I am heading to Indiana tomorrow to present at NALS (National Association of Lab Schools) with a colleague. We are unveiling our Independent Reading Site, a site created with Google Apps for Edu and shared with our school community. After students finish reading a book, they link a new book review to their reader profile. Students populate the site with an ever-increasing selection of these book reviews. They follow a clear protocol and list the title, author, genre, date begun, date completed, a rating from 1-5 (1 being poor, 5 being great), a brief synopsis of the story, and their recommendation. These reviews are in the form of text, video, powerpoint presentation, or drawing.
In the interest of full disclosure, at my school we have a 1:1 laptop program in Grades 2-8, teachers willing to integrate technology, three full-time dedicated technology integrators, and a differentiated progressive curriculum. It’s a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
In previous years, students filled out book reviews and tracked their reading progress in a black&white composition book and 3″x5″ cards. The 2-dimensional nature of these paper objects did not generate conversation unless another student picked up that notebook or notecard and read the review. Still, there was no place to leave a comment or opinion or suggestion.
After hemming and hawing over which digital platform to use for this project (The wiki? A blog? Our social network? Edmodo?), we decided to create a shared Google Site because it is free, accessible from anywhere, allows commenting, user friends, and sustainable (I index the students by year of graduation). As our site is power by Google, students can quickly and easily search the site for book titles, genres, authors, and other classmates. Students are encouraged to comment on each others reviews and seek out new titles based on recommendations from their peers. In essence, our middle school students are social networking around literature.
Publishing the reviews publicly ensures that kids are accountable for their independent reading, practicing writing for an online audience, becoming better communicators, and learning how to post appropriate comments on each other’s reviews.
I love my job.