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Real-World Tasks in the ELA Classroom: Goodreads

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In this the-more-assessments-the-better culture, can teachers still create real-world learning experiences in their classrooms? You better believe it!

One of the best professional development workshops I attended was a technology session with Dr. Zachary Walker (@lastbackpack). Since technology permeates the 21st century classroom--as well as the world in which our students dwell, Walker observed, “if we’re preparing our students correctly, the last day of school should be exactly like their first day out of school.”

Gulp.

This forced me to rethink just about everything I do in my room. Since a colleague, Chris (@cjgosselin), and I share the professional goal of fostering a love of reading within our students, we began thinking of engaging, real-world tasks we could assign that adult bibliophiles do in their everyday lives.

Enter Goodreads.

If you are unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a social network where over 40 million bibliophiles are already cataloging, discussing, reviewing, and sharing great books. Here is how we implemented this real-world experience within our high school classes.

1. CREATING AN ACCOUNT. We asked our students to create a free account (for those who were not already members). Because our students are all minors, we always suggest that their usernames consist of their first name and last initial only (for cyber safety).

2. JOINING OUR ONLINE CLASSES. After a quick set up of groups (one per class), we shared the invitation links for our students to join our private groups. No users outside these groups can see the discussions we have within them.

3. BUILDING SHELVES. Our students create various bookshelves, including what they are currently enjoying, what they hope to read at some point, the ten titles (one per month) they agree to independently read during their time with us, the books they’ve already read (Adios, reading logs!), etc.

4. UPDATING THEIR READING. Once a cycle, we ask our students to take two minutes in class to update where they are in their books. This serves as a low-stakes form of accountability. And we make a point to like or at least comment on their reading status updates, so they know we’re taking the time to see what they’ve taken the time to share.

5. DISCUSSING TOPICS ONLINE. Goodreads allows the group monitors (a/k/a Chris and me) to pose questions, so we have already had interesting, threaded conversations about books. My students, for example, have discussed (sparred about?) what books they would want to have with them if they were stranded on an island. Again, these are private conversations that only the class members can see and join.

6. INSPIRING EACH OTHER. In an anonymous survey we gave to our students, approximately 75% of our students say that they read titles that are suggested by a friend (not a teacher, not a parent, not a librarian). And Goodreads is a platform that allows students to see what their peers are reading–and enjoying.

7. WRITING BOOK REVIEWS. Naturally, Goodreads allows students to also review the books that they’ve read–both in short form (with stars) and long form (with written reviews). You can’t get much more real-world than writing book reviews. In doing something that feels beyond-school to our students, they are actually meeting several writing, reading, language, and speaking and listening standards.

8. FRIENDING. A final step that Chris and I learned last year (and rather by accident) is the beauty of “friending” our students in this platform. (To be safe, we first obtained permission from the Powers-that-Be in our district, as this can be a slippery slope in other forms of social media. However, Goodreads is all books all the time, and no personal information is shared.) Because Chris and I are friends with last year’s students on Goodreads, we can still follow our students–long after they have left our classroom. Just last week I noticed that “John,” now a senior, is currently reading through all things Vonnegut. Seeing this inspired me to add more Vonnegut to my classroom library, since John may have discovered Vonnegut last year had I made him available to John. It also tells me that John has increased his rigor, moving from reading trade sci-fi to more challenging sci-fi. And most importantly, John is still reading books on his own–long after he has left my classroom.

I don’t work for Goodreads and will not receive any commissions for recommending the platform. (I would be, however, open to any donations Goodreads wanted to throw my way.) However, through this vehicle, Chris and I are asking our students to do–in school–what many adults do in the real world. As interesting as a celebrity Twitter feed might be, Chris and I are glad that our students are socially networking about literacy.

To follow our adventures in this project, visit our site www.fortheloveofreading.org


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

This is great! I've been wanting to try Goodreads with my 8th graders, but I've been concerned about what it might open up to them, like ads, friend-requests from strangers, etc. Are they protected from all that because they are members in your closed group? Can they venture out of that group on their own, possibly engaging with strangers online? Would love to hear more about your experiences with Goodreads. Definitely a great way to show how people read and share their reading experiences outside of the classroom. Pleasure reading FTW!

(1)
Beth Hughes's picture
Beth Hughes
High School English Teacher

These are great questions, Laura! I want my students to experience as many real-world experiences as possible; however, the fear factor plays into a lot of what I end up doing (and not doing). Goodreads does have an age requirement of 13, and they an absolutely encounter strangers online if they choose. Sadly, that is a real-world experience, and I use it as an opportunity to teach digital citizenship to students whose parents may not have. (There was a stranger that sent a friend request to a few of the students in one of my classes and asked to be in my group. We talked about the dangers of that--as well as following and not blocking strangers on other networks like Instagram. We rejected the user together in class. It was a good teachable moment.)

What I *can* control is the discussion that happens within my private class-group, the members that are in it, and their usernames (i.e., first name, last initial). We track our reading, set an Annual Book Challenge, write & publish reviews (in lieu of reading check quizzes), and get ideas for our own To-Read shelves by looking at each other's. There aren't a whole lot of ways to interact, message each other, or share personal information. It's really all books all the time and creates an entire culture where students are immersed in good reads.

Let me know if you have any other questions and, if you venture into it, how it works out!

Letizia Gmz's picture
Letizia Gmz
Educando con el corazón

Thank you for sharing this type of article in Edutopia. Your article reminded me a lot to the book [The Whisperer Book], where the author is a middle school teacher and points out the same thing as you: how to inspire and motivate students to a more fun reading class. By the way, I highly recommend this book for more great ideas.
I love Goodreads, and even though I discover this website in University, I wish I had known since I was in elementary. Thank you for showing students a fun way to interact with reading and as part of social media!!

Beth Hughes's picture
Beth Hughes
High School English Teacher

Thanks for stopping by, Letizia! I'm glad you enjoyed this article. Miller's "The Book Whisperer" (and her "Reading in the Wild"), Gallagher's "Readicide," and Kittle's "Book Love" absolutely forced me to put the brakes on in what I had been doing for years in the classroom. My students were fake reading, instead of becoming authentic, lifelong readers. For the last two years, my students have been beginning every class with 10 minutes of independent reading, and Goodreads is a great tool to keep them motivated, to write book reviews (i.e., an authentic, real-world writing task), and to see what their peers are reading. To see more of what a colleague and I are doing in the classroom to try to rekindle our students' love of reading, check out our website: www.fortheloveofreading.org. Have a great day!

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LindaMitch2783's picture

Great article.....I'm a TL already thinking about summer reading. This gives me a wonderful start place. Thank you!

Kyle's picture

I love that this site is a social network surrounded by the shared interest in literature. How have you motivated students to keep up with using a site like this?

Beth Hughes's picture
Beth Hughes
High School English Teacher

You're quite welcome, LindaMitch2783! This is one of the most real-world literacy tasks that my high school students do, and it's so exciting to watch.

Beth Hughes's picture
Beth Hughes
High School English Teacher

Hi, Kyle--Thanks for stopping by! Goodreads is probably one of the healthiest social networks out there for our students. To motivate my students, they are given a few minutes every Day 1 (of our 6-day cycle) to update their reading status. So that they know I'm seeing their updates, I scan the feeds regularly and either LIKE or COMMENT on their progress. We also conduct discussions right in Goodreads, as well as participate in an annual reading challenge each year. Students are required to read a book a month (which is much more reading than what our curriculum calls for but not nearly enough to prepare them for college). They create a Goodreads shelf for these titles, as well as complete a live doc that shows the plan of attack for said Challenge titles. They do various activities with these books for accountability, including online reviews, projects, journal entries, and book talks. The students enjoy seeing their progress and become addicts in no time!

delaneygracev's picture

This is great! As a student in my educational technology class, it's nice to see the way technology is constantly being integrated! Are you grading based upon participation in general, or how well they write their reviews?

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