Discussion Forums and Chats.

Yesterday I invited my students to enter a Discussion Forum.  During class it was a simple thread asking that they post a bit about themselves and then respond to other posts.  Last night for homework, they posted and responded to another thread called Myself as a Reader, in which they described their reading life.

Also during class we had a chat entitled, “How’s Your Reading Going?”  I led the chat with three or four questions in order to get a better idea about their independent reading.

As a focus lesson, we came together and began to chart what makes a successful discussion or chat.  You can find the charts here and here.  Please note these were initial thinking and have since been revised.  (See, today they took a closer look at the discussion forums and the chat transcript and entered into a discussion on how they should be graded.  I’ll post the rubrics students helped develop on Scribd after the holiday and then post a bit more about this discussion/process.)

As we were gathered for our focus lesson, one student said, “Can we do this instead of worksheets?”

I smiled and asked, “Why would you want to do that?”

He said, “Because this is so much better.  I get to look at the posts that interest me and spend time thinking about the things the matter.”

Another student said, “And this is so much easier?”

I paused right there, “Wait a minute, you think this was easier than filling out a worksheet.  Let’s think about everything you just had to do as a reader, writer and communicator.”  We began to talk about all of the skills necessary to participate in the chat and discussion compared to those necessary to fill out a worksheet.  “This is tough work,” I said.

“Yeah, but it’s what we’re used to.  It matters and it’s second-nature to us.”

Back to the first student, “Plus we get to hear what other people think and that helps us think more about it.”

“And I like that it’s instant,” said another.

At this point I sat in awe.  It was that moment of clarity when all of the research and theory and ideas I had just listened to for the past three days were proven true in a matter of minutes by my students.  I smiled again.

The first student just wouldn’t let it drop, “So can we do this instead of worksheets?”

I couldn’t help but reply with a quote paraphrased from Donald Murrary that I heard this weekend, “I think worksheets turn brains to mush — students’ and teachers’.”

Then they cheered.  Seriously.  Fourteen and fifteen year olds cheering because they are going to work harder by participating in discussions and chats. 

I was converted.  And even more determined to build a community of writers and readers using every tech-savvy tool I can get my hands on that will engage, encourage, and strengthen the students in my classroom.  (Please note, I’m not using them for the sake of technology, but for the sake of engaging and strengthening my students!)