Engaging my 11th graders as a collective class requires building bridges between those seated in the classroom and those learning remotely. I’ve found some valuable tools while seeking strategies that support student collaboration, including Microsoft Teams, which my district uses as our online platform. Here are some of the ways I use it.
Structuring Student-Student Discourse
In my English classroom, I have real-time class discussions about the content using strategies that are in many teachers’ repertoire: Turn and Talk, Agree-Disagree continuum, and small-group discussions. These are not necessarily hybrid-friendly activities, so for now I’m not using them, but I’m still able to engage students in meaningful discourse.
Within Teams, students can call a partner to discuss our content in live time. First, I identify a task (e.g., analyze a poem, answer a content-based question, research a topic). I have students work on the task together and record their ideas on a designated shared Word or PowerPoint document, and I can track their progress, whether they are in the room or remote.
Setting Up Literature-Based Discussions
I add a channel on the class Teams page to serve as a chat board, and I model the first posting activity when I host a synchronous class session. You could also record a video on how to post on the channel, or create a presentation with screenshots and directions.
I post a question that prompts each student (or each pair of students) to answer, asking them to post responses, along with posting their own questions, on the chat board.
I have students also respond to at least two peers’ posts with responses that should push one another’s critical thinking by advancing the conversation—they have to go beyond stating “I agree.” As the teacher, I can also post additional questions or connections for students’ consideration to further foster their critical thinking.
This approach allows for synchronous and asynchronous student-student discourse and offers opportunities for all students to engage in meaningful discussions.
Adding a channel to the class Teams page as a location for students to post questions can foster quick communication. For instance, a Teams channel called “Questions Seeking Answers,” coupled with multiple notifications—such banner or channel—can alert both students and the teacher to newly posted questions. Other students and I can then respond. Students can also use our Teams display name to get my attention through banners and the class feed. This applies to other students when they respond to posts, as well.
All of this ongoing communication continues to build class connections as we are all involved in supporting one another.
Sharing the Workload
One way to hold students accountable for their assigned work, which also allows them to contribute to the class’s collective work, is to use a shared document under Files (on any Teams channel). This enables partners to post ideas they discussed, and allows peers to see other students’ ideas, which can positively influence their own ideas.
Similarly, students can select (or be assigned) different topics and post their research or results on a shared PowerPoint as a live document. For example, to develop background knowledge prior to reading Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, my students selected a topic to conduct research on. They compiled their ideas on separate slides in a shared PowerPoint, and when that was complete, each one led the discussion of their slide.
The PowerPoint presentation was available to all students through Teams and could easily be projected for those in class and shared with remote learners. And I was able to add or correct any information in real time.
Sharing the workload can also mean asking students to work individually, with their final product contributing to a compiled collective document. For instance, to review poetic and literary devices, I assigned students the task of creating a PowerPoint slide with key information about specific devices.
After viewing a model, students completed their own slide. After they submitted their work, the individual slides were compiled as one shared document that will serve as a reference they can use all year.
These shared documents allow students to contribute to the collective work as a class, which can serve as a resource. Furthermore, teachers can readily see student work that is in progress and provide feedback, as well as view the end product.
Finding ways to foster student-student discourse is important. Using tools within Teams, whether it is calls, a chat board channel, or a shared live document, students can connect as a classroom community. Students can experience a shared workload via the creation of collective documents that can serve as reference material throughout the year.