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November 1, 2014

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Online Bookclubs are Facebook for Booklovers!

This summer, I taught a professional development class for our staff. The goal? To each read two novels and one nonfiction book that we could enthusiastically recommend to our students this year. What we ended up with was a lot more than we’d expected, and it’s worth thinking about offering a similar class at your own school.

First, our 28 participants were asked to review three book-sharing sites—GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari—and vote for their favorite. They ended up choosing GoodReads, which has many strengths, including a strong online presence and an easy-to-use app for smartphones. Then, each class member was asked to create his own GoodReads account. Although I’ve had one for a little over a year, teaching this class really forced me to get to know the site much more thoroughly. I loved browsing through its book reviews, updating the titles I’d read, posting new reviews, and perusing recommendations by other visitors. After one marathon session, I was surprised to see I’d listed 87 books “To-Read.” I love how the app lets me view great selections and find out what my colleagues are reading. GoodReads turns out to be Facebook for booklovers!

In addition to sharing what they were reading on Goodreads, participants were required to blog twice about each title they’d read for the class and share a 250-word review of it. My district generously provides us with Blackboard, and blogging on this site allowed our teachers to see things more from our students’ perspectives, so we could be better bloggers. In fact, several teachers who had never used Blackboard before were so impressed with it that they’re planning to use it with their own classes.

Participants were also required to read education articles on literacy and blog about what they had learned. We also discussed how to get kids excited about reading by using graphic novels, allowing them to choose the books they wanted to read, and how looking at blogs and social-networking sites counts as “reading,” especially for kids who are reluctant readers. Thanks to one of the articles we read, we also had a lively discussion about a sure-fire way to kill the love of reading—by requiring every student in class to read the same novel.

Finally, our participants were asked to answer the question “How are you going to inspire your students and co-workers to read?” This is where my colleagues really inspired me. They talked of actively speaking to students about what they were reading now and what they’d read in the past. A math teacher wrote that he was planning to start a weekly booktalk session so his kids could share what they’ve been reading. One history teacher spoke about including excerpts from nonfiction books in his curriculum, including some from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling Unbroken, which he’d read this summer. Another math teacher told us he plans to set up a bulletin board in his class, where his students can post book reviews on 3 x 5 cards. Everyone in our group developed their own individual action plan to promote literacy and they all pledged to be ambassadors of the love of reading in our school. I truly believe that as a team, we can make reading—and talking about reading and writing about it—as popular as Facebook or World of Warcraft.

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