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Through the Pages: Digital Journeys, Connections, and Communities

by Julie D. Ramsay
March 26, 2014

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. 

One to two days a week, I am free from lunch duty. At the beginning of the school year, I had several students who asked if they could stay in the classroom with me so that they could read. That very quickly led to all of them being engaged in a discussion of the books that they were reading, and sharing additional book recommendations. Within a matter of weeks the students formed a book club that they named The Literary Association of Bibliophiles. That’s LAB, for short (I promise that title really did come from 6th graders).

The students meet once a week, depending on my lunch duty schedule to discuss a book that they selected to read and discuss together. Yes, I’m involved in the conversations, but they each take turns leading the discussion. Needless to say, the popularity has grown to include more students anxious to participate in the conversations.

This month, I have read much about book clubs. It has caused me to reflect on the popularity of book clubs. What is it about book clubs that draw people to them? Why did my students begin this club that draws in students who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves “readers”?

It is because reading is a solitary endeavor that envelops a reader into another world; it spurs thinking, questioning, and connecting with the text. As humans, we want to share these thoughts. We want to take this solitary pursuit and make it social. We want to share our perspectives, ask our questions, and push our thinking.

p: mrsdkrebs via photopin

So in a world of pacing guides and prescriptive programs with pressure to push students to perform on standardized testing, how can we include book clubs as an integral part of our learning environment?  With such a demand on our time, where can we find opportunities to connect our readers not only with one another, but also with their global peers? I thought I would share a few opportunities that you could bring to your students to get the book sharing started.

  1. International Dot Day is a day centered on Peter H. Reynolds’ book, “The Dot.” The official day is September 15th. Based on the book, the entire day is spent focusing on the importance of creativity, imagination, and individual talents and how each individual can harness their own uniqueness to make a mark on the world.

    Students can connect through Twitter (and Instagram) using the hashtag #DotDay and #MakeYourMark. This is an opportunity for your students to not only discuss the overarching theme of “The Dot,” but also internalize the text by making applications to their own lives. Classes can also connect through Skype in the Classroom to have a “face-to-face” book chat about “The Dot” and share all of their conclusions about the meaning and its application to their lives in the world.

    This is a one-day event that could very easily become an overarching theme for a week or month-long study. As a teacher, you can connect with other teachers through Twitter (#DotDay), Facebook, and Pinterest to share ideas for implementing it into your schedule. This network of very creative and imaginative teachers is more than willing to give you all the ideas you need to bring this international book discussion to your students.

  2. The Global Read Aloud is a phenomenal project founded by Pernille Ripp, a 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin. It is elegant in its simplicity. One book is selected (per grade range) and students from all over the world connect to discuss the book with one another. Teachers sign up through the Global Read Aloud website and then connect through Twitter (#GRA14), Facebook, and Edmodo to plan ways of implementing it with their students.

    One of the great aspects of this project is that you can do as much or as little connecting as you feel comfortable with. If you want your students to connect with many classes to discuss and analyze a book, then you can do that. If you want to form one connection that lasts the entire six-week long project, then you can do that too. If you want to have your students connect only with other students in your class or school that is also perfectly acceptable. You can customize it to your students’ needs.

    The wonderful part of this project is that you have a network that can support you as you try out new practices with your students. The point is for this to be simple for students to read, enjoy, and share a book together.

    My students have participated for three years and it is always a major highlight for them. We connect through Skype, Twitter, blogging, TodaysMeet real-time book chats, and collaborative publishing. No two years are alike because the book is always different, as are the students and the connections. By connecting globally, students have an authentic audience and gain a perspective of their place in their world. Everyone shares his/her voice.  It is exhilarating to see students accurately analyze, draw conclusions, synthesize ideas, and create new content all focused on a great piece of literature.

    Want to see what’s possible in a classroom with the Global Read Aloud? Check out my session on The Global Read Aloud at IRA’s 59th Annual Conference in New Orleans. I’ll be sharing my students’ work, their stories, as well as management and connection strategies on Saturday, May 10th from 1:00-2:00 pm.

  3. I have written before about the power of having my students blog on KidBlog. This is also one of the easiest ways to give students a portal to openly discussing and analyzing a text with an authentic audience. My learners set the expectations for their blogging each year. Typically, one of those expectations is that they will write a blog post about something that they have been reading each week.

    A couple of years ago, one of my students wrote a post about a book you may have heard about called “The Hunger Games.” As I always try to write comments on students’ blogs and model the expectations that they have set, I realized I couldn’t accurately comment without reading some of this book. I went by the bookstore and bought a copy of “The Hunger Games,” initially thinking I would read through the first few chapters so that I could comment on the post (Fast forward a week later…I had finished all three books.).

    After I commented on her blog, and we began talking about it together in class, other students joined in the conversation. Within three school days, two-thirds of my class, plus students in other classes, were commenting on her blog and sharing their thoughts on the book. What came next? We began having book chats at the lunch table where other teachers joined us. How did all of this come about? One blog post brought together a community of readers, which broke down boundaries to unite many voices all in pursuit of reading and sharing an exciting piece of literature.

    With KidBlog, it is simple to connect to other classes who are also on KidBlog. We have found other classes through the connection we have made with Dot Day and the Global Read Aloud. We also have found other classes through our class connection (@RamsaysClass) on Twitter. Another option is to connect with three other classes through Quadblogging where four classes connect and comment upon one another’s blogs. Each week, you rotate to comment on a different class’ blogs from a different location around the world. This helps students to gain a global perspective while finding commonality among one another in sharing and discussing great books.

So whether you choose to start small within your class or go global, there is no doubt about the impact that book clubs have upon our learners. It empowers them to truly internalize, analyze and share their perspectives in a real and meaningful way. They are no longer reading because they have to fulfill some requirement, but because they want to dive into other worlds, learn about themselves, and share their ideas with others. So jump into the digital book club pool. The water is great and your students will thank you!

Julie D Ramsay on Reading Today OnlineJulie 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 teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com
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