A Student-Centered Approach to Digital Discussions & Research 

Jake Crowley, an English teacher at Liberty High School, recently decided to see how digital tools could enhance his literature units for his American Lit and Contemporary Literature classes. Spurred by the recent Digital Learning Experience discussion activity hosted by his Ed Tech Lead, Erin Stephens, Crowley decided he wanted to blend his knowledge of 1:1 with one of the discussion protocols to create a more student-centered approach. 

Working with his Ed Tech TOSA, Stephanie Olson, Crowley not only embraced running a jigsaw expert group activity1 but extended it further to create Canvas groups where students would be able to engage in collaborative work and discussions.  

For his American Literature class, students were preparing to read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. As an introduction to the unit, Crowley has students learn more about the Harlem Renaissance. In this case, he had 5 expert groups with 5 students in each group becoming experts on specific Harlem Renaissance topics such as Langston Hughes’s poetry, Jacob Lawrence’s artwork, locations of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston, and the jazz age.  

Student presents their work on the Harlem Rennaissance to fellow classmates. Picture courtesy of Kai Shinn 

Each group had a collaboration group space within Canvas to collect notes and create presentations. In this jigsaw activity, the expert groups were then regrouped into mixed groups where they would each have the opportunity to share their expert knowledge and teach one another about different aspects of the Harlem Renaissance. Finally, to check that each student had built sufficient background knowledge, Crowley created a Canvas discussion where students would then respond individually and explain their understanding of the Harlem Renaissance and he was then able to assess each student’s background knowledge and how they predicted this knowledge would contribute to the novel.  

While building these Canvas groups took a little time, Crowley plans on having them be a space where students can come back to work together throughout the novel. He plans on having them using their group discussion space to support one another with questions they may have, a space where he can pose questions for them to analyze throughout the novel, and it provides additional spaces for them to complete collaborative work.  

Students take notes while their classmate presents their expert knowledge. Photo courtesy of Ethan Ton. 

For his Contemporary Literature & Composition course, Crowley has built a similar experience with reading groups where students can support one another with their literary analysis of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. He can have students work through discussion questions within their group collaboration space, support one another with a group help desk, and share documents.  

Jake Crowley’s use of jigsaw, Canvas groups, and Canvas discussions showcase how the Digital Learning Experience embraces high-leverage practices of discussion strategies, promotes the use of our 1:1 technology, and embodies the spirit of the technology training hosted by Ed Tech this year. For more on Crowley’s project please feel free to email him and learn more about using jigsaw discussions and Canvas features like groups and discussions. 

References 

  1. Resources to support Digital Discussions can be found in your Digital Learning Experience course. The module is “October – Explore” and the learning path is “Explore – District Path: Digital Discussions (LT1)”.  

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