My Personal Journey and Thoughts

Volleyball or Ping Pong?

Anyone? Anyone?  Pause………….anyone?

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We have all been there – sitting in silence waiting for that one brave soul to put up their hand and contribute anything, absolutely anything to the conversation. After these classes I am always left feeling deflated and wondering what I could have done differently, and it usually comes around to a few things. A few things that I am going to list below and I would love to have others add to this list in the comments below, because as we all know having a full tool bag doesn’t always mean you have the right tools, so let’s fill up each other’s tool bags. I just pictured Hermione’s bottomless bag in the Deathly Hallows. She was able to pull everything they all needed out of that bag. Sometimes in my classroom I feel like I have/or need one of those bags.

  1. Set students up for success – let them talk with a buddy about a topic before having to talk in front of everyone. This allows them to talk it out and get ideas flowing, or even test out a thought with their friend before having to say it to everyone.
  2. Provide opportunities for students to make connections. I love to start lessons with a story about myself when I was their age. They can often relate and build a connection – I can usually get almost everyone’s hand up this way in order to get the ball going.
  3. Assign a video or a reading to do before the class – at least this way students have some background knowledge to draw upon.

I found an article on that talks about ways to get students talking and I really like the ideas presented – you can find the article here.  One thing that really stuck out to me are several studies that show when students speak and work with each other they learn the most (Lotan, 2012; Holthuis, 2012; Michaels, 2008; Bianchini, 1997; Cohen, 1997; Leechor, 1989; Vygotsky, 1978). Yet, in many of the classrooms that I have observed (including my own) the teacher does most of the talking. One of the strategies outlined in the article that I liked the most was the volleyball versus ping pong method of discussion. In ping pong the conversation always goes back to the teacher just like a ping pong game. In volleyball however, the conversation may start with the teacher but it is then passed around from student to student and the teacher is there to observe. My goal is to facilitate more volleyball style conversations. So how can I do that?

The unit that I am working on is Biographies for a grade 5/6 ELA class. For this class students will be reading a biography of their choice, however I would like for them to learn from one another on the different people they are studying. I feel as though the people that have been chosen are from such a diverse range that there is so much that we can learn from one another.

For this course I will be using Google Classroom as my LMS. Within the stream, students will have the opportunity to chat with each other, ask questions, post videos, or websites. The goal is to assist each other in finding information that is useful for their presentation at the end of the unit. Before allowing students to post in the stream we will have to have a conversation within the classroom about rules and regulations for posting in the stream. The worst, and most annoying thing I see students doing at this age group is filling the stream with absurdity. One of the most prevalent posts are: HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii – but much much longer. It is also a good time to talk about our digital footprint, and how it is easier to say something online rather than in person. I would like to give this group of students the opportunity to come up with their own set of governing rules for the classroom stream, and I believe that many in the class will watch it and make sure everyone is using it appropriately.

By allowing students to help each other and make their own posts, I feel as though their participation in this course will be impacted in a very positive way. Check out this list of 44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning.

In “Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation” the following benefits are shared, and I believe they are important to note.

At the end of the unit I would like students to fill out a self assessment using Google Forms much like we will use in this class. I will have students rate their participation, how much they contributed to the class community, as well as list up to three students who helped them out the most in the class. This will be kept confidential, and I will also be monitoring the chat on a weekly basis. To be completely honest, I have done this in the past, and often I am on there everyday!

Secondly, students will be making contributions to their blog that we have set up through Google Sites. I will expect students to make several blog posts summarizing the chapters that they have read, and giving their own thoughts /opinions on selected chapters. In addition students will have the opportunity to comment on each other’s blogs. On Google sites it isn’t as easy as commenting on word press however I was able to figure it out by watching the following video:

The result isn’t pretty, but it works. I was actually able to figure out how to hide the date and time stamp in Google Sheets which makes the comment much easier to read.

I believe the benefits of commenting on blog posts are very similar to discussion board comments. Students have the opportunity to read others work, and to contribute their own knowledge on a subject to the post. In the blog post: “How to be a good commenter” there are many great suggestions that I will use to teach students how to comment on one another’s blog posts – without actually using the post itself as the language used in the post may not be the greatest in introducing the ideas to 11 and 12 year old’s.

To keep comments meaningful, relevant, and supportive I will have to monitor these interactions, but I will also have to leave some of it up to the students to monitor their own posts and comments. In the end the comment section on the blog posts will also be a part of the students’ self reflection. If anyone has other ideas to monitor blog post comments I would love to hear them. I want to give students the opportunity to make the right choices without them thinking that I am constantly looking over their shoulders. The one thing I really struggle with in this class is that they are so dependent on their teacher – constantly checking in to see if they are doing the right thing. I want to foster a little independence and I think these activities will help in this area. I would really like to hear your thoughts on this – do you struggle with the same thing?

How do you foster independence in your classroom?


  1. Corrin

    Hi Chris,

    Great post! I love your idea of developing a set of guidelines for Google Classroom with your students, I will definitely be borrowing that for some of my middle years courses. The novelty of “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii” posts usually wears off, no? Maybe not at that age…

    Fostering independence in younger students is definitely a tough nut to crack. It sounds like you are on the right track with your plan to introduce appropriate commenting. It may be that you have to leave the rest in the hands of your students, see how they respond to more freedom/responsibility, and adjust from there.

    Can’t wait to hear what you come up with!


  2. Jeff Barrett

    Hi Chris, the thing that stuck out to me in your post was when you mentioned the “Hiiiiiii.” I can remember starting up my Google Classroom two years ago and having this really clear vision of what it would look like and the really rich dialogue that would be fostered. However, that would not come to fruition. Many of the comments consisted of little more than gibberish and a lot of “lol”. It was a defeating feeling. I appreciate your idea of building student capacity for developing their own set of guidelines that will govern discussion. It is critically important that student voice be weaved into all classroom spaces. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  3. Leona T Stephen

    Setting students up to succeed seems to be the challenge. I’m a firm believer that structure develops independence. I remember starting at Harbour Landing in this beautifully designed open concept school. The goal was to build community. We had at it in the first two months and by November pulled the students back into the same old traditional style classroom setting. Only to discover that young people need direction, structure and guidance to build independence. A collective group meeting of teachers and by winter break it was impressive to see how the community changed.

  4. Bret

    Chris, looks like you have got a good start going here! I have also been pondering the use blogs, using Google Sites (kid friendlier) in the classroom as well as a way to interact and gauge the students understanding. We are also planning to incorporate blogs in our module, to what extent is still to be determined! I also really like your point about setting kids up for success and the need for guidance an structure and like Leona mentions this all leads to kids becoming independent.


  5. Amaya


    I loved reading your blog post… from the Harry Potter reference to the perfect example of the most annoying student contributions (HIIIII). This gave me a good laugh. As teachers, we can only do so much to monitor and manage student comments, but in my experience, doing meaningful lessons on digital citizenship made a huge difference to the quality of their comments and work. When the standard is set, most students tend to follow suit with one another. I am still slightly traumatized by the absurdities of responses and work submissions I received from students way back when we first went online. One of my favourites was a student submitting an assignment to me that was simply the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen… copy and pasted over and over again. At least he chose a good song!

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