In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this regular column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners, moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.
As the end of the school year approaches, there are many things I know I am going to miss. Each Friday, for example, my students and I enjoy free reading and informal book chats. This is a time when students share something they are reading and truly enjoying. It could be a blog post, a comic book, or a traditional book that has sparked their imaginations. Although I plan for us to spend about half of a class period on this reading and chatting time, rarely do we limit ourselves to that time. Active discussions occur when students begin asking one another questions and making connections with other things they have been reading.
As I reflect back over the year, I notice a shift in my students’ reading patterns. At the beginning, they would usually choose a quick read. As the year progressed, their choices have become complex, more of an investment. An increased number of students are choosing books to share and discuss. They enjoy the ongoing dialogue. Students search on OverDrive, iBook, or Kindle or go to the school library to find (or put their name on the waiting list for) a book that a peer recommended. I have read so many amazing books this year because of student recommendations. One student said she needed to create a list to get her through the summer with great books!
Although our school hosts a digital forum for book discussion through our learning management system, many of my students spend a large portion of their summer traveling and at camps, away from access to the book forum. That’s why each spring our class has a “book tasting”—an opportunity for students to collect suggestions from their classmates.
My students admitted they have varied tastes depending on what is going on in their lives at the time. That was the perfect portal for introducing the book tasting. Each student created a recipe for a book he or she wanted to share that was also one others may not have heard of. They looked at recipes to determine what elements needed to be included in this style of writing in addition to what elements of the book should tempt the reader with their scrumptious literary dish. The day before the book tasting, each student brought their recipe and a copy of their book to share. Because I teach multiple classes, I included the books from the students in all of my classes to give them a wider selection.
When students arrive on the day of our book tasting, we have the classroom set up like a diner, complete with red-checked tablecloths, ’50s rock and roll music, and vases of daisies on the tables. Each diner is given a blank menu that has three sections: appetizers, for those books we want to try; entrées, for books that are “meaty” investments; and desserts, for books that are light, quick, and fun reads.
Students dove into their platter of books, reading the recipe and a portion of the book and discussing it with other readers in their party. Students were really drawn into some books, unwilling to relinquish them to others at their table. After 10 minutes or so of preview reading and discussion, they would receive a new platter of books to savor and discuss with one another. In the course of the period, students “tasted” at least 40 new books and almost all of the students had written down more ideas for their independent (and summer) reading than their menus could hold.
Through a book tasting, my students created a personalized reading list of books loved and recommended by their peers. Enough books to fill those summer days with adventure, imagination, and learning.
Julie D. Ramsay is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?”: Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3–8. She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog, eduflections.