Backchanneling in the PLC

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Taylor Clements, Louisville, KY

As technology continues to pervade all levels of our lives, new possibilities for communication consistently materialize. Think about the impressive number of apps and resources our students use to communicate: Twitter, Snapchat, and “old-fashioned” texting just to name a few. In this brief, I want to share some ideas on how to utilize these tools as teachers to improve teaching and learning. I am not discussing the practicality of using these tools with students, although there is a space for that, but rather the possibilities in using these tools with your professional learning community (PLC).

As a member of the Teacher Redesign Corps (TRC) 3.0, a group that met in Sacramento, CA this summer, I was part of a discussion regarding the grease that helps team members communicate and work together effectively. CPM project manager Mark Coté, was using the term to conceptualize the seemingly off-task chatter that naturally develops when working well with peers. We have all seen and heard this off-task chatter and many might be troubled by it and many may try to limit it as much as possible. This same phenomenon of grease should develop in functioning PLCs as well.

The term “backchannel” is used to define conversations and discussions that take place simultaneously with, but separate from, the normal flow of work discussions. The idea has nothing to do with technology – exchanging glances with a colleague in a faculty meaning or scribbling notes back and forth during a movie are examples of backchanneling. As teachers, we do not have many opportunities to develop backchanneling in person, so the technological tools available to us can play a role.

The use of backchanneling is beneficial to developing relationships and a healthy collegial flow within your PLC. The discussions do not need to be math-related. In fact, topics can be about anything, especially personal things. Just sharing stories, pictures, and experiences provide grease that helps the culture of collaboration develop with your PLC members. If you have a smartphone, you likely do this with family members and friends already. Though many PLC members may already consider themselves “close” or “friendly” with their fellow members, there is a higher level of productivity and communication that might develop when a digital and asynchronous backchannel is used to support the face-to-face interactions. The beauty of using technology is that the backchannel discussions can be asynchronous, instant, and include multimedia.

If you are curious about why students cling to these social media tools so much, you might find the answer in using these tools with colleagues. We learn together. CPM’s pedagogical vision incorporates social learning theory. Many math teachers can embrace socialization on the teacher’s side of the classroom even more by using tools and opening a backchannel with PLC members. This may have profound personal realizations about how current students think, work together, and socialize while learning.

Some of the best tools to investigate with your colleagues include Voxer, Google Hangouts, Yammer, Remind, Twitter, group text messaging, Skype, and Snapchat. Whichever tools you use, do your best to involve all members of your PLC in group messages. If you find yourself sharing more, conversing more, and generally learning more with your PLC members, you will see that energy translate into your PLC work, and translate into improved teaching and learning in your department.

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Algebra Tiles Blue Icon

Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.