Chapter and Verso: A Tech Tool for Book Discussion and Low-Stakes Writing Practice

Earlier this month, Rebekah shared how she uses the tech tool Padlet to communicate within and about Writing Workshop. Her post made me think about a tech tool that’s helping me to blend some writing into the deep reading that my ninth and twelfth graders are doing right now. 

A few years ago, I attended a conference workshop led by Alan November, whose work asks teachers to consider “Who owns the learning?” November’s workshops share tools and strategies that help teachers get out of the way and let students dive into the difficult critical grappling that leads to deep learning and new discovery. One of the tools that November shared at the workshop I attended was VersoApp, at that time a simple portal for facilitating online discussion. That portal has now grown to include a host of services and assessment tools that I haven’t even begun to explore because the discussion portal is still so handy. 

Here (in the briefest, barest terms–you’ll see there are more details and options on the site) is how it works: 

  1. You (the teacher) create a teacher account at v2.versoapp.com. You can also login using a school Google account. 
  2. Create a class and share the code with your class. Once students create their accounts, they can use the code to join your class
  3. Create an activity by clicking on the yellow “+” in the right-hand corner of the class screen; use the prompts for the activity to guide you  
  4. Invite students to complete the activity–I often ask them to pose a question about our reading and then respond to two other students’ questions (I post mentor texts to serve as models, or I leave things a bit more open-ended)
  5. Monitor progress and “like” posts that meet the expectations of the activity through the Teacher View screen; click on “Activity Engagement” to make sure that all students are participating  

What’s really great about VersoApp is that it allows for paragraph-long posts, and it anonymizes responses in Student View. While students see a screen that lists all posters as “Respondents,” I see students’ names and can offer feedback by submitting questions and comments on a thread or clicking “like” to show that a post has met the expectations of the assignment. Students can “like” each others’ posts, too. 

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 11.17.01 AM
A screenshot of the “student view” of a recent silent discussion on The Catcher in the Rye
Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 11.17.43 AM
Here, I can offer feedback on responses with a question of my own. Students can see when I’m the one who has posted a question. 

These silent discussions offer opportunities for students to think–and gather evidence–before they “speak.” They can practice analytical writing in public without fear of judgement, and I’ve been impressed by how often they encourage or compliment each other.  I was wary about starting a Harkness-style discussion with this year’s ninth graders, but their posts showed me that they were more ready than I anticipated! Anonymous posting also helps to break up cliques of writers who might otherwise respond only to each other. And it’s easy to scroll down the feed of first posts and assess students’ skill levels with techniques like integrating quotes or making transitions. I can look for patterns that will guide my planning for future mini-lessons.

While I’ve used VersoApp mainly for silent discussion, I think it could be a useful tool for mentor text sentence studies and anonymous peer feedback on first paragraphs or it could be a place for students to solicit feedback on troublesome paragraphs. There are so many other tools and analytics included in the platform now–I’m sure that many of you could find other exciting ways to use it! 

Have any tried-and-true (or tried-and-new-and-great) tech tools that you use to assist writing workshop or book discussion? Any tips and tricks for VersoApp? I’d love to hear them in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman.

 

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