In my ongoing efforts to build a culture of reading in my classroom, I often overlook the best way to inspire a student to pick up a book: recommendations from a peer. How can my book talks ever hope to compete with a teenager enthusiastically pushing a book into a classmate’s hands? And while it used to be a struggle to find efficient ways for my students to share book recommendations with each other, today’s classroom offers myriad options.
Top of my list is the KQED Learn platform from KQED. Just in time for PBS’s Great American Read series, KQED Learn has launched a discussion about our favorite books. Students are invited to watch an Above the Noise video about how technology might be affecting our reading habits, and then they are encouraged to post a recommendation of one of the best books they have read. Some of my students were proud to be included in the launch of the discussion:
Joining KQED Learn and creating a class is a quick and easy process, allowing students to get started on the site right away. After registering their accounts and adding a profile picture, my students wrote and posted recommendations of their favorite books. Then they started reading and replying to recommendations from other students, and adding to their growing list of “great books to read someday.”
One great feature of KQED Learn is that my students are able to learn from, investigate with and respond to students from all over the country. While most of our online work is done within a “walled garden,” where they only encounter students in our class or school domain, KQED Learn opens the door to students of any teachers on the Learn site. When my students interact with students there, they are exposed to lives, experiences and beliefs beyond their immediate community, which broadens their world view and deepens their empathy. This expansive walled garden helps my students build valuable digital citizenship skills as they learn to work online for academic purposes.
But the power of sharing good books with one another goes well beyond simply adding to a good book list. When students write about and read book reviews, they begin to engage in literary analysis for the most meaningful reason possible: because they love the stories. For instance, in Janessa’s recommendation of the Harry Potter series, she commented that “Hermione is the main reason that they succeeded.” While that wasn’t the focus of her writing, a few classmates honed in on it and challenged her opinion:
Because Janessa was writing about a beloved book, she didn’t hesitate to jump back into the discussion, defend her opinion, and even offer some evidence to backup her claim. If we want our students to tackle academic literary analysis, we should take cues from students like Janessa who wade right in when the topic is near and dear to their heart.
Another benefit of moving discussions to an online space is that students are able to read, think about and respond more thoughtfully than they might in a traditional, face-to-face discussion. And since these conversations are stored on the KQED Learn site, we can return to them throughout the year, adding more good books, replying to more recommendations, and deciding once and for all if Hermione really was the main reason that she, Harry and Ron succeeded.