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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gifted Readers

I teach gifted kids and you would think most of them are avid and rabid readers. Not the case--some of them don't (or didn't) read at all for pleasure. (I call them the 'math/science' kids). Anyway, several years ago I started developing a class library. Many of my older students have out grown the school library or it wasn't getting the series they wanted fast enough. So I have an "Adopt a Book" drive at the beginning of the year. I also carry a list of all the books with me so I can pick them up cheap at our local library's book sales.

Here is an outcome from our class library I didn't expect but has thrilled me---many of my 'non pleasure' readers (mostly boys) have started reading up a storm. AND it's all about getting the right book in their hands. I guess some parents don't have a clue what's "hot" and even some school librarians don't get the right book to the right kid. So--the point? I don't know, but I know there is a book for every kid--it's just finding a good match.

I want to do something with graphic novels but haven't started that yet.

BTW I started reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to my 6th graders today--they love being read to, too. It's wonderful, I read it over the weekend--but for mature readers. I have other great books I could recommend if you are interested.