Picture this: A group of adorable kindergarteners is sitting quietly on the floor. They were just told that they are going to "meet" an author today through the computer. One minute later, the computer makes a ringing sound, and the little ones go crazy! After they calm down, the teacher answers the call and introduces the author, who greets the class with a "Hi" and a wave. Arms and bodies jump up everywhere, loud "Hi's!" erupt, and one little kindergartener right in front of the camera sticks out his tongue.
Seriously? Is this really happening?
Yep! This happens. It has happened to me — more than once, in fact.
Before you invite guests into your library or classroom for videoconferencing, you have to be prepared for anything. The connection might be bad, the guest might be late, the sound might not work or your class might go crazy, just like the scene I described.
That's why it's a good idea to prepare your students and teachers for connecting with others online before you bring a guest into your classroom or library. Here are a few ways to do that:
Do a trial run. When we started using Skype at my school, I would call into the classroom from my library office a few times first. That allowed me to demonstrate Skype and address behaviors as they happened naturally during our connection.
Establish guidelines. Talk about being good hosts, active listeners and respectful to your guests.
Location is everything. Think about where the students should sit and where the computer and camera will be so that everyone — including the guest — can see each other.
Plan logistics. Students love to ask questions. If you have a small group and plenty of time, it is fine for students to raise their hands and take turns. However, if your group is large, it works better to have a select group of students ask predetermined questions. When we Skyped with Mercer Mayer, each classroom came up with a question together and ten designated a student to ask the question. This worked well, and all the students felt like they had a voice.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. When things do not go as planned, reteach the expected behavior by demonstrating what is expected. We had a really nutty Skype session with our kindergarteners last year, so the next day our principal visited the classroom through Skype and in person to reteach the behaviors we hoped for during our connections. When they came to the library later that week, we also retaught and supported the expected behaviors.
Get all hands on deck. Let the other adults in the room know they are also responsible for being attentive and helpful. It is a good idea to have everyone spread out among the students to help with classroom management.
Lastly, have fun. Remember that crazy does happen, just like in any classroom or library. Students are learning, and so are we. Together we can make this a wonderful experience for everyone.