“Blended Talking”: Building Relationships In Today’s Classroom

I had almost an entire blog post written on the Transforming Learning Everywhere Open House, and then I read this recent post by Bill Forrester: an instructional coach with our Board, a friend of mine, and our volunteer driver for the event. His post has me thinking, and while I commented on it, I also thought that I needed to expand on my thoughts in a post of my own.

The concern mentioned in Bill’s post is one that I’ve heard many times before. The issue (paraphrased) is that technology hinders relationships with people. I wonder about this though.

  • Why was this student staring at his iPad screen? Was it because he was immersed in a game or an activity, or was it because he was overwhelmed by the noise, excitement, and busyness of the sharing session? Did the iPad offer an opportunity to escape? I think about one of the students that I brought along today. This student was initially so eager to share, but I think that the crowds became a bit overwhelming for him. At that point, all he really wanted to do was write, like he would have been doing back at school in Writer’s Workshop. I’ll admit that at first I was tempted to have him stop, but then I thought of Stuart Shanker‘s book about self-regulation, and I let him be. He still answered questions. He still shared some of his learning, but he was more reserved, and often waited for people to engage him in the conversation. Maybe this is what worked best for him. 
  • How can we build relationships with people? Not all relationships are face-to-face. Dean Shareski, the keynote speaker at today’s event, was one of many people that I got to know online well before I met him in person. The connections that I’ve made online are fantastic ones! In fact, even this evening, I managed to plan some exciting non-standard measurement activities thanks to my Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network). I say all of this because building relationships is important whether in person or online. Looking around today, I saw many people — both students and adults — staring at screens. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People were trying to capture the learning through their devices, and this meant that they were looking at the day through their screens. But, for the majority of people, they were still talking, sharing, and making connections. I wonder if we can still build relationships with people while also looking through a screen. How does this work?
  • What role do adults play in modelling for kids? As I mentioned above, lots of people today were looking at screens. If we want students to put down their devices, then as adults, do we need to do the same? I’m constantly looking at my iPad screen. I capture almost our entire day at school through a device: be it in pictures, in videos, or in audio recordings. I see the benefits of doing this, but I also know that students often see me with a device in my hand. As I’ve mentioned to some teachers before, I love recording podcasts because at least I can put down the iPad, be in the moment with the students, and still capture the learning. If, as adults though, we want our children to move away from the iPad, then when/how do we decide to also put down our devices?

Technology has changed learning in many ways for our students. As Dean said in his closing remarks today,


I might even extend this to say, how do relationships change?  Maybe today, socializing includes a blend of face-to-face and online interactions, sometimes even happening simultaneously thanks to the use of social media. I can’t help but think of how “listening” has changed with the growing trend of backchannels such a Twitter. People used to think that others were only listening if all devices were away, but now, “active listening” can include adding to the conversation with something as simple as a tweet. Does “speaking” today, now include texting, emailing, and instant messaging? 

Maybe there needs to be some new norms for socializing that address how this “blended talking” approach works. I think of our classroom this year and classrooms of mine from previous years: often screens were looked at throughout the day, but communication and collaboration happened often. Sometimes this happened through messages on the screen and sometimes this happened through combined talking and screen interactions. During large group discussions, I like when people look at me to talk, but during small group interactions, I understand why sometimes people talk and look at their devices. What they’re talking about is right there in front of them, and they’re merely addressing the content while also talking to the person. I understand why this screen time may concern some people, and at times I have my own reservations, but I think that the same problems could happen regardless of the number of devices in the room. If we want students to build relationships with people, we have to make learning social. In a classroom environment, students can stare at a screen, stare at a book, or stare at a piece of paper. If we want students to talk with each other, we need to give them opportunities to do so — both online and offline. How do you give students this opportunity? What are the norms of conversation that you think should he present in a 21st century classroom? How do you help build/create this classroom environment? What impact do you think that it will have on student interactions both inside and outside of the classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these many wonders of mine.


4 thoughts on ““Blended Talking”: Building Relationships In Today’s Classroom

  1. In a 21st Century classroom, having a strong voice can really enhance your learning.
    Relationships have been made online, but for some students, offline relationships are harder to build. Offline relationships mean everyone can see you, everyone is waiting for you to say something, and most importantly, sometimes you go through a lot of pressure.
    But I’m not highlighting ‘to stop offline relationships.’
    Being forced to develop offline relationships is wrong, but when a student is just hiding behind the shadows, it’s okay to let them self-regulate.
    In fact, I do believe that self-regulation is a long lasting trait. It teaches you what to say and what not to say. In other words, ‘do-s and don’t-s’.

    How do you operate this ‘offline and online’ ability?
    Is this the type of learning you prefer?
    And why is building relationships both ways important to you?


    • Thanks for the comment, Yusra! Can you clarify your questions a bit. What do you mean by this first question in particular?

      For me, I like a combination of online and offline relationships. I really like the opportunity to meet some of the people that I learn from online, and connect with them further through conferences. Then these online connections become offline ones too. I think it’s important to stay safe online though, and to really consider how you connect with others and if/when you’ll meet them in real life. For me, my connections are all through Twitter, and I tend to meet the people at conferences. From there, we can talk more about school and education. Maybe getting the chance to share ideas online helps make these offline connections stronger.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!
      Miss Dunsiger

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