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Turning bookworms into bloggers with online reading groups

  By Beth Khalil   - Tuesday 04 December 2018

Cloud apps offer pupils the chance to share their opinions on books and improve their writing skills at the same time

Beth Khalil is learning centre resource manager at Thorp Academy in Tyne and Wear

As a librarian of 27 years, I’ve discussed the topic of books and technology more times than I can remember. I firmly believe that it doesn’t really matter how a young person reads, as long as they are reading. We know that children who read more often gain higher scores in spelling, vocabulary and maths tests (as reported by the Reading Agency in 2015). I see the benefits in the classes I work with each day; the students who read for pleasure consistently have a greater understanding of a range of texts, are more articulate and produce homework of a higher standard.   

Whether young people are holding a physical book or reading via a piece of technology, it is the act of reading that is invaluable. So we should use technology to foster reading for pleasure and encourage discussion about what students have read. When they have enjoyed a book, they’re often keen to share their opinions to enhance the experience. So why not provide them a safe space to do so online? (This needs to be carefully thought out, of course, with careful attention paid to safeguarding issues.)

There are countless sites and apps that can be used for discussion. Goodreads, for example, is simple and can be accessed by smartphone. Students can keep track of their reading, set yearly targets for themselves and post reviews (I warn them to only accept friend requests from people they know). Litsy is a similar app, allowing users to share what they are reading, what they have read and what they would like to read. This could be arranged as a class activity to share reading interests and review collective class texts as well as personal ones. You may need to speak to your IT department, however, as these apps are restricted in many schools.

An easy way for pupils to review books

Our solution for keeping students safe online when reviewing and blogging as a group is Reading Cloud. The students access this through the main school system and each receives a personal login connected to their library account.

I run two reading groups in our school, with students from Year 7 to Year 13, both using Reading Cloud. Other students have expressed interest in the groups after seeing posts on the cloud, and it has encouraged new recruits. We have a generic book group called Thorp RIOT Readers (it stands for Reading is Our Thing), where students share what they’re currently reading, discuss genres and themes, make recommendations and review books sent to the group from publishing companies.

We also have our Classics book group, where the students discuss 19th-century literature, children’s classics and American classic novels. This is a new club this year, which came about after I ran a literacy lesson called “What Makes a Book a Classic?” and the students asked if they could have a book group based on this theme. We choose a classic book each half term to read and review.

The students also enjoy group reviewing for book awards such as the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards and our local North East Teenage Book Award every year. There are websites for these awards where our readers post their views alongside students from schools across the country, which gives a shared reading experience.  

We use Reading Cloud frequently with these groups because the blog post and review pages are easy for the students to access, safe to navigate and I can see who is contributing reviews to the group. We expect our students to be active on their accounts, with regular blog posts (which boost writing skills) and reviews of the books they have recently enjoyed.

The groups also use the cloud's reading list tool to compile lists of books they love, favourite authors, books they want to read and awards book lists for our shared reading. These lists and any other notices or posts in Reading Cloud are held from Year 7 right through to Year 13 so they can look back and reflect on the activities they have taken part in and books they have borrowed from their first day.    

Reading Cloud also acts as our main library database and holds the titles of all the books we have, as well as images, DVDs, websites and textbooks. Introducing the new Year 7 students to the cloud in their induction lessons gives them a chance to explore the library physically and virtually. The system allows students to reserve books, look up Accelerated Reading information, access website links for homework and read book reviews from any device, which means they have access to the stock and the cloud tools at any time.

After Christmas, I am inviting staff into the library by departments to review and update the stock for their subjects, so it can become even more widely used, embedding the platform into our school community, and promoting reading and technology in classrooms every day.

This article was first published by TES.com on 22 November 2018.

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