Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Using Etherpad in the Classroom

My students have spent the past few days reading and analyzing Poe’s classic poem, The Raven. I plan to use it to teach mood and imagery, but before that can happen they need a firm handle on the poem itself.

Classes were divided into groups of 3-4 and given the simple direction to read each stanza and then summarize it. Some stanzas are trickier than others, but overall this activity gives them a nice overview of the poem.

In the past, I would conclude this by randomly calling kids to share summaries as I wrote them on the board. This was a slow and laborious task to get through considering the poem is 18 stanzas long. Instead, I decided to give Etherpad a try.

I wrote about Etherpad in my post 10 Useful Chat Sites for Teachers. The thing that struck me most about the service wasn’t the chat capabilities, but the shared collaborating space that updates in real time. This is similar to Google Docs, but students can hop on and start collaborating without registering a username. Quick and easy.

It took about 30 seconds to set up the Etherpad workspace. Students figured it out with another 30 seconds of explanation. The first task was to have the seven groups in my class enter summaries for the 18 stanzas. Then, they went back and checked over what was written and either adding or amending what was there.

Each group’s work was highlighted with a different color, so it was easy for me to keep track of who was participating. There is also a playback feature that allowed me to see the whole thing unfold once the activity was complete (I used this to show off my students’ work when I open the workspace for my principal later in the day).

The only problem I encountered was when two groups wanted to work on the same stanza. It was actually quite comical – while one typed, the other deleted it to try and enter their own interpretation. I guess I shouldn’t complain when students fight over who gets to participate in a class activity.

When I noticed the typing on the workspace slowing, I took it as a sign that the groups were running out of ideas. I stopped the class and then went through each stanza’s summary. If there were things missing, I entered them as we talked. At the end of the period, I downloaded their work as a PDF and I can now make copies and hand it out tomorrow. We’ll use it tomorrow to begin looking at the mood of the poem.

Including the time it took me to turn the computer on, this activity took less then 5 minutes to set up and explain to my students. Etherpad worked very well for me. Rather than spend the period hovering over an overhead projector, students took control of the lesson. And they did a much better job of it together than I ever could alone.


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2 Responses:

eplybon said...

This is a cool idea. Do you think it would work for asynchronous discussion, as well? Such as for a strictly online course where students are not necessarily working at the same time?

Kristin said...

I have also used EtherPad in the classroom with my eighth graders.

They read a selection from Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass, deconstructed the text for science content and figurative language use, did some research about a solar system topic, and wrote their own figurative language ...
when they finally got to the EtherPad, they loved it ... they used the chat bar constantly to plan their ideas and the pad to write ....

Yes, it was very easy, and it is definitely a worthwhile activity - the kids began asking for lessons on how to punctuate dialogue and eliminate run=ons .... it was a fantastic learning experience for them and me ....

Now I am looking for more ideas to use EtherPad again - the kids loved it, it hooked them and their motivation skyrocketed!