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Getting ready for online book discussions

 My students struggled with Beloved. It was a tough book: intense, confusing, long. I found out that my students have trouble tackling 100 pages at a time on their own. They need more support.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how best to help them. I could threaten them with pop quizzes. I could check their annotations more often. I could have them answer questions or write dialectical journals.

Although those ideas might work, they seem punitive and likely to zap any remaining interest my students have in reading. Besides, my students in general don’t do assignments just because of the grade. They do work because it’s meaningful, or because they value the class, or because they want to succeed.

They also do work when they’re part of a team.

That’s why starting next week, I’m unveiling a new feature in my class: online book discussions. There are three goals:

  1. Students read the book as part of a team (keeping themselves accountable),
  2. Students talk about the book outside class time,
  3. Students have fun with technology while doing #1 and #2.

Every Sunday night (or maybe Tuesday — I haven’t decided yet), groups of four students will go to iseroma.com/live, a page on my class website. On that page is a private, password-protected embed of a video chat room by TinyChat.

(I would have used Google Plus, but you have to be 18.)

For 20-30 minutes, the group will discuss how their reading is going, what they find confusing, and what they find inspiring. At first I’ll facilitate these sessions (yes, they need to be supervised), but my hope is to find other adults — Book Club Leaders — who’d like to take part. Each student now has an online writing mentor. Why can’t each group of four have an online reading mentor?

One of the primary purposes of this idea is to make reading more public and more social. I also want students to feel like reading is a real thing, something that’s tangible. Finally, by having a discussion the night before the class discussion, I hope students will feel more prepared and confident. I want students to be prepared for class by having a rehearsal the night before. 

Please share your brilliant insights!