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Plugged In: One Book to Connect the World

by Julie D. Ramsay
July 25, 2012
In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

As we are approaching the 2012 Olympic Games, our busy minds are beginning to focus on our place in the world. Hearts swell with patriotism as we see our country’s athletes compete with athletes from all around the world. Who doesn’t get a little choked up seeing someone reach their life’s goal in spite of many challenges and obstacles?

For our students, it’s an opportunity to connect and build an understanding of other cultures, traditions, and perspectives. The Olympic Movement is a philosophy that doesn’t just promote physical competition, but also education. It promotes a sense of brotherhood, understanding, and peace among all people. Isn’t this what we want to provide for our students as well?

Regardless of their age or geographical location, with today’s technology tools, most students (even the ones in the Title I school where I teach) have access to a world of resources, information, and experts in the palm of their hands.

Because learners today have always known a life filled with technology, they expect to be able to connect and collaborate with multi-age peers for authentic reasons. They want a global voice. As one of my students said, “My friends are depending on me to say something worthwhile when I write [my blog]. It’s my job to teach them something and cause them to think about something differently.” That’s quite astute for a ten year old, huh? She understands the importance of speaking up and participating with peers, not just in her classroom, or her school, but all over the world.

So the question that many educators ask is, “How can we bring these global opportunities to our students? Where do we start?”

Often making those global connections can be a challenge. However, one fifth grade teacher from Wisconsin, Pernille Ripp, had a vision of connecting classes from all over the world through a project called the Global Read Aloud. The concept is elegant in its simplicity: One Shared Read Aloud, One Global Connection. A piece of literature, that can be found worldwide, is selected; a reading schedule is created; students connect to discuss the literature.

My fifth graders participated this last school year and they will tell you that it was one of their favorite learning activities. There was a K-3 book and a Grade 3-6 book selected. There was even a French Global Read Aloud.

The book we read last year was TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt. My learners had such rich discussion while reading this book with all of its depth and real-world themes, but the excitement escalated exponentially when they learned they could share their thoughts and ideas with students from all over the world.

Last year was the Global Read Aloud’s second year. Many teachers joined in the planning stages and set up different venues where the students could communicate their ideas and create projects to share and inspire their global peers. What I loved about it is that you could get as involved as you wanted. There were so many avenues. Any teacher, who was interested in having their learners participate, filled out a Google doc with their basic school and geographic information, and how they wanted to connect.

If you are on Edmodo, there is an Edmodo group to facilitate student connection. If you wanted to Skype with other classes for a real-time book discussion, you contacted a teacher who indicated on the Google doc that they wanted to connect on Skype. There was also a Twitter feed so that classes who tweeted could connect in that way as well. Classes also could connect through blogging on KidBlog. And for any classes who were unable or uncomfortable in participating in any of those forms of social media, there was a Global Read Aloud wiki set up with the reading schedule, and a place for students to publish any writing or projects that were inspired by the book.

Over three hundred classes participated worldwide last year.

The great thing is that you can customize it to fit your teaching situation. We have a very prescriptive curriculum and schedule. Time is always a challenge for us. In spite of that challenge, we were able to participate. My students already blog and tweet, so it was a seamless transition to include the Global Read Aloud into our classroom routine. We do a lot of collaborative publishing on wikis, so that was a way to participate with which my students were already familiar. (Be sure to check out some the amazing projects from last year on the wiki.)

My learners were so enthusiastic about participating that they would beg to have 10 minutes to read, blog, or create a project for their collaborative partners. They didn’t see this as work; they saw it as an opportunity to share and have their voices heard for an authentic audience.

Because Pernille had such a global perspective on the power of collaboration, she quickly welcomed in any teacher with their ideas to help this program grow and adapt to meet the needs of all students worldwide. If you have a challenge or are apprehensive about connecting in a new medium, you have a large collection of teachers eager to help you find success. After all, if we want our students to work collaboratively, what better place to start than by doing it ourselves?

We know the power of reading; it takes the readers on new adventures, challenges their thinking, and inspires them to action. Thanks to Pernille and all of the teachers who’ve connected through the Global Read Aloud, we can bring the world into our classrooms, giving our students an authentic and exciting way to discuss literature and have their voices heard globally. We don’t have to wait every two years to connect and celebrate brotherhood, understanding, and peace. We can bring it right into our classroom through the Global Read Aloud.

Won’t you join us this year? I guarantee that it will be a highlight of your school year. Your students, like mine, will be asking, “When can we do this again?”

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.

© 2012 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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