Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Truth About Online Book Discussions

Crossposted on Classroom 2.0 2008

I teach gifted elementary students and have done about 8 different book discussions over the last 5 years using at first Blackboard and then Moodle. We read at least one SPECTACULAR book a semester (students come once a week). The platforms work about the same. I search the internet for high level book discussion questions (synthesis, analysis, and evaluation) and get permission from the author to use them. Why re-invent the wheel? I post each of the questions and have set up formal "rules" for responding, the goal being improved writing skills and improved reflective and critical thinking.You can see our book discussions here http://www.smsdonline.org/login/index.php and use baguest for username and password.

OK, here are my editorial comments: None of the kids "love" it", they tolerate it. They will do it because I assign it. Their written responses have improved over time but they do not seem to do a lot of thinking before answering the questions. Generally the responses are mediocre no matter how much they loved the book, I get 1000 times more out of them orally. I respond to each entry and ask them to respond to each other, my comments and theirs seem shallow and repetitive. Even the kids that "love" to write, don't get off on answering the questions. I guess it is no different to them than answering the questions at the end of the chapter in a basal reader.

I've taught gifted kids for 25 years and I see their writing skills taking a nose dive---I blame NCLB, since they never seem to write much in the regular classroom but the online book discussion hasn't been the answer.

The best outcome I had to online question/response activity was with a Philosophy unit I did with 6th graders, Using David White's book we discussion a philosophical question in a group, then they reflected about the discussion and how it related to their lives. Finally I got some deep thinking!The kids are much more enthused about blogging, which you could do with another class. You could pose thought provoking questions like "What if electricity had been invented?" or "What would have happened if Walt Disney hadn't been born?" or "How would things be different if the South won the Civil War?" "Should all kids where school uniforms?" "at what age should a kid have a cellphone?" Then let them go at it, at least they'd have to think, organize their thoughts and reflect!!

You can see our blog here http://areallydifferentplace.org/ .So that's been my experience with online book discussions. It actually may be a better tool in the regular classroom since they have to answer the questions for a grade. In our gifted ed classroom we get much deeper reflection orally. Good luck and let me know how things turn out. N

4 comments:

Barbara said...

Nice reflection. What I read between the lines is "Audience"...Its all about who they are writing for and the purpose.
I think this is important because I just opened this discussion with my teachers as the missing ingredient in our program.

nbosch said...

Barbara, Thanks for stopping by. I struggle with the whole motivation thing when it comes to writing. As long as I reward (or punish) bloggers I get great results. The second it becomes optional all the but the diehards cop-out. AND I teach 'gifted' kids!!

As with many of the Web 2.0 tools when the novelty of the online book discussions, blogging and wikis wear off they motivate no more than writing in a journal with a pencil or answering questions on a handout. Stop back by, N.

Barbara said...

I get it...Same thing with staff. I keep wondering though what I am missing. I admit I am sporadic in my blogging but I love reading and commenting. I guess I love the conversations and the connections. What can we do to create that same love with our students and staff.

nbosch said...

I am retiring in a few years and after 25 years of teaching, conducting workshops, talking to teachers about kids I'm almost ready to throw in the towel. There are so many systemic issues that need to be addressed in education the frustrations can be overwhelming.

I've almost gotten to the point with staff (always) and students (some of the time) that I think all the support and materials should go to the teachers who use the stuff. I'm talking about technology and all other support. Reward the goodness and ignore the others!! I know that sounds callous but I'm tired!!

Do you belong to Classroom.ning.com, the social network? I enjoy my time and efforts there chatting with other people.