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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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This summer I created a summer reading network that allowed me to monitor the progress of my AP English Language students. They are reading 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose and I have asked them to read and annotate the text very closely. I also wanted to monitor their progress by questioning them throughout the summer at varying intervals and compose a response journal. This is all standard, but how could I provide oversight and seamless communication with my students who are scattered around Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, and Senegal?


  • Google Voice
  • Google Calendar
  • Blogger
  • Wikispaces
  • Process

    I first created a wikispace for our summer reading assignments and communication. This forum has always worked well for me and allows for transparency and ease of use. Plus, students can take ownership over the site and can make the site theirs. The wikispace is also a great starting point for students to post external links to their blogs.

    Once the wikispace was up and running I introduced all of my AP students to the website after school. I spent 30 minutes covering the basics of a wikispace - edits, posting, linking, etc. - and also showed them how I could see every edit they made. Yes, big brother will always be watching. Any time you use a wikispace, stress the history tool and how you can see everything that is edited.

    After I set up the wikispace, I had the students create a blogger account and give it a title. Their title could be anything they wanted as long as it was appropriate. Once they had their blog created they copied the link to our blog roll on the wikispace and created an external link on their name.

    I embedded a Google Calendar on the wikispace and would post new assignments via our calendar and post handouts using attached Google Documents. All of my students carry cell phones and probably check them more than my parents check the weather. I can easily type up a mass text message to my students via Google Voice and remind them to look for assignments and also any updates I have to convey. This allows for ease of communication and I can always be reached if they have a question. For those who like to be left alone in the summer, you may just want to stick to email communication or pigeons.

    The Results

    My students are reading weekly and responding to the assignments on their blogs. We are in constant communication via Google Voice and they check the Google Calendar embedded on the wikispace every Monday for assignments. They have are genuinely interested in reading each others blogs weekly and commenting on what their peers are writing. And remember, this is all happening during the summer months. My students are basically learning year round, only the classroom structure is missing. I feel confident and excited coming into the beginning of the school year knowing that my students were engaged readers and writers all summer.

    This type of assignment can easily be incorporated during the school year and it may be something you want to set up and have ready for the beginning of the school year. The setup is the most work for the teacher, but once you have the elements mentioned in the above process set up you can easily manage your class room in the summer and during the school months.

    This is the way I like to set up my classroom. You may want to explore other platforms for classroom social networking such as moodle, edmodo, schoology, facebook, etc. However, the wikispace has always been a platform that allows for seamless student participation and classroom transparency. Please provide comments if you have tried this type of assignment. I am interested to hear positive and negative feedback concerning your experience with building a classroom social network. Maybe you used twitter in conjunction or one of the aforementioned platforms for housing your student work.

    If you would like more information on this assignment and future assignments, please feel free to contact me.

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Susan Hall's picture
Susan Hall
11th grade English teacher from Inman, South Carolina

I teach 11th grade honors, and this summer my students are blogging about their summer reading novels instead of keeping journals that take me forever to grade. I have posted a guiding question or concept each week and a schedule so that they do not wait until the last minutes to complete their reading. So far it is going well. I set up my blog at blogspot.com, and the students opened google accounts in order to access the blog. I also like the idea of a wiki. I think I may try to set up one of those for novels that I teach during the school year. Thanks for the detailed instructions of how to do this!

Tiffany Pirtle-Jenkins's picture

Creating a Summer reading network is a great way to keep your students involved and continuimg to grow over the summer. I teach in elementary school and I would like to try something like this with my students. Children love technology and I think they will really enjoy sharing what they have read online. The only issue I feel that I may run into is getting my children's parents to participate with them. I am very excited about this and I look forward to giving the reading newtwork a try on the elementary level. Do you what any suggestions on how I can incorporate this into my classroom?

Jean Smith's picture
Jean Smith
High School English Teacher Marion, Ohio

I like the idea of using blogs and wikis with a summer reading program. We have had a program in place for the last 6 years. The students have been required to attend one of three discussions at a local coffee shop as well as submit a reader's log the first day of school. I think next summer we may consider a blog or wiki.
I have some general questions for those who have the technology in place. Would you consider using them through the school year? What kind of grading system do you use? Do you prefer blogs or wikis?
I am considering using either a blog or wiki for both my AP classes and college prep sophomore English classes. I have the students do independent reading and submit a reader's log for a grade. I would like the students to submit their comments through the blog. I'd love to hear any suggestions or comments. I'm new to this type of technology.

Susan Hall's picture
Susan Hall
11th grade English teacher from Inman, South Carolina

I think that elementary students would absolutely love the integrated technology. I have a nine and ten year old, and they love to learn via the computer. It seems like a good way to motivate young people. Does your school have a set of laptops that are available for teachers to use in the classroom? We have two sets in my school, and they are so popular that they stay booked.

Susan Hall's picture
Susan Hall
11th grade English teacher from Inman, South Carolina

This summer is the first summer that I have used a blog to keep in touch with my honors students. However, the AP teacher at my school has been using them for several years with great results. She also uses blogs during school with all of her classes. She says that she gets much more valuable feedback with the blog because some students will not voice their thoughts in a class discussion, but feel comfortable expressing themselves on the blog. It is a good way to have students practice correct spelling and grammar, too. Though I haven't tried the blog during school yet, I hope to get started next year.

Jean Smith's picture
Jean Smith
High School English Teacher Marion, Ohio

Thanks, Susan- Your comments are very helpful. I wondered if the more introverted students would feel more free to comment on the blog than they would in class.
To answer your question- we did have a traveling wireless laptop cart for a while but it wasn't very reliable. We found that when a whole class was trying to sign on at the same time it would slow up considerably. When everyone finally gor on it was time for class to be over. We do have a computer lab and our library has about 15-20 Macs. I also feel that in the next few years more and more students will start bringing laptops to school as well as iPads and other devices. I am seriously considering a blog for each of my classes. I think it will be a great learning experience for the students and me.
Have a good day.

elizabeth a parker's picture

What an awesome idea. This will light a fire under all of my students. I am not a techy; and it's hard for me to even relate to the computer at times. This seems easy enough for me to incorporate into my lesson plans.

Susan Hall's picture
Susan Hall
11th grade English teacher from Inman, South Carolina

I am sooo not a techy, but I was able to set up the blog (with the help of another teacher already using blogs), and the kids really enjoyed it. It is so much better than doing those analysis sheets (major works data sheets) that I usually require them to complete. When I return to school this fall, I won't have all of those to grade. Whew.


Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

Glad to hear of so many folks who will be using these and/or any of the other tools mentioned in this thread during the upcoming year.

Be sure to drop by our Tech Integration groups and let us know how it's going.

Tech Integration: Elementary

Tech Integration: Secondary

It's exciting to see all these creative ideas emerge!

Zedekiah Franklin's picture

Great way to keep students more involved in the summer. I loved your ideas and this could be the starting point to get more school districts to do what you are doing.

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