Recently, I’ve run across the mention of backchanneling a lot in my little education-blog-twitter world. (Here and here) Prior to today, I really had no idea what it meant.

I decided to do some research. I started with this wonderful article from the Langwitches Blog. According to this post, backchannel is ” the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.” Upon further reading here, I learned that “the term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication.” (Victor Yngve 1970.)

Check out the articles I read today for more information.
Backchanneling with Elementary School Students
What is backchanneling and How Can You Use It In Your Classroom?
Backchanneling in Middle School

I’m definitely still thinking of ways that I could use backchanneling tools, such as Todaysmeet, in my 5th grade classroom. I like the idea of using it during a test review. I really like the idea of using it during a video, and I can picture my students being far more engaged that way. I could also picture using it as a way to hold a discussion about a current events article.

If you’ve ever done anything like this, please let me know. I’d love to hear how you did it and how it worked out!


Do you use music in your classroom?

Here’s the deal: I love music. Like really, really love it. Listening to live music cleanses my soul and I spend more money on iTunes than I’d like to admit. In another life, I’d love to be the person that picks the background music for movies and tv shows, and I have been writing down meaningful lyrics in a journal for as long as I can remember. I have different ringtones for the people on my cell phone just so I can hear a song that makes me think of them when they call. (Of course my best girlfriends ring All The Single Ladies.) The right song can bring me out of a funk, express that which I can’t seem to find the words to express myself, and take me back to a certain place or time. My memories stay alive in the music that I love.

So when I went to a training about music in the classroom my first year of teaching, it made perfect sense to me. Of course we should use music in our classrooms to create associations and connections, to help lock things into memory, to set the mood, and to keep us from saying, “Okay kids, line up,” five times a day when we could play a fun song instead. The students in my room know how much I love music and I incorporate it into our day as much as possible.

Think about it: What if you could play a song to tell your students to line up or come meet you at the carpet? What if you could give them the duration of a song to complete a task rather than counting down the last 10 seconds? You’d certainly have to hear your own voice less often.

Last August, I sat down with my trusty iTunes library (Lord bless it) and started to outline our “Routines” playlist. The following is what I came up with. (Click to enlarge)

While a song is playing (ie. line up song or come to the carpet song), the students are free to dance, talk, or move about. However, as soon as the song is over, their task must be completed. (They have to be standing in a straight line and silent or sitting quietly on the floor waiting for announcements.) This is really helpful for my squirmers that just need to move (including myself). Plus, it builds classroom community when we all dance together. (Who doesn’t feel closer after a short dance party?)

We are very blessed at our school in that we have iPod/iPhone/iTouch players in each classroom. However, my first year I used a CD player and it worked just fine. About halfway through the year, I got smart and made one of the classroom jobs “Class DJ” so that I could have a student pause/play/control the volume without it taking all of my multi-tasking power.

In addition to our Routines Playlist, I also play instrumental music as our writing music (but not always). Some of my favorites are Jim Brickman and Helen Jane Long. Sometimes I use Pandora for writing music as well. I type in Clair de Lune (Team Edward shout out) for the song and it creates a great playlist for background music. I also used short and fun songs to time a task. For example, I might say, “You have until the end of These Boots Are Made for Walking to have all of your pieces cut and glued.” Surely this is more fun than “10-9-8-7-6-Hurry up-5-4-3-I mean it-2-2 and a half-1.” I also put together a playlist of fun, current hits to play in the background during group work or individual work that don’t require silence. (This was the most time consuming task in that I had to proof every song for bad words or suggestive lyrics. Gosh, music is intense these days.) Jeff Anderson, my favorite grammar instruction guru, also suggests lots of music tie ins for grammar and writing instruction. (I’ve used Shop Around for Express Edits.) Tanny McGregor, a comprehension guru, has lots of music connections for the comprehension skills she teaches. (I’ve used The Marvelous Toy.)

This year I will be teaching US History and I’m working on a playlist of United States Geography. (New York, New York, Chicago, Sweet Home Alabama, etc.) I’m also moving up to 5th grade with last year’s class (How luck am I?!) and I’m not sure if my kids will want new routine songs, or if they will want to keep the same ones. I know for sure that we are going to pack up to Proud by Heather Small as a means of beginning a discussion about our day. (The chorus to the song asks, “What have you done today to make yourself feel proud?“) My dad suggested that I use the Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? theme this year since I’ll be back in 5th grade. I’m thinking it would be a great pre-test pump up song.

Anyway, however you choose to use music in your classroom, I encourage you to make it fun and engaging. Let your students be part of your selection team. Have a class DJ. Let them dance! Give them a break from boring school. (Come on, all kids are a little bored some of the time.)

The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Donalyn Miller inspired me to become a better reader, for myself and for my students. Her ideas about whole class novels, worksheets, and test prep are in line with my beliefs. She challenges us to let students guide our reading instruction. Since finishing her book, I’ve been reading nonstop and contemplating how I will structure my reading requirements this upcoming year.

View all my reviews >>

Real Brainstorming

I am reading the last half of A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In his book, Daniel outlines six senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. In his section about symphony, or the ability to put together the pieces, he sets guidelines for real brainstorming. He mentions in his book that these rules come from Tom Kelley’s book, The Ten Faces of Innovation. I thought these were very interesting, especially in how they relate to the ways that I taught brainstorming in writing this year with my “Freewriting Rules” and “braindumping”.

1. Go for Quantity
2. Encourage Wild Ideas
3. Be Visual
4. Defer Judgement
5. One Conversation at a Time

I love these rules! Personally, I think I’ve always been a pretty good brainstormer. I tend to braindump in list form with doodles and drawings. Then I like to categorize things. I definitely need to “talk them over”. Applying these free range rules, and drawing upon my own strengths, makes this one of my favorite parts of the writing process to teach.

When he discusses brainstorming, he mentions taking breaks in your brainstorming sessions in order to be more successful. Notice that brainstorming is just one part of the very recursive writing process, and Daniel Pink suggests that even in that one process, there should be breaks. Maybe I just have TAKS on the mind, but I can’t help but go back to the writing TAKS test. Kids are expected to complete the entire writing process, not just brainstorming, in one sitting, at one time, with zero inspiration, and be successful. Makes me cringe!

Are we all critics?

Today my students were sharing an activity with the class. While one of my kids was sharing, another student offered criticism. (I think he told him to speak more slowly.) I stepped up (in my best protective voice) and told the student from the audience that he wasn’t a critic and he need not critique the speaker.

The student that was sharing turned to me and said, “Well we’re all critics in this day and age.” He was so matter-of-fact that he caught my attention. Who knows if he was just repeating something he heard from his parents (“this day in age” isn’t typically a kid phrase), or he just has a mature perspective for a ten year old. Either way it made me think.

The rest of the day I found myself looking and listening for critics all around me. My student was right. We are all critics. (On some days I prefer to say know-it-alls…)

Kids say the craziest things.

Google Docs – Quizzes

I discovered a WONDERFUL resource today. I was browsing through Google for Teachers from freetech4teachers, and I read a lot about Google Docs. I have been wanting to dive into Google Docs with my fourth graders, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. Until tonight!

On pages 11-17 of Google for Teachers, you can read about Google Quizzes. The document tells you exactly how to create a google quiz. It was as easy, if not easier, as creating a quiz in a word document. Plus, it’s paperless. (Jill Galloway, a friend and fellow CISD teacher, has gotten me thinking a lot about making an effort to be paperless more often.)

I created a quiz over the vocabulary that we discussed in class today as part of our new reading/integrated engineering unit. I was able to create several kinds of answers: text, paragraph text, multiple choice, choose from an answer, etc. I could also make certain questions required so that they can’t be skipped.

After you create the test, you can post the link for the students to get to easily. You also have the option of embedding the quiz into your blog, but our district websites won’t let us do that.

The best part is that as soon as someone takes the test, I can see their answers. When I click on the quiz again, I see a spreadsheet of every test-taker’s answer for each question. Quick and easy!

If you haven’t encouraged Google Docs, I would encourage you to do so. Take a look at Google for Teachers, too, and see all of the great features that you never knew existed.


Laurie Halse Anderson, author of CHAINS and WINTERGIRLS, posted this during a Q&A live session on twitter today.

We all suffer from doubts about the quality of our writing. It’s like dealing w/ a blister when you can’t afford new shoes.