Final Reflection “Interactive Novel Study”

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.

Seventh Grade Interactive Novel Study The Pigman

Eighth Grade Interactive Novel Study Toughing Spirit Bear

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.

Carroll, J.A. & Kirkpatrick, R.L. (2011). Impact of social media on adolescent behavioral health. Oakland, CA: California Adolescent Health Collaborative.

Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010). Teens & mobile phones. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Purcell, K. (2011). Trends in Teen Communication and Social Media Use. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

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Final Student Response

8th Grade Interactive Active Novel Study

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

The final assessment for the Interactive Novel Study was to have the students create the final postings. The students worked in small groups to discuss, verify, and create questions they wanted their peers to answer about the novel as a whole. The verification piece of the process required the small group to determine potential example answers and evidence from the text to answer their own posting. This not only provided a potential sample answer key, the verification process moved the students to ensure that their questions were valid and encouraged critical thinking.

Examples of each small group posting and student comments:

Group 1

The Island

The island 1The Island 2The Island 3The Island 4The Island 5The Island 6The island 7

Group 2

Story Arch

Story Arch 1Story Arch 2Story Arch 3Story Arch 4Story Arch 5Story Arch 6Story Arch 7Story Arch 8

Group 3

Discovering Self

Self Discovery 1Self Discovery 3Self Discovery 4Self Discovery 5Selfdiscovery 2

Final Reflection Interactive Novel Study


Interactive Novel Study Reflection

7th Grade Interactive Novel Study “Reflection”

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

First, as a middle school teacher, I tend to lean towards a cooperative student centered learning environment, and stray from the traditional teacher lecture centered classroom. I strive to create opportunities to experience learning rather than focus on taking vocabulary tests and completing worksheets. My philosophy revolves around making Interactive Novel Studyconnections, building background knowledge and experiences, while developing lasting relationships. “Fostering the development of healthy relationships in any school can help build a positive school community where teachers, students, and school staff can work with one another in a culture of learning and affirming” (Carlisle, 2011). This concept supports the idea that students need to feel respected, supported and valued by their teachers and feel like they belong within the educational system as a whole. The overall culture and climate of the classroom needs to “address adolescent student needs for school social support to improve life satisfaction of individual adolescent students” (2011). It is important to understand that a positive sense of belonging is directly correlated with a student’s ability to be an effective member of the school community, participate in positive behaviors, and demonstrate the positive attributes needed to engage in healthy relationships that stimulate higher levels of learning.

It is obvious that students learn more from each other when the learning environment allows them to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, critical thinking is enhanced when students are encouraged to question and discover answers together. Life is not always filled with right and wrong answers, life is often filled with challenges that require us to look deeper than the surface, determine what side we agree with, and identify evidence that supports our thoughts and ideas.

The last three years, I have spent working through a variety of novel study units, in search of the best way to share a novel with my students while facilitating learning and mastering standards. Some of the novel study methods were too long and drawn out. The core of many novel studies tend to be very heavy and thick with worksheets, graphic organizers, and vocabulary assessments where the true reading experience gets lost and students start to disengage. At the same time, with a wide range of learning needs, and reading and writing abilities in the classroom it is even more challenging to maintain a novel study without losing students along the way. Educators strive to meet the needs of all students within the general education setting; however, creating a learning environment that matches the developmental abilities and needs of young adolescents is extremely challenging when students are not reading proficiently or unable to express themselves adequately through writing.

According to Stevens, author of Integrated Reading and Language Arts Instruction, the goal of the middle school organization is to create a learning environment that matches the developmental abilities and needs of young adolescents through the integration of reading and English classes in large urban middle schools (2006). This concept can be used as a model to develop a Language Arts program that uses the cooperative learning processes to take advantage of the cognitive, social, and motivational benefits of students working together on reading and writing. The Integrated Reading and Language Arts Instruction article provides data that supports the use of integrated instruction that actively engages students.

My mission was to find a method of reading a novel directly with the class, with no required outside independent reading, eliminating the need for differentiating the novel text. Reading aloud to students while they are following along not only increases comprehension and language, it builds a foundation for background knowledge and cooperative learning. Dorn and Soffos concur that the read aloud and follow-up conversation allows teachers the opportunity to help students develop background knowledge and connect concepts so that all children can begin to clarify their thinking during their discussions with their peers and teacher (2005). Allington (2001) agrees and writes that in order for children to develop thoughtful literacy, they must be given an abundant number of opportunities throughout the day to demonstrate their understanding and to practice using comprehension strategies under the guidance of the teacher. Read aloud also stimulate curiosity in children as they are invited into a safe environment to marvel at the concepts being presented (Harvey, 1998).

The Interactive Novel Study provides students at different reading and writing levels the opportunity to read the same novel together and participate as a whole learning community. With everyone experiencing every word, phrase, image, and feeling every inch of the storyline together, the interactive novel study becomes a way to impact each individual student personally as well as academically. Tying academic skills and standards into the novel study results in an “interactive life experience” and not an “I have to learn this just because” educational moment. Author of Using Read Alouds in Today’s Classroom, Reba Wadsworth reminds us that, “given the body of research supporting the importance of read alouds for modeling fluency, building background knowledge, and developing language acquisition, Allen (2000) writes we should remind ourselves that those same benefits occur when we extend read alouds beyond the early years.”

The Interactive Novel Study brings everything that I have been looking for together. This includes connecting to students in a modern era of technology. The technology savvy adolescents of today seem to have created a dependency on feeling connected (Crittenden, 2002) in both social and academic settings. They multitask, performing tasks at the same time (email, IM, video games, etc) and have created an expectation for speed and immediacy of response or information (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2006). These adolescents prefer learning by doing and are more comfortable with image-rich environments rather than with text (Tapscott, 2002). Brainstorm and experimenting with using an online platform to facilitate a novel study is how the concept of Interactive Novel Study immerged. Technology has become part of the way we interact in our microsystems of family, friends, and school by expanding on-line access and instant communication (Russo, Fallon, Zhang, Acevedo, 2014).

This year is the beginning of the Interactive Novel Study, and now I have the basis to refine and build an experience that allows students to grow socially, emotionally and academically. The key to the Interactive Novel Study is using questioning and encouraging students to learn from each other. Fostering independent thinking and hunting for evidence to support thoughts and ideas is crucial for growth. Students come to understand that when sharing experiences and cooperative learning, in general terms, there is no right or wrong answer, there is evidence to support your thoughts and ideas. This approach allows students to become more comfortable with themselves and sharing what they are thinking. Providing students opportunities to increase their confidence and develop the skills to support what they are thinking, allows them to grow and master content that is put in front of them.

On the other side, it is essential that students understand that when there is a right and wrong answer, getting the answer wrong can prove to be a greater opportunity to learn. When we are presented with a wrong answer, we work together to understand why an answer is incorrect. What evidence can we collect that will help support determining the correct answer? As students learn to discuss and debate, why they are selecting an answer, they can help each other enhance their ability to think critically about questions, evidence, and answers.

The Interactive Novel Study is one piece in the world of secondary learning. The Interactive Novel Study satisfies the student’s personal need to belong and to be validated. The Interactive Novel Study fosters critical thinking through questioning and reasoning while providing academic enrichment. The interactive Novel Study provides the educator with a platform to differentiate, assess, and adapt to individual student needs without creating additional work. The future of the Interactive Novel Study, effective teachers with engaged students.


Allington, R. (2001). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Carlisle, Mariko (2011). Healthy Relationships and Building Developmental Assets in Middle School Students. Canadian Journal of Education, 34, 3, 18-32.

Crittenden, S. (2002). Silicon daydreams: digital pastimes of the wired generation., vol VI.

Dorn, L., & Soffos, C. (2005). Teaching for deep comprehension. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Harvey, S. (1998). Nonfiction matters. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Oblinger, D. & Oblinger, J. L. (2006). Is it age or IT: first steps toward understanding the net generation? California School Library Association Journal, 29(2), 8-16.

Theresa J. Russo, Moira A. Fallon, Jie Zhang, and Veronica C. Acevedo (2014). University Students Need to Connect. Brock Education, 23(2), Spring 2014, pp. 84-96.

Wadsworth, Reba M. (2008). Using Read Alouds in Today’s Classrooms. Read alouds benefit children of all ages and in all subjects. Leadership Compass, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring. NAESP.


The Pigman Journey

7th Grade Interactive Novel Study

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

Life is not always filled with right and wrong answers, life is often filled with challenges that require us to look deeper than the surface, determine what side we agree with, and identify evidence that supports our thoughts and ideas (Kaufenberg).

As we shared the experience of reading “The Pigman” together in class, we created opportunities to share our understanding of the text, characters, setting, and the challenges of teenage life, while covering ELA Common Core Standards.

Main Postings that Facilitated Novel Study and Stimulated in Class Discussion

The PrankSitting in the Graveyard

Relationship 1Relationship 2

Google Forms added to support alternate form of assessment and use of technology

Google Form ExampleGoogle Form Example Responses

Grading made easy with Excel Spreadsheet

Spread Sheet Grading Sample

From the educator standpoint, the Interactive Novel Study increased the efficiency of questioning and targeting standards, while directly engaging students in topics that have direct meaning to their personal interests and challenges of adolescents. The various questions posted in the blog helped facilitate whole class discussion, by allowing students time to think through their ideas and come to class prepared to discuss. Review of student responses clearly identifies student understanding, skills, and abilities, which provides the teacher with the evidence, needed to determine the next steps required for each student to move towards individual academic goals. Using Kidblog as the platform to facilitate interactive assessment not only created ongoing student engagement, it allowed the teacher to monitor and differentiate learning and assessment.

Touching Spirit Bear Student Introduction

8th Grade Interactive Active Novel Study

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

The introduction assignment is designed to introduce the students to the classroom blog and provide an opportunity to create background knowledge for the novel study. Touching Spirit Bear starts out in Minneapolis and moves quickly to Alaska. The main characters 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 setting. The images below walk through the first steps the eighth grade completed as they started the Toughing Spirit Bear Novel Study.

Before this individual assignment, The class looked over the classroom blog on the white board. The class reviewed “Welcome to Touching Spirit Bear Novel Study.”

8thgradeIntroductionpostingSTOP HERE – each student was given the introduction hand out. The whole reviewed the Touching Spirit Bear Novel Study Introduction to Kidblog and reviewed the sample  Posting Kodiak Posting.

Introduction Sheet

When introducing a new assignment and technology tool, it is important to provide visual examples and set expectations. Before the students logged into their accounts, they walked through the steps of the assignment together. Exploring cities in Alaska. Student volunteer read the Kodiak posting and the class checked the posting facts with the information at the Cities in Alaska website, AreaVibes. This whole group process set the expectations for independent student work.

Alaskan CitiesKodiak

This initial assignment provided the students with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to use real world skills. The students researched cities in a manner that they may one-day research a place to live, go to college, or find a job.


Sample Student Response for Whole Class Lesson


Eighth Grade Student Examples


The Pigman Student Introduction

7th Grade Interactive Novel Study

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

The introduction assignment is designed to introduce the students to the classroom blog and provide an opportunity to create background knowledge for the novel study. 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 images below walk through the first steps the seventh grade completed as they started The Pigman Interactive Novel Study.

Before this individual assignment, The class looked over the classroom blog on the white board. The class reviewed “Welcome to The Pigman Novel Study.”


STOP HERE – each student was given the introduction hand out. The whole reviewed the Pigman Novel Study Introduction to Kidblog and reviewed the sample Gelada Baboon Posting.

Introduction assignmnet Pigman

When introducing a new assignment and technology tool, it is important to provide visual examples and set expectations. Before the students logged into their accounts, they walked through the steps of the assignment together. Exploring the Bronx Zoo and the exhibit for Gelada Baboon. Student volunteer read the Gelada posting and the class checked the posting facts with the information at the Bronx Zoo website. This whole group process set the expectations for independent student work.

During this initial assignment, students demonstrated their ability to use real world skills; search a website for specific information, read a map, determine cost, and translate information.

Bronx Zoo Animals

Sample student response used for the whole class lesson.

Seventh Grade Student Examples





Student Introduction Reflection

Student usernames and logging in daily for lessons.

Deciding how to set up usernames for the students is a process that should allow students anonymity to encourage students to communicate openly. Taking the use of sorbets (nicknames) one step further provides an opportunity to create background knowledge and work on media literacy standards. Usernames were selected based on the introduction assignment. For The Pigman novel study usernames are animals from the Bronx Zoo and usernames for the Touching Spirit Bear are cities in Alaska. See The Pigman Part One and Touching Spirit Bear Part One for details and student posting examples.

The easiest way to complete this process is for the teacher to go through and assign the username and student email address. The School District has student email addresses through Google, which made sign up easy for students. As the teacher creates new users, enters usernames, and adds student email addresses an email is sent to the student. The email is an invitation to Students follow the link provided and login with Google.

To test the signup process the seventh-grade signed up using Google and the eighth-grade used the specified classroom blog website address, logging in with usernames and passwords. Signup with the Google was smoother, took less time and was easier for students to login during subsequent lessons – all the teacher had to say was go to and login with Google. Eighth-grade signup with usernames and passwords was a little more time-consuming. The teacher passed out slips of paper with classroom weblink, username, and password. On the following days, signing in took longer because students had to go to the specific classroom blog web address, remember username and password.  To eliminate the wasted time, student email addresses were added to usernames by the teacher, welcome emails were sent to students, students followed the link, and verified Google email login. Now both classes login with Google, saving time.

Part Two Reflection

This where the teacher needs to step up, grab hold, and jump off the traditional teaching ledge; and take the plunge into the world of the adolescents (Kaufenberg, 2017).

Why an Interactive Novel Study?

Adjusting to the World Around Us:

The majority of teachers will admit they are constantly thinking about their classroom and planning what is next. Even seasoned teachers, with their go-to bag of tricks, are on the lookout for new ideas to bring into the classroom. One of the main reasons, that teaching is an endless cycle of planning, revising, and planning is because the world around us is in a constant state of motion. As society evolves and changes, education must adjust to meet the needs of the people. In many cases content may stay the same, for example, reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding in language arts class is part of the curriculum to help students make connections while studying government in civics class. Reading the classic stays constant, how the novel is read, the daily lessons, and enrichment activities often change or need to be adjusted based on the group of students that enter the classroom each school year.

Of course, there are some basic core elements that teachers will argue never change and this may be true; however, it is essential that teachers remain fluid and adjust to the world. All of the elements that make up a good teacher will only last as long as the teacher can maintain balance. Maintaining balance, between classroom management, curriculum, students, and society, is the key to student and teacher success alike. This balance can only be achieved through fluidity and direct connections to the real world. It is important that we take a step back, refocus, and step forward in a direction that meets the students on their playing field.

The initial intention of the Interactive Novel Study was to take the constant of reading novels in middle school and adjust it to fulfill personal and academic needs of the students and the teacher. At the same time, the Interactive Novel Study established a platform that was built around the essential elements required for middle school students to grow as readers and adolescents. First, it is important to understand the key elements and main goals of the Interactive Novel Study. Second, understanding how reading and adolescence impacts overall learning and quality of life is required for a teacher to implement the Interactive Novel Study successfully in middle school.

Interactive Novel Study Core Elements:

  1. Novel study is an experience the class shares together
  2. The novel study makes direct connects to adolescent life and challenges
  3. Novel is read aloud to the students, students do not read on their own
  4. Small group and whole class discussions revolve around the themes and elements of the novel
  5. Teacher facilitates discussions that are student lead and revolve around students connections to the novel
  6. Questioning and inquiry-based teaching encourages students to explore and support their ideas
  7. Evidence from the novel and other sources support thoughts and ideas
  8. ELA Common Core Standards are embedded into the novel study, standards alone do not drive the novel study, student needs determine the direction of the study
  9. Assessments are connected to real world experiences
  10. Technology is incorporated and used throughout the novel study
  11. The novel and discussion are mobile and reflect social media and adolescent need to socialize
  12. Worksheets and traditional pencil and paper assignments are avoided at all costs

Interactive Novel Study Main Goals and Objectives:

  1. To implement a novel study that is differentiated for all reading abilities and cognitive levels
  2. To Develop common experiences and background to build healthy relationships
  3. To Facilitate critical thinking and problem solving for real world challenges
  4. To create opportunities to practice and master oral and written communication skills
  5. To build a curiosity and need for reading while fostering lifelong readers and learners
  6. To establish a learning environment where students feel safe, secure and take ownership in the education process

Understanding Reading and Adolescence:

Evidence shows that the majority of middle school students struggle as they move through adolescence. The core of the struggle for students can vary from typical adolescent physical and psychological changes to the increase in educational diversity and academic difficulties. In most cases, the combination of personal and academic changes are at the root causing students to falter.

As students are leaving elementary they are beginning to show signs of wanting and needing to become more in control and responsible for their own learning. During this time, it is essential for educators to foster the needs and desires while guiding students as they transition into high school. “Adolescents are striving towards independence during a time in their lives when physiological and psychological changes are occurring rapidly. The rapid changes and desire for independence can make adolescents more self-conscious about their bodies and their emotions” (Stienberg and McCary, 2012). Even though students are moving through this major change in their lives with desires of independence, they still want the opportunity to talk with adults about their education and feel that adults care. Stienberg and McCary note, that students feel empowered when they are viewed as knowledgeable participants in the educational process (2012). Several studies have demonstrated that this empowerment goes farther than most educators imagined, and students are thinking metacognitively as well as critically about their education.

The Interactive Novel Study takes into account student need for independence as well as the desire for communication. For example, the novels Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, and The Pigman by Paul Zindel, both explore topics that are relevant to adolescents. The key is to recognize that the themes and topics raised in the novel are not always discussed aloud in everyday life. This where the teacher needs to step up, grab hold, and jump off the traditional teaching ledge; and take the plunge into the world of the adolescents. The Interactive Novel Study opens up the classroom to discussing challenges that all middle school students face either directly or indirectly. Reading a novel together provides a common experience that students can use to start sharing and relating. Teachers need to facilitate conversations about real life and address the topics that often are left unsaid. Students become actively engaged when teachers share stories and ask questions that relate to the “crazy things” that are going on with adolescents emotionally and physically. Discussing life’s challenges with growing up, family, friends, and choices brings students into the forefront of their world and opens the doors to learning. The Interactive Novel Study provides the teacher with the opportunity to use this open door into the adolescent world as a gateway to facilitate growth in reading and communication. This growth ripples across content areas and lays a foundation for future academics success.

As content demands increase, literacy demands also increase: students are expected to read and write across a wide variety of disciplines, genres, and materials with increasing skill, flexibility, and insight. Referring to the increasing complexity in meaning and vocabulary that content area texts present, there are a number of potential sources of trouble for the adolescent reader: decoding, fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, and critical thinking (Snow and Biancarosa, 2003, p. 5). The Interactive Novel Study indirectly and directly addresses the potential areas of academic concern through the use of oral and written discussions. Reading the novel aloud together and stopping at various points to discuss vocabulary and concepts provides opportunities to address individual student needs. Using questioning to invoke critical thinking and encouraging students to support their thoughts and ideas with evidence is critical to the success of the Interactive Novel Study.

Differentiation is a word that often makes teachers cringe or crawl back into the space under their teacher desk. The majority of teachers want to adjust what they are teaching and how they assess students to meet the needs of the student. Unfortunately, differentiation is not easy and it requires planning and continual informal assessments and observations. The Interactive Novel Study addresses the issue of time and ongoing assessment, allowing the teacher to take an active role in facilitating learning and providing the students with the opportunity to take ownership in their own learning. First, the educator needs to have an understanding of how individual students vary with not only reading levels, comprehension, and background knowledge.

For instance, the same reader may perform quite differently when reading a history text assigned by the teacher and when reading a self-selected novel. Motivation to read, relevant background knowledge, and degree of personal connection to the text differentiate these two reading tasks and can influence outcomes. The reader who can maintain high motivation even when reading for other-directed purposes, who has ample background knowledge across a wide array of domains, and who has good strategies to apply when experiencing comprehension difficulties will be a good reader across various sorts of texts and tasks (Snow and Biancarosa, 2003, p. 6). The Interactive Novel Study stimulates cooperative learning and sharing individual strengths to help each other work on our weaknesses. Identifying and discussing our strengths and weaknesses is key to growth and learning.

Using a novel study to meet students in their world and maintain engagement, while opening the door to developing reading and communication skills not only meets students individual needs, it creates a foundation for future success in school and life.


Snow, Catherine E. and Biancarosa, Gina (2003). Adolescent Literacy and the Achievement Gap: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go From Here? Harvard Graduate School of Education. Carnegie Corporation.

Stienberg, Mary Anne, and McCary, Erica D. (2012). Listening to Their Voices: Middle Schooler’s Perspective of the life in Middle School. The Qualitative Report, Volume 17, Article 68.

Part One Reflection Setting Up

Getting Started with Kidblog

Setting up the Kidblog and developing an introductory lesson was the first part of the interactive novel study. The main goal for an Interactive Novel Study is to provide opportunities to use technology to demonstrate knowledge and skills. The following details will show the Kidblog classroom set up for the seventh and eighth-grade novel studies. Set up will include determining categories and developing a layout that coincides with the theme of the novel. A follow-up Interactive Novel Study Blog posting will detail out how to use the first classroom posting to tie the students directly to the novel content while establishing background knowledge: The Pigman Part One or Touching Spirit Bear Part One.

Teacher View Dashboard
Teacher View Dashboard: keeps classes and units of study organized, view active and archived blog spaces, use archived blogs to set up novel studies for new classes.                                           Student Dashboard View is very similar to teacher view.

The ease of setting up individual blogs for each class and signing up students is the first part of a successful classroom blog.

General Settings
View of General Settings

Kidblog is an effective and easy to use blog for teachers and students. In addition, there are features that provide options for controlling content and access.

Privacy Settings
Moderate public and private settings, approve postings/comments and outside connections


Seventh Grade Interactive Novel Study

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

Selecting the theme for the blog background for The Pigman was based on the novel taking place in a New York suburb.

Seventh Grade The Pigman Interactive Novel Study: Public Home Page Blog View

The Pigman Interactive Novel Study Blog Home Page

See The Pigman Part One for details on setting up the Introduction Post for students

Navigation Resources

Links can be added to the side column to allow students easy navigation through Blog Categories, Outside resources needed for the novel study or additional course curriculum, and active members list. Students often enjoy looking at the Blog statistics and views.

Eighth Grade Interactive Novel Study

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Selecting the theme for the blog background for Touching Spirit Bear was based on the novel taking place in Alaska.

Eighth Grade Touching Spirit Bear Interactive Novel Study: Public Home Page View
Touching Spirit Bear Interactive Novel Study Blog Home Page

See Touching Spirit Bear Part One for details on setting up the Introduction Post for students


Setting Up Categories

Managing Categories is set the same no matter what novel is being read. Categories are selected to allow for easy tracking of students’ postings or comments. For the Interactive Novel Study, the teacher creates the posting and students create replies under the various headings. This keeps the blog space clean and less cluttered.

Tracking Individual Responses
Detailed view of a sort by individual student postings or comments for assessment
Tracking Individual Responses Option 2
List view of a sort by individual student posting or comments for assessment

Setting Up Categories

Managing Categories is set the same no matter what novel is being read. Categories are Categoriesselected to allow for easy tracking of students’ postings or comments. For the Interactive Novel Study, the teacher creates the posting and students create replies under the various headings. This keeps the blog space clean and less cluttered.

CATEGORIES: InteractiveNovelStudy, Getting Started, Daily Reading Responses, Novel Chapters, Questions for Mrs. K, and Free Blog Space

  1. InteractiveNovelStudy: Is the only public posting area that is used. This category provides information about the active novel study and direct parents to resources.

    Public Posting Message
  2. Getting Started: This is for the first few posting that starts the novel study.Intended to establish connections to themes, content, and practice using a blog.
  3. Daily Reading Responses: Teacher created postings that are used to stimulate a dialogue about daily readings. This category is also used to maintain a connection with the novel and as an assessment tool.
  4. Novel Chapters: PDF files are added to a posting through Google Drive as the chapter is read in class. Having the chapters readily available in the blog provides students with the opportunity to refer to the text when commenting on blog posts. In addition, students who miss class can read the daily reading and keep up with the novel study. Having only the chapters read, not only prevents students from reading ahead and keeps everyone together, it eliminates excuses for not being able to participate without a book.
    Chapter View
    PDF files from Google Drive can be uploaded, with the option to view in full screen

  5. Questions for Mrs. K: is an open space where students can ask the teacher questions as needed.
  6. Free Blog Space: This Space is open to students. The teacher does not play an active role in this area. Students thoughts and ideas about topics that they are interested. Students are encouraged to have conversations about things that they find interesting and want to talk about.

Free Blog Space

Follow the Interactive Novel Study on Twitter #interactivenovelstudy @EverydayLA. Watch this Blog Space to follow the process as we move through our first Interactive Novel Study with the seventh and eighth-grade students!

Importance of the Read Aloud

Importance of Reading Aloud to Students of All Grades and Levels: exposure, collaboration, and fluency

“The Read Aloud” has always been an important part of the reading curriculum with middle school students in courses I teach. Reading a book together in class and creating moments that we all have in common, not only strengths students academically, it builds a community of learners that can relate to one another. The only rule is that we only read the book with the class and never read ahead.

When we first start a novel study, students are exposed to the reasons why we read aloud together:

  1. Reading a story and discussing it as you go is fun and exciting!
  2. Creating something in common with your classmates builds future relationships and learning opportunities.
  3. Listening to a story and following along increases comprehension, fluency, and reading level.
  4. Individuals will also see growth in background knowledge as well as vocabulary.

ReadingHorizons has a Blog that features articles and evidence that supports a variety of reading strategies. The May 04, 2012 posting by Angie Stevens The Importance of Reading Aloud to Students of All Grades and Ages provides detailed examples that are directly tied to common core standards and established scientific based evidence for best practice.

Reading Horizons Blog Posting