Today, students are holding a large group discussion about Their Eyes Were Watching God. They have done this a few times this year. Today, I am adding an online component. This is a bit risky given that access to technology is generally difficult in my school. However, the online component has worked well to support the very shy students who feel terribly self conscious during class discussions. Also, many of my students have their own smartphone that allows them to connect to the internet through their carrier so this makes it possible to circumvent the problems with the school wifi.
I remind students that today, they will be holding a large group discussion following the inner circle/outer circle structure we have used in the past. The structure refers to how I divide the class into two groups of equal size and have each group form an inner circle and an outer circle. The two groups take turns to engage in a discussion. Students in the inner circle hold a discussion for a given amount to time while students in the outer circle listen attentively. Then I have students swap and allow students previously in the outer circle hold a discussion for an equal amount of time. The purpose is twofold. First, the smaller group may encourage more student participation. Second, students in the outer circle get an opportunity to observe a class discussion. This is helpful because they can just focus on what is being discussed without the pressure of having to participate. Also, this gives them an opportunity to listen to the development of certain points that they may want to add to when it is their turn to discuss. Today I am making one significant change: students in the outer circle will listen and have the additional task of commenting online. In this manner, those in the outer circle will participate in the discussion taking place in the inner circle, but they will do so digitally.
I tell students that I am adding an online component today and that they will have to use their smartphone to be able to submit comments online. I ask students to raise their hand if they have a smartphone they can use today. I expect at least half of the class to raise their hand because I took a quick survey at the beginning of the year where I asked students about access to technology, including owning a smartphone, and more than half said they have access to one. I ask students who did not raise their hand to look around because they will be teaming up with one of the students who does have a phone. I explain that each pair will take turns being in the outer circle with the phone discussing online and being in the inner circle discussing in the physical world. I give students time to pair up. It does take time to organize students in this manner. If your school has easy access to technology, this would go much faster.
Once students are in pairs and each pair has access to a smartphone I can explain how to use todaysmeet.com, which is the website I use for online discussions. This is a website that easily allows you to set up a group discussion online. Before class, you have to set up the discussion on the website by "creating a room." This is how you can set up an online discussion on todaysmeet.com. During class, I project this on the board to explain to students how they will be discussing online. This is how I explain to students how to use todaysmeet. I ask students to go ahead and join the discussion by adding their name on the website and to say something like, “I’m joining the discussion.” I give them time to do this and we all watch on the projected image on the board how one by one, students begin to join the discussion. I do this to give students a sense of how this works before we actually begin the discussion. We are now ready to begin the discussion.
We create an inner circle and an outer circle and students take turns discussing. I have a word document set up with a list of their names and I use this during the discussion to track their responses. I created a key to mark the frequency, type and quality of their responses. See key in this document where I track the class discussion. The only instructions I give students before they begin the discussion is to keep in mind that they will be writing an essay about this novel in the near future and that they should use this discussion to help them clarify their ideas. I tell them this in an attempt to give the discussion purpose. I then instruct them to begin the discussion. For this, there are no more directions. I just tell them that someone needs to open the discussion by posing a question, a question they came up with the day before. Someone asks the first question and the discussion begins. As they discuss, I mainly keep my eyes on my laptop and mark their responses on the document I created. I don’t want students to automatically search for my eyes to direct their comments and questions at me instead of at their classmates. If they can’t find my eyes to make contact, they have to turn to their classmates, which is what I want. Once in a while I speak during the discussion. I do this when I feel that my comments or questions will push the discussion forward. For example, if someone said something interesting and it was unnoticed, I will speak up and ask students to respond to the given comment. Also, if certain students are dominating the discussion, I will speak up and remind them that it is important to make room for others to speak.
Because it took quite a bit to set up the groups and get them online, we only had time to give one group a chance to discuss. I let them know that tomorrow, we will be giving the other group an opportunity to discuss in the inner circle and the first group to discuss online.