The original intent of my project was to start developing a new way to engage middle school students while reading a novel together in class. The idea of using social media to facilitate learning and communicate with parents seemed like a natural place to start given the current role technology plays in adolescent lives.
The California Adolescent Health Collaborative identified several benefits of social media on adolescent health that include: extending friendships, supportive environment to friendships and social status, support online that may be lacking in traditional relationships, a key source of information and advice, including health-related concerns (2011). In addition to identifying these key areas, the health collaborative indicated that cell phone and features, such as texting, are very popular with teen and parents (2011). Over 90% of parents and teens backed up the assertions that they like cell phones because they can “keep in touch no matter where I am” (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell & Purcell, 2010).
At the same time, there are equal amounts of risks when social media plays an integral part of adolescent life. This is where the Interactive Novel Study can weave in teachable moments, addressing the responsible use of technology and social media, while reading a novel and using social media together as a class. There are several parts of the Interactive Novel Study that are not seen during the process that was posted to my Interactive Novel Study Blog, and it would have been better if I had taken the time to document classroom activities and post separate blog postings to show how this tied into the novel study as a whole. Prior to starting the Interactive Novel Study initial student postings, the class completed a cooperative mini unit on using social media, respect, and safety, between the language arts teacher and media teacher. Students were very well versed in safe and respectful internet usage going into the Interactive Novel Study.
For both the seventh and eighth grade, the novel studies started with assigning students blogging nicknames names and research project developed to establish background knowledge for the novel being studied. The introduction assignment was designed to introduce the students to the classroom blog and provide an opportunity to create background knowledge for the novel study. The seventh-grade novel study – The Pigman Student Introduction: The Pigman novel takes place in a New York Suburbs and the main characters visit the Bronx Zoo. Students were assigned a username that coincided with an animal that lives in the Bronx Zoo. The eighth-grade novel study – Touching Spirit Bear Student Introduction: Touching Spirit Bear starts out in Minneapolis and moves quickly to Alaska. The main character is placed on an Island and must fend for himself in the elements of Alaska. Students were assigned a city in Alaska as a username. The introduction assignment provided the students with an opportunity to explore Alaska and learn more about the environment, weather, and the setting.
After reading several comments from followers of my blog, I posted some of the student comments, to show how the students were interactive with the Kidblog. This does not break any confidentiality because no student names or locations are revealed.
The introduction comments (seventh grade, eighth grade) showed the students’ abilities to use the internet to identify information, interpret and compile data needed to answer real world questions. Hooking the students into the novel study by connecting them to real world environments, issues, and skills was essential to bringing them into the setting of the novel while tying them to a personal experience. It was important to me that I create a novel study that started with making connections. Knowing that not all of my students had the existing knowledge or experiences to connect personally to the story, it was important to create an experience and knowledge we could share together. Supporting this strategy, Campbell and Campbell write in Mindful Learning, “When preparing for instruction, most of us focus tremendous effort on the content we will teach. Often, lesson planning and instructional time is dedicated to accessing preexisting knowledge. This oversight can have significant implications” (2009). While creating the original plan for the Interactive Novel Study, several common issues with reading, writing, and technology were addressed, in the attempt to meet individual student needs and assist growth in learning. Why an interactive Novel Study?
Once we started reading and students started commenting on blog postings, I realized that the Interactive Novel Study concept would work best at the beginning of the school year instead of the end. This process is an initial introduction to blogging and social media as it could be intertwined into the way the classroom functions as a whole. Student overall interaction and engagement in the classroom increased. Discussions within small groups and in the whole class setting increased. Other content area teachers reported students carrying over conversations into their classrooms; the media and social studies teachers were pulled into conversations that related to their content areas when students asked questions during their class periods.
Watching the students branch out and make connections to other content areas created natural cooperative learning moments. This realization has allowed me to work more closely with the social studies teacher and we have plans to complete a cooperative Interactive Novel Study using the novel “Five Aprils” which fits closely with the social studies curriculum. We plan to have the student usernames be North and South states, the purpose will be to have the students discover more about their state while reading the novel and hopefully create a civil war within our own classrooms by the time the novel is complete.
Similarly, the media teacher and I will be starting off the next school year with collaborative teaching to cover an introduction to technology, the internet, and various social media platforms. We are hoping to establish a solid foundation that can increase the efficiency of technology use across all content areas as well as the Interactive Novel Study.
Another piece that was only partially shared was the ongoing cooperative teaching between the Special Education Department and me as the Language Arts Teacher. We met briefly every few days to make sure the needs of all learners were being met. A paraprofessional and the special education teacher were in the room to help students work through using technology and completing assignments. Having the Special Education team collaborating on the project helped ensure that all students were able to remain in the general education setting and participate in discussions and peer learning opportunities. Differentiation and providing a learning opportunity that allows all students to participate was part of the original goals behind the Interactive Novel Study. Why an interactive Novel Study?
As we moved through the Interactive Novel Study, my time was focused more on the students, planning activities, and participating in classroom discussions. Precisely where it needed to be; however, I should have taken more time to blog about the activities and discussions that were naturally evolving. The questioning process was an essential part of the Interactive Novel Study Core Elements; the most interesting part of the process that could not be seen by those following along with the process. As I attempt to do this again, I will make more of an effort to document and share more of the process, events, and outcomes.
It was important to make sure that students had time during the school day to post comments, replies, and complete other online activities. Even though technology at our school is 1:1, the reality is that many students do not have access to Wi-Fi or the Internet outside of school. Carroll and Kirkpatrick note, “there has been a closing of the access gap for some populations using new technologies” (2011). Our school is located in the northern rural part of the state of Minnesota, where Internet access is not always reliable and can often be unaffordable for many families. The population is predominantly Caucasian, followed by Native American and other non-Hispanic minorities. The California Adolescent Health Collaborative supports the need to recognize the gap that still exists. While teen internet access is highest among White teens with college-educated parents and annual household incomes above $50,000, there has been a dramatic shift in Black and Latino use of new technologies (Purcell, 2011). Having to work around internet access was a challenge and required a continuous effort to ensure that students had time to complete assignments during class and study hall, as well as before and after school. Administration and the community Education after school program helped ensure that the school media center and library were available to students if their 1:1 technology was unavailable for use.
The majority of students brought their iPads to class every day full charged and ready to use. The challenging part was managing to keep students connected with the Interactive Novel Study when they forgot their technology at home, did not charge their device, or they had their device privileges removed. The technology department was very good about addressing individual technology needs quickly, so students did not lose a lot of down time for updates or other technical issues. Similarly, the classroom was equipped with several charging stations to allow students to work while charging their devices or leave their technology to charge when it was not needed for other classes. There were only two instances where a student was on a technology restriction and I was able to arrange for one student to use an Ipad in class only, and the other student used the classroom computer. Both students were monitored during use and there were no problems that needed to be addressed during the Interactive Novel Study.
My original executive description stated: Using technology to enhance the learning process and maintain open communication between students, teachers, and parents is an essential part of successful education. This project will use social media platforms to create two interactive middle school novel studies that will provide students with opportunities to work on writing skills and master literary reading standards while fostering individual ownership in the learning process. I believe that I met this goal and was able to foster individual ownership in the learning process. The final blog assignment for the eighth-grade class demonstrates how the students were able to take what they learned during the course of the novel study and create an original assignment posting to help assess their peers understanding of different elements of the story.
The original timeline for the project was adjusted right away in the beginning. As the project moved on, it was apparent that I had planned too many project reflections and not enough posting that elaborated on how the Interactive Novel Study was bringing the students closer to meeting the Interactive Novel Study Main Goals and Objectives.
I read all of the reading that was selected for the Graduate Level part of the project. Several of the readings were used to help work through some of my reflections and adjustments to the Interactive Novel Study, as we were moving through the project. See Part Two Reflection Understanding Reading and Adolescence and the Interactive Novel Study Reflection to see how the reading material was used to help increase literacy and innovative use of technology to implement this project.
The use of Twitter was fairly consistent during the #Interactivenovelstudy. I set up a Twitter account for my Language Arts classroom last summer, with the intention of using it to share what we are experiencing in the classroom. My plan was to connect with parents, teachers, and students; however, I did not know how to fully incorporate it into what I was doing. During the Interactive Novel Study, I used Twitter to send out messages that related to reading, education, and my blog activity, as well as to keep my followers interested in what was happening with the #Interactivenovelstudy. This experience provided me with a deeper understanding of how to use social media to reach a wider range of people and to communicate with very precise language. I attempted to use Remind as a modified secure version of Twitter, but it did not function the way that I indented it to, so it was merely used to remind students and parents about deadlines and general classroom information. This is an excellent way to send parents messages and communication through texting, but it is not a replacement for Twitter by any means.
On the other hand, the media teacher helped by doing a little research and talking with his connections. He was able to identify and complete a trial use with older students on and group communication and team building app. The UMD students developed an app called slack that is specifically designed for teams to use while working collaboratively. The app allows teams to communicate privately or openly in public forums. The app allows teachers to monitor student activity as needed. Teachers can have the main group as a whole and students can break off into smaller groups for separate projects and bring everything back to the whole group. The best part of the app is that it functions similar to Twitter (sharing words, images, video), only with enhanced grouping (teams) capabilities. Ensuring privacy for students and teachers is more user-friendly than Twitter and easier to monitor and manage. The next Interactive Novel Study will have this app as part of the communication process; students can link to information from slack to Kidblog posting.
For myself personally, I have deepened my understanding of how to incorporate technology and social media into the language arts classroom to help facilitate the learning process and make connections with students through their world. At the same time, the change in approach to reading novels together as a class has allowed me to step back and let the students determine the direction of discussion and ultimately the overall learning in the room. My future goal is to start the year with an introduction to the Interactive Novel Study, read several novels using the interactive approach, with each novel moving closer to the students directing the novel study themselves, while I merely guide them through the process.
Campbell, Linda and Campbell, Bruce (2009). Mindful Learning: 101 Proven Strategies for Student and Teacher Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. http://www.corwinpress.com.
Carroll, J.A. & Kirkpatrick, R.L. (2011). Impact of social media on adolescent behavioral health. Oakland, CA: California Adolescent Health Collaborative. http://www.californiateenhealth.org
Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010). Teens & mobile phones. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Teens-and-Mobile-Phones.aspx
Purcell, K. (2011). Trends in Teen Communication and Social Media Use. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/Presentations/2011/Feb/PIP-Girl-Scout-Webinar.aspx