for back channelling.  Today's Meet allows you to set up a "some what" private room to share thinking and ideas.  I say "some what" private because anyone who has the link can enter the room but as the creator of the room you can decide how you want to name your room.  You also decide who you want to share it with. In the case of our salmon back channelling I named the room Div19Salmon. I quickly created a QR code that helped my students access the room independently.  Before the movie began we added what we already thought we knew about salmon, and what we were curious to learn more about.  As the movie was on we added important facts and information that was being shared.

Once the movie was over we were able to review the information we had learned and shared.  As a class we took this a step further by creating a class book with our knowledge which we shared with the world. You can read more about the salmon learning and read our complete transcript here and you can find a link to the book we created here

Using Twitter to Back Channel

Over the past few years my students and I have used twitter as a tool for learning.  More specifically we have used twitter  for back channeling.  Just like adults who attend professional learning conferences, children can also create hashtags to share information.  Late last school year we took part in another Discovery Education live webinar about an aboriginal community in Canada.  As we watched the webinar my class and Mrs. Cassidy's class tweeted to the hashtag in real time to share our learning.  We used the back channel to ask questions, and to reflect on what we were watching.  The cool thing was that the hashtag was shared with all the classes watching the webinar and so many others were contributing to the hashtag just like in a "real" conference.  

So you see there are many different ways that young learners can back channel as they are learning too.  If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to give it a try with your students.


  1. Karen,
    This is a terrific idea for easing into back channelling. I'm looking forward to giving the dry erase boards a try when we return from break. I have done something similar with post-its, but the size doesn't lend itself to easy sharing. I'm thinking I might try the dry erase and then give Today's Meet a try. It's great the way you've connected the dry-erase to the more interactive collaborative social media tools. It's time to dive in.

    Thanks for the advice,

  2. Thank you Cathy. I'm glad you've found it helpful. Dive away! I'm eager to hear how it works are for you.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and ideas, Karen! You are such a great model for other primary teachers who want to start integrating tech in powerful ways into their classrooms. I have been teaching some pre-service teachers in an ed tech elective (they finish their program at the end of this week and complete their B.Ed.!) and one of the questions many of them have asked is, "How do we use tech with primary". I am so grateful to people such as yourself and Kathy Cassidy for sharing what you're doing! Timely, innovative, and inspirational!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Tracy. I'm always up for sharing what is possible with young learners. Every day they continue to inspire me.