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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!


I haven’t updated for most of the year. I have lots of links share.

Book Talk

Looking for some good ideas for books for your kiddos? I added this page to my school website after one of my parents was desperate for something for her daughter to read. Perhaps it may help you. Just promise not to point out the obvious dorkiness that lies in how many book blogs I read. 🙂

Classroom Walls

What do your classroom walls look like? My walls are a mixture of Mary Englebreit/DJ Inkers (perhaps even too much for the liking of some) and “organic wall charts”. Organic, you say? Jeff Anderson suggests in his book, Mechanically Inclined, that walls should be covered in wall charts that are made in class, with the kids, and that are constantly growing and changing. I agree. I also, however, like to create a welcoming/comforting appeal in my room as well (hence the ME/DJ Inkers and bright colors).

I’ve been doing things very differently this year: lots more notebooking, mini-lessons, wall charts, using mentor text, integrating subjects, modeling with my own writing, “gem-hunting”, etc. I am happy with how it is going so far. But, it’s also a bit risky. The other day I was sitting in my room, looking around at what we had done so far this year (displayed on the walls), and I started to feel myself panic. What if this doesn’t work? What if the way we are doing things this year just totally bombs? I’ve only had so much training.

Then, I thought about the training that I have. It was good training. Well-renowned training with research and practice to back it. Plus, I have had some amazing mentors and I am simply following in their footsteps. I breathe a little more easily now, but a part of me is still sitting on the edge of my seat in suspense, waiting to see what happens.

Anyway, take a look at some pictures from my room. What do you think?