A recent article in The Atlantic started a great discussion among teachers on whether or not their students know how to have a conversation. Teens are talking to one another through text messages and social media all the time. The issue at hand is how this communication can be translated into face to face interactions. Teachers can use technology as a way to launch conversations offline.
Practice Makes Perfect
Use screencasting apps on a tablet like Explain Everything for Android and iPads to have students form an argument. They can practice recording themselves outlining their position on a topic and even add notes to the screen to support their thinking. Instead of having students play their screencasts for the class, have them put their tablet down and turn to a neighbor to discuss the topic. After practicing speaking about the topic to their tablet, they’ll be ready to have a high quality discussion with their peers. You can also assess their understanding of a topic by listening to a screencast if you aren’t able to listen in to everyone’s conversation.
Peer Editing with Technology
If your students are composing a research paper or essay, include peer editing in the writing process. Have students markup their partner’s page and add comments on a Word or Google document. The two teens can then come together to have a conversation about the strength and weaknesses of their peer’s writing instead of simply handing them an edited version of their draft. You may want to give them a specific focus for their conversation or model best practices.
Create a mock Facebook page for a historical figure. Have students work in groups to decide what information should go on their profile and what contemporary figures they might have been friends with. You can ask teens to use what they know about a person and that period in history to complete the profile with their interests and favorite things. Students will definitely have an opinion to share with their peers as they put together this mock Facebook page.
Round Table Discussions
A fun way to promote conversations among your students is to have them take on the role of a figure from history. You can first have them use technology tools to research their assigned person before having them converse with other historical figures. Whether you decide to have a group of inventors or explorers sit together to talk or choose people who were all present at the same moment in history, you are bound to have engaging conversations on their lives and experiences.
Once you’ve used technology in different activities to facilitate conversations among students in your classroom, see if you can build this into your daily routine. This could be as simple as having students use conversation starters when reflecting on an event in the news, or asking them to write down their thoughts before you initiate a class discussion. For more ways to spark conversations in your classroom, check out this post on using the discussion questions in the Channel One newsletter.
Monica Burns is an Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.