Last week my students read "The Story of and Hour" by Kate Chopin. They spent time on Wednesday reading and discussing the story with their group. They worked with the group to find the theme and the evidence for the theme. On Thursday I wanted them to write independently about the theme and evidence in their own English journal, but they needed to look back at the story of course and they ended up having discussions in the chat window of their shared document for the story. Those conversations were rich and one of them became the topic of my previous post below.
I decided to push them a bit further. On Friday I gave them an new story, "Passing Days" as a shared document, but instead of sending them to their groups I left them in rows to read the story on their own. After some time to read it I told students to "chat" about the story using their document chat window. The room was silent, every group was discussing the story, pulling in quotes, asking each other questions, but it was all online. By having each group's document open I could see all of their conversations. Students liked it. Their conversations were focused and productive. One student said, "It was so quiet in here, so I could really concentrate on the conversation." Another added, "And we didn't get off topic the way we do when we are talking in a group."
This week we have moved to Emerson. I wanted them to look closely at "Self Reliance", so I tried using the chat window again in combination with an audio track of the excerpts we were looking at. I played them a paragraph and let the groups "chat" to figure out the meaning of the text. It took us two class periods to listen to all four and a half minutes of the text because the student conversations were so rich. It was like running six simultaneous small Socratic seminars. At the beginning of the second day I showed the class the "transcript" of one of the groups from the day before. This was a good review of the material we read before and also became a teachable moment about how to chat online, support one another, ask questions, stay on topic and add ideas.
The chat window in Google Docs used to be an annoying distraction that I tried to keep my students away from while they were working in their writing groups. Now I find using the chat window in Google Docs with my students has become an excellent educational tool.