Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Across the US: Book Talks via Skype

This past school year, my students and I had many opportunities, one basically leading to another.  As you may have read in some of my previous posts, my class was given the privilege to chat with explorer Mark Wood as he was preparing for his ascent of Mt. Everest.  To go along with this experience as we talked to and followed him on his journey, we did a daily read aloud.

My principal suggested that we read the novel Peak, by Roland Smith to supplement this experience.  My students LOVED this novel, even though it may have been a little mature for them, but the description of the experience was as close to real as it can get!  As we were reading the novel together, we would check Mark's updates of his status on Facebook from Everest and the stuff he was describing we were learning about through our novel at the same time!  This novel led my students and me to study the country of Nepal, learn about the people and their culture, look up facts about Mt. Everest, and google pictures of frostbite and of the equipment that explorers use to climb the mountain.  

My students became so involved and curious about Mt. Everest and the experience that Mark Wood was having, that they looked forward to coming to class every day and engaging themselves in our study of this explorer and the intimidating task he was trying to accomplish.

Also by being involved in the Skype call with Mark, I was able to establish other connections with teachers.  We were able to connect with a class in rural Montana, who also had the opportunity to connect with Mark on Mt. Everest.  There happened to be a student in this class who was also reading the book Peak.  From this, we came up with the idea of connecting with the class through Skype to share thoughts and comments on the book Peak.

They gave a short summary of the book, they talked about their favorite part of the book, they talked about what they would have done if they were the main character, and they also gave their opinions about the theme of the book.  After we talked about Peak though, the other class began to share about a book series that they were reading called Everest.  Again, the students gave summaries and basically gave book reviews of the series to my class, which in turn built their interest in reading the series.

Soon, the students were asking each other their own questions and some of the questions my kids came up with wowed me!  Again, this was towards the end of the year, so their learning of things we did in the classroom this year was evident.
One student asked:  "How does your book Everest relate to our book Peak?
Another students asked:  "Can anyone relate to any of the characters in the story?"
One of my students commented that the series Everest was like Hunger Games in a way.

The richness of the discussion was so beneficial for my students, and their ownership of what they were saying during the discussion was evident.  Since they were connecting with students from a different state through Skype, they put forth a different sort of effort and excitement than they would have if we were just talking amongst ourselves in the classroom...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Edmodo for in class book discussions!!

This year, in order to start working towards a flipped classroom, we started using Edmodo to post in class assignments and homework assignments, as well as videos and Power Points that students could view at home.  Throughout the year, I also had my students respond to questions that I posted on Edmodo in reponse to a lesson, video, or Power Point that they had seen.  I used it as a quick formative assessment.

Towards the end of the year, after we finished reading our third read aloud as a class, I was toying around with the idea of using Edmodo to house a book discussion.  I had not decided on a topic and was considering making it an extra, out of class thing that the kiddos did.  

The idea continued to evolve, and the brilliance of this whole occurrence was that the topic of the book discussion actually came from one of my students!  : )  We would compare and contrast the themes of our three books as a culminating activity of the year.  

I was telling my students about the assignment and I started to post it in front of them.  When I was finished posting and we started to discuss a little bit, my students just started posting responses on their own!  So, in this moment, I scrapped my lesson for the day and went with the kids.  I put on some music and let them have an online book discussion right there in the classroom, each student on his or her own device, and I on my teacher computer at the ActivBoard, monitoring and taking part in the discussion!

This was amazing to me for many reasons:
1.  The prompt came from the mind of a student.
2.  The student's became so excited about it, that they could not wait to get home and do the assignment, but they started on their own right in class.
3.  It gave ALL of my students a voice in the discussion.
4.  I could see thinking that most of them would not have normally shared in class.

I am a bilingual teacher, so many of my students are reluctant to participate in discussions.  This gave them the opportunity to have time to think about their comments and feel comfortable posting them.  Also, I had a girl who was a selective mute in my class and without this technology, she NEVER got the chance to communicate with the rest of the class. In this way, she was able to have a voice!  

One more unbelievable occurrence, was that when I sat back and observed my students as this "digital talk" was happening, I began to see little discussion circles starting to develop.  The technology use was bringing out REAL discussion between the students.  They would check with someone sitting next to them about their comment before they posted it to make sure everything sounded right.  They would tell each other that they agreed or did not disagree with an idea!  They were taking responsibility and ownership of their thoughts and comments!
It was absolutely wonderful in that moment and once again, I was so impressed with (and surprised by) my 5th graders!  

I could see that they actually did learn something this year:  to think deeply about a literary text and to respectfully discuss with others.

Our conversation is below...