February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Booktalks and Book Reports in a Digital Age | Tech Tidbits

Teens at the xxxx record a scene for The Hunger Games book trailer using a makeshift green screen at their library's maker space.

Teens at the Silver Creek High School in Longmont, CO, record a scene for The Hunger Games book trailer using a makeshift green screen at their library’s maker space.

Last fall, my school deployed iPads to every student (thanks to Race to the Top funds). My district also unveiled digital books using Overdrive. My school chipped in fund-raiser money to purchase online digital magazines using Zinio for libraries. With the acquisition of all this digital content, I have been wrestling with how best to display and promote these resources to our students.

Supporting all of our readers (especially our struggling readers) is critical as we have seen a drop in our school-wide reading scores as of late. Research from James Harmon of Euclid, OH, indicated that iPad use by students leads to increased reading comprehension, and tablet use is also thought to “increase engagement among disabled students and [has] accelerated and improved their learning and comprehension,” says Ashley Wainwright, marketing coordinator at SecurEdge Networks.

In the past, I have presented traditional booktalks by finding appropriate Lexile-leveled books, pulling these texts from my shelves and waving them wildly around while expounding on their virtues and ending my stories with cliff-hangers: “You’ll have to read it yourself to find the answer.” To help students learn about our new digital content, I have created online tutorials for our digital texts and encouraged students to prowl around and learn independently. We have purchased and presented online high interest magazines with short, intriguing articles to reluctant readers.

So far, this has been well received. Getting the support of classroom teachers has been vital. For example, teachers have assigned articles from the magazines, turning them into formative assessments. Other teachers are monitoring students’ independent novel reading through Goodreads. The students update their novels and report reading progress with the Goodreads app or website.

Additionally, my teachers and I have been exploring ways to replace the tried-and-true book reports by updating them for the 21st century. Students have been encouraged to use a wide range of options. They have created cartoonlike reports with Powtoon, Moovly, or Explee. They love creating book trailers using iMovie on their iPads or Moviemaker on PCs using the library’s green screen—a green curtain or painted wall. Students have recorded audio podcast reports with our sound booth, which was originally created by covering a three-sided empty box with egg crates to minimize background noise. Student would sit close to it or stick their heads in and record on their iPads. Our performing arts department recently donated sound proofing for a corner of our room. Students have also used the free online application Soundcloud and the Adobe Voice app to record their efforts.

recording box

A mini sound booth where students can record podcastlike book reports.

Depending on the book (and the student), I’ve recommended the tried-and-true resource Google Lit Trips. This allows readers to plot the geographic location of the story while posting additional pop-ups with information, resources, or even questions for their peers. This works well for books in which the main character travels, as in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (Villard, 1996).

We have some students create book reports by using Tell a Story in 5 Photos with Instagram  and a common hashtag. The idea behind this is to use only five images to explain or tell a story of some kind without relying on additional text.

Whatever format or app they use, the teens create digital book report projects that lead to some great questions. Is there an iPad App that could do this better? What about using a Chromebook extension? Do we need external microphones or cameras? Can we embed the final project? Does what we create fit into Edmodo, Schoology, Google Classroom, or other learning management systems?

Even with this embarrassment of technology riches, from time to time my teachers and I still do use the old-fashioned book report assignments that are enhanced by student hand-made arts, such as tri-fold brochures, puppets, dioramas, and collages just to mix things up.

I’m glad our students have so many options. They encourage them (and their teachers) to be creative and resourceful. Perhaps best of all, they drive an atmosphere of inquiry and questioning that keeps us all on our toes. I would love to hear about the resources you are employing for your booktalks and reports.

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Phil Goerner About Phil Goerner

Phil Goerner is the teacher librarian and tech innovator at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, CO. He can be found on Twitter @pgoerner. Phil is also an adjunct professor with University of Colorado at Denver in the School Library and Instructional Leadership program.

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  1. Jo Rogers says:

    This has been going on since the 70’s when technology became “the next big thing.” Reading this article makes me think, “What are we trying to teach our kids?” This article seems to answer, “How to use technology.” So how much of a report do you get when 4/5 of the effort becomes searching for pictures, how to green screen, build sound booths . . . ??? Of course the kids have fun and the public thinks great language arts goes on. But in the end, what English is taught?

    • As I was reading the article, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I think technology integration is wonderful, but what about those writing skills students need?

      • 3dotsforme says:

        Trust me, the writing skills are still being taught but if you can’t get the kids to read they will not improve those linguistic abilities. After almost 20 yrs in a library, I now work as an Educational Assistant and have seen first hand the excitement generated by technology AND how it is increasing kids’ desire to learn. Besides, when was the last time a school lib taught writing skills anyway?

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