Let’s face it: Professional development is sometimes brutal.
Except when it’s not.
One of the best professional development workshops I attended was a technology session with Dr. Zachary Walker (@lastbackpack). His premise, at The Last Backpack Generation, is that the students in our care are the last cohort to use a backpack filled with real books. Technology permeates the 21st century classroom, as well as the world in which our students dwell. Accordingly, Dr. Walker shared something in that workshop that has stayed with me ever since.
He said, “if we’re preparing our students correctly, the last day of school should be exactly like their first day out of school.”
This forced me to rethink just about everything I do in my room. Since my colleague Chris and I share the professional goal of fostering a love of reading in our students, we began thinking of real-world tasks we could assign that adult bibliophiles do in their everyday lives.
If you are unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a social network where over 40 million bibliophiles are already cataloging, discussing, reviewing, and sharing great books. Here is how we implemented this real-world experience within our high school classes.
- CREATING AN ACCOUNT. Chris and I asked our students to create a free account (for those who were not already members). Because our students are all minors, we always suggest that their usernames consist of their first name and last initial only (for cyber safety).
- JOINING OUR ONLINE CLASSES. After a quick set up of groups (one per class), we shared the invitation links for our students to join our private groups. No users outside these groups can see the discussions we have within them.
- BUILDING SHELVES. Our students create various bookshelves, including what they are currently enjoying, what they hope to read at some point, the ten titles (one per month) they agree to independently read during their time with us, the books they’ve already read (Adios, reading logs!), etc.
- UPDATING THEIR READING. Once a cycle, we ask our students to take two minutes in class to update where they are in their books. This serves as a low-stakes form of accountability. And we make a point to like or at least comment on their reading status updates, so they know we’re taking the time to see what they’ve taken the time to share.
- DISCUSSING TOPICS ONLINE. Goodreads allows the group monitors (a/k/a Chris and me) to pose questions, so we have already had interesting, threaded conversations about books. My students, for example, have discussed (sparred about?) what books they would want to have with them if they were stranded on an island. Again, these are private conversations that only the class members can see and join.
- INSPIRING EACH OTHER. In the beginning-of-the-year survey that Chris and I ask our students to complete, approximately 75% of our students say that they read titles that are suggested by a friend (not a teacher, not a parent, not a librarian). Goodreads creates a platform that allows students to see what their peers are reading–and enjoying.
- WRITING BOOK REVIEWS. Naturally, Goodreads allows students to also review the books that they’ve read–both in short form (with stars) and long form (with written reviews). You can’t get much more real-world than writing book reviews. In doing something that feels beyond-school to our students, they are actually meeting several writing, reading, language, and speaking and listening standards.
- FRIENDING. A final step that Chris and I learned last year (and rather by accident) is the beauty of “friending” our students in this platform. (To be safe, we first obtained permission from the Powers-that-Be in our district, as this can be a slippery slope in other forms of social media. However, Goodreads is all books all the time, and no personal information is shared.) Because Chris and I are friends with last year’s students on Goodreads, we can still follow our students–long after they have left our classroom. Just last week I noticed that “John,” now a senior, is currently reading through all things Vonnegut. Seeing this inspired me to add more Vonnegut to my classroom library, since John may have discovered Vonnegut last year had I made him available to John. It also tells me that John has increased his rigor, moving from reading trade sci-fi to more challenging sci-fi. And most importantly, John is still reading books on his own–long after he has left my classroom.
I don’t work for Goodreads and will not receive any commissions for recommending the platform. (I would be, however, open to any donations Goodreads wanted to throw my way.) However, through this vehicle, Chris and I are asking our students to do–in school–what many adults do in the real world. As interesting as a celebrity Twitter feed might be, Chris and I are glad that our students are socially networking about literacy.
For the love of reading…