I’ll be presenting online Saturday evening (2/5 at 6:00 pm EST) as part of the free Connecting Online 2011 Conference (#CO11). My specific session will be “Social Networking and Literacy,” and I am going to describe how two of the English teachers at The School at Columbia University are using new media to enhance an independent reading program and book groups.
The Independent Reading Site (Google Site)
Marisa Guastaferro (6th Grade English) and I created The Independent Reading Site two years ago. It is a Google Site; Hence, it is free, there is a whole suite of tools, it is accessible from anywhere, there is a built-in search feature, kids can comment on each other’s reviews, it is user friendly, and it is sustainable in that their profile travels with them from year to year.
In their profile, the students include what they read, where they read, how they read, and then list their favorite books, genres, and/or authors. These profiles are grouped by the year the students graduate from high school (this is how we list them in all of our databases anyway). The students create a sub-page for each book review they complete and create their book reviews in the form of text, video, audio, slide-show, or comic-strip. Students and teachers extend the conversation and share opinions in the comment section below each review.
The built-in Google Site search feature is awesome, as it allows users to search by name, year, genre, author, title, etc. This is invaluable and allows students to learn about other people’s reading habits and locate new books to add to their bookshelf.
To Kill a Mockingbird Book Groups (Elgg social network)
Eve Becker (8th Grade English) carefully considered how to best negotiate our in-house social network (powered by Elgg) to structure teacher-led and student-led discussions for To Kill a Mockingbird. [The book celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010!]
First, Eve divided her students into small reading groups of 3-4 students. All students were required to join the TKAM grade-wide group created by Eve. Here, Eve listed description of responsibilities for the groups and offered a weekly teacher-led discussion question. The students formed their own private groups on The Social Network and invited Eve (and sometimes me) to join their closed space.
On their group page, students addressed Eve’s weekly question, posted and responded to their own questions and comments inspired by the book, and maintained two pages: Quotations and Vocabulary. On the Quotations page, students took turns choosing and posting a quotation and an explanation about why it was chosen. On the Vocabulary page, students were required to write the word, an educated guess at its meaning, its part of speech, the actual definition, and an original sentence with the word.
Using Google Sites and Elgg for these projects meant that students were working in the cloud and could access their work from any location at any hour. Also, anytime they posted to their profile or to a group page, there was a time-stamp included that tracked who posted what and when. So, students are held accountable for their own work when working independently and/or within a small learning group. Win-win.