Keeping Collaboration Alive: Discussion Boards for Distance Learning

          Keeping Collaboration Alive: Discussion Boards for Distance Learning


A passion to share the power of words is at the core of every English teacher’s soul. One of those ways to share the power of words is through collaboration, conversation, talk, dialogue, debates, and even heart-to-hearts. These are all tremendous parts of an English classroom. Students become stronger with their vocabulary when speaking or writing and listening. But, what happens when your students that exchange in discourse with you are only through a screen? This is where we keep collaboration alive with discussion boards. Discussion boards allow for the critical thinking and crucial communication in every classroom, even if students are at a distance through their computer screen. 

Google Classroom Discussion

First, let’s talk about Google Classroom. Did you know the classroom organizer you already use has a feature for discussion? It is so simple and easy. Set it up just like any other assignment by clicking create, and then question. Ask your question and students can answer, but the best part- they can also respond to one another!  (They also can’t see what any other student wrote until they respond. )Keep the conversation alive, even from a distance! 

My favorite way to use this is by posting a video clip right in Google Classroom as a resource, and having students respond to the video. One I have used is how the clip compared to the novel we were reading! You could do this with a time period piece too! By using this feature students are able to make connections, inferences and see the perspective of their classmates also. It is a great way to keep the discussion alive and give opportunities for reflection and build their understanding.


Distance learning presents many challenges and students working together is one of them. One of Google’s new platforms is Jamboard. What a cool site and it is completely compatible with Google Classroom. You can assign groups a “Jam” or create one for the whole class. This can be used to have online discussions, but also to collaborate on group projects. Jamboard is a tremendous opportunity to include student thinking on an accessible platform. You can edit the background, add images, write with a pen or type. It is easy to use because it incorporates all the Google tools students are used to using already in Docs and Classroom. One idea for a great opportunity is using famous quotes for groups of students to analyze. Each group can dissect the quote, discuss and then present their “Jam” back to the entire class.


Versoapp is another incredible tool for online discussions. This platform could easily be used for asynchronous distance learning, responses to reading, responses to quotes, film clips, images, or even mentor texts for writing. Again students are able to respond to the teacher’s question, can’t see their classmate’s answers until they respond themselves, and then can comment or “like” other answers. The teacher has control of the features and can turn certain tools on or off. This platform will upload your rosters from Google Classroom and students are given a code to enter. There is data percentages to track participation and students can remain anonymous to one another. This is my favorite part. Teenagers can be shy, or fearful to share their real thinking and this allows them to be anonymous,  alleviating some of that social fear. Don’t worry though, from the teacher view, the teacher can see each student's name! 


Next up is Ideaboardz. This site can definitely be used for reflection, feedback,  closing, exit tickets, or brainstorming. This site reminds me of Post-its, that you would use in an in person classroom, so it is a great way to continue those Post-it activities in distance learning. To share an ideaboardz, all you need is to share the URL with the students and they can jump in and share their ideas. 


Parlay is this really interesting site that incorporates  a whole library of already created prompts that you can choose from or of course make your own. All of the prompts are also customizable and there are a variety of topics covering every subject and more. There are even social emotional prompts that could be very beneficial in a distance learning setting, especially because our students haven’t all chosen distance learning. The teacher has the ability to provide feedback and customize rubrics to use. After student submissions, there is opportunity for a whole class reflection. If you are in a hybrid situation, (distance and in person learning alternating) there is also a great feature for live socratic seminars, allowing you to use this site in even more ways!


All of the above sites are opportunities to keep our scholars thinking critically, be active participants in class, even if it is from a distance, and even build community. Collaboration could be seen as a challenge for distance learning, but with the right tools, discussion can stay stronger than ever in distance learning!

How Restorative Circles Create a Safe Environment for Students and Staff

How Restorative Circles Create a Safe Environment for Students and Staff

Every time a student gets suspended, that's time out of your class where they could be receiving valuable instruction. Every time a student gets in trouble in your class, it disrupts the learning environment. Every time you write a discipline referral or a detention, the discipline data goes up and suspension rates rise. These statistics can become overwhelming. Especially when there is pressure to keep those numbers at bay.  Restorative circles can help reduce the discipline data, keep students in your classroom, as well as support their social emotional learning and well-being.


Mindset Shift

Prior to implementing restorative circles, there needs to be a shift in mindset. Typically, the school discipline model is punishment oriented versus a restorative mindset. You see, when a student gets in trouble, more than likely there is a consequence, such as detention, phone call home, suspension, or back in the day a trip to the principal's office.  Misbehaving students often find themselves expelled or out of school for an extended period of time. This can cause long term issues, socially, academically, and emotionally.  Implementing restorative circles will foster a new mindset that helps with repairing and restoring relationships after a problem behavior arises. This helps students stay connected to the school community in a positive manner as well as creating a safe environment for all.

Form a Circle

According to the International Institute for Restorative Practices, “The aim of restorative practices is to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships.”  The restorative circle is a starting point to building relationships between students and staff while developing an inclusive community. It’s important to encourage student participation, set the norms for the circle, and create an equal opportunity for everyone in the circle to speak.  Empower your students by letting them create the rituals and routines for the circle.
Examples of norms could include:
       Everyone must participate
       Only one person speaks at a time
       Be respectful

In the Circle

Within the circle, the teacher presents a thought provoking question, a talking piece that is passed around,  and an encouraging space for engagement. A talking piece could be something as simple as a pencil, or something sentimental. The circle can be done in homeroom, it can be done at the beginning of class, or it can be done at any point when a conflict arises. The most important thing is to be consistent, implement it with fidelity to build a safe community within your classroom environment.

Building Positive School Climate

            In addition to circles within your class, you can use circles to restore conflicts that arise within the school day. For example if two students have a disagreement, you can have a circle with the two students and their teacher or trusted staff member. Communication is key as you work towards a resolution. This does not mean that the students won’t face discipline according to the school handbook, but in many situations, if they participate in a circle, their consequences may be less severe. The goal is for the students to understand their peers point of view, they don’t have to agree, but they have to come to an understanding, learn to respect the other side and learn how to handle a conflict with communication. Restorative circles help to create a positive school environment by restoring broken relationships.

Lifelong Lessons

Not all relationships can be restored, but teaching students how to communicate effectively, respect another point of view, empathize, and teach problem solving will not only create a safe space for your students but these lessons go beyond the walls of school

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