This is the first blog post is a mini series of posts Christy and Kassia are writing about different ways to launch a hands-down conservation across math and literacy and in social conversations.
One of my favorite ways to begin an online conversation with a new group of students is to ask them this question: What is the best animal emoji? First of all, who doesn’t love an emoji?! Second of all, asking this question allows students to jump into the chat box right away. I want to send the message from the very start that the chat box is equally as important as speaking out loud in our online conversations. (For a brilliant blog post on the chat box, please read Aeriale Johnson’s “All Because I Trusted Them to Use the Chat Box.” I read it a couple of months ago and it still has me thinking.) And third of all, asking questions that encourage debate almost always gets kids talking and listening.
When I asked, “What is the best animal emoji?” to a group of third graders recently, some kids just dropped their animal emoji in the chat without any further explanation, like this:
Other kids turn on their mic and start talking away.
Alejandra: I love turtles because I have a turtle and they’re cute. And I like that sea turtles can swim really, really fast–faster than us. And that other people save turtles by sometimes when they save them they put a towel on them because when it’s really sunny, if they leave them just like that they might have some problems with breathing, so that’s why they put a towel on them. And I love turtles because they’re so cute!
Because I was launching this particular conversation in a small group meeting online, I invited students to have a hands-down conversation. “You can turn on your mics and talk into the space you hear in the conversation. Make space for anyone who wants to join in,” I had said as we began.
As the conversation continued and students argued for why the deer and turtle emojis were both cool but the turtle was slightly better, Elias, who had been quiet since dropping his snake emoji, piped up again from the chat with some reasoning for his choice of snake.
Elias: “i like snakes becuse they are differint color and they deffend ther self and they comofloge”
Minutes had passed between when Elias originally put his snake emoji in the chat box and when he added on his reasoning for his choice. His camera was off. He didn’t talk out loud. If the chat box had been closed, we might have missed out on his ideas. (And we might have incorrectly assumed he wasn’t listening or didn’t want to participate.)
Alejandra typed back to him (and the rest of us) in the chat. “Yeah, and cause of the venom. It’s poisonous…practically.”
In Chapter 8 “Nurturing Disagreement” of Hands Down, Speak Out, Christy and I write about different ways to launch hands-down conversations across math, literacy, and social conversations in ways that encourage lively debate.
Sometimes we might ask students to choose a side of the debate (i.e. Video games are good or video games are bad.), and other times we might leave the options more open like in the best animal emoji conversation.
But one way to craft a really juicy launch for any kind of conversation be it social or content specific is by using what Marian Small, in Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction in the Standards-Based Classroom, calls “‘soft words,’ that is, words that are somewhat imprecise, undefined, or ambiguous” (9). Crafting a conversation launch that has the right amount of ambiguity gets kids talking, not because the teacher asked a question or out of compliance, but because they are genuinely interested in sharing their perspective and invested in listening to the ideas of others.
Now that we’re several months into the school year, you might wonder if the usefulness of these social conversations has passed. Do we really have time to be talking about animal emojis? You might be feeling the pressure to push through academic content. Or you might be spending time in your class talking about big issues in the world and your communities. But I think there’s still space for playful social conversation, for making connections with one another and nurturing relationships through our talking and listening, in whatever space our class takes place.
You can check out some interactive Google slides we’ve been playing around with in our online classrooms. Sometimes we use these slides as a way of getting kids thinking about a topic at the beginning of class before our conversation. Other times we may offer kids a few slides and ask them to interact with the one that interests them most. Then we can see what kind of conversation the kids are interested in having! Make a copy of any question you like or use the templates to create your own. Have one you’d like to add to the list? Drop it in a comment below. 🙂