Tracking Independent Reading in high school

As I started talking about in my last post, we’re in the process of setting every high school student up with a blog to use as an e-portfolio. To help you wrap your head around why we’re using blogs as our container for this, I suggest downloading and reading the Free PDF I produced at the end of last year.

Once you wrap your head around the idea that these blogs are just a container that we can link into and out of then we can build our portfolio taking advantage of all the Web 2.0 world has to offer.

You’ll be able to find everything I’m talking about on my school example blog here. I would suggest opening it in a new window so you can see how we integrated all the parts together making the blog the central location of content/knowledge storage. Our “one stop shop”.

Independent Reading Tracker:
First the teachers wanted to have a way for students to track what they were reading and what genres they were finding themselves pulled towards. On top of that they wanted to be able to encourage students to read genres they might not always read, and of course they wanted it in one place that was simple to use and see.

Using our schools Google Apps account. The English Department, our high school librarian, and myself came up with a template that satisfied everyone’s need for information. I then took that template and created a Google Spreadsheet using it. I shared that template with the students at our school so that they could make a copy of it.

Once each student had their own copy we shared that copy with their English teacher and then we made the document public, copied the link, and linked it to our blogs. On the example blog you can click on the IR Tracker page at the top to be taken to the template. Student blogs work the same way. Now readers to the blog can see what each student has been reading, and the teachers can see in their Google Docs account what every student has been reading. Picture if you will these 9th graders blogs and Google Spreadsheet four years from now when they are seniors. Think about how much information they will have, colleges will have, and teachers will have about how much they are reading, what their interests might be, etc. Powerful stuff!

Finding and Reviewing Books:
There are some great Web 2.0 sites out there that teachers can use to help students find, connect, and share ideas about the books they’re reading. LibraryThing, Shelfari, and Goodreads are the three that we considered. What I was looking for in reviewing the three sites was which one was visually appealing to students (design matters) which one allowed student to connect within the site, and more importantly outside of the site.

We decided to go with Goodreads for three reasons:

  1. Simple and quick to use
  2. Allows you to “friend” other members and get updates on what they are reading
  3. Allows you to connect to Facebook and instantly blog your recommendations

Those are the main reasons we choose to go with goodreads. You’ll have to make a choice which one is best for your school/students.

Now, when you head over to the example blog you’ll see how this all comes together. A student will go to goodreads, find the book they are reading or have read and add it to their shelf. They will then rate the book and write a recommendation to others about it. As soon as they click “save” on their recommendation, it is sent to their blog as a blog post with all the information about the book attached including a picture of the cover of the book (yes…I used my own book as an example….cheap I know! :) ).

Next the student heads to their blog and quickly puts the new blog post into the category English-IR Reviews (Independent Reading Reviews). Next they copy the URL to that review on their blog, log into their Google Docs account and paste it in their IR Tracking document under blog post review and then fill in the rest of the information.

Yes…that sounds like a lot, but these are high school students and this is on their independent time meaning homework, so we’re not taking class time for much of this (although we’re hoping to set some time aside each month to talk about it in class….completing the circle). Also, teacher’s time of keeping track of student’s reading will hopefully be minimized by having all of the student docs in their account. They can open a doc, look what a student has been reading, click on the link to go read the review if they choose, and move on.

So the blog becomes the central gathering place. Connecting the goodreads to the blog on one end and the Google Doc to the blog on the other. In this way the blog becomes the container that just holds the links and information together.

So far the kids seem to be down with it, and the teachers are excited as well. I’m excited because it will also force teachers to meet with me to learn to organize their Google Docs, and spend some time understanding how the whole set up runs (there’s always a method to my madness ;) ).

It’s important to find a system that works for everyone, and I think we have a pretty good system here that is sustainable using our school programs. Goodreads is the only site out of our control and that’s a risk will take. If for some reason they go away we’re not out much. The blog posts will stay, the tracking is still there and we move on to another book site.

Many people will think I’m crazy but a key factor for me was also the ability to send reviews and information to Facebook. We know this is where kids spend their social time, and if we want reading to be ‘cool’ we need it to be out there where other kids are seeing what their friends are reading and that’s it’s ‘cool’ to share that with others…..it’s a motivator of sorts and an important one at that in my opinion.

12 Comments

  1. Jeff, thanks for the detailed description and sample website to show what this will look like in practice. I think encouraging and having students document their independent reading is a great idea that will generate more excited learners who are able to develop intellectual passions.

    Three pragmatic questions:
    1) I assume your school is 1:1, correct? You mention at the end having students go through this process on their own free time, which I imagine will require them to have access to a computer and the internet to be able to complete.

    2) What is the school’s (or perhaps just English department’s) homework policy and/or culture? Do students, a la Alfie Kohn, have very little “traditional” (e.g. worksheet-oriented) homework tasks to do, but are instead expected to make their way through a number of books of their own choosing? Are there expected due dates for when each student posts an IR update, or expectations about how many IR books a student makes it through in the course of the year?

    3) How well do you find students able to acclimate to this process of setting up their blogs, the Google Spreadsheets, the Goodreads widget, and the like? What sort of acclimation do students have to these types of tasks, to which they as 9th graders, may or may not have any experience? (Or perhaps they do have experience from 8th grade, which makes my questions moot). I’ve found that trying to introduce a lot of new technological tools and skills all at once can lead to a real disorientation on the students’ part, which has ramifications on how much investment they have in this type of program. Do you have any thoughts on how to avoid this techno-induced shut-down?

    Thanks again for the post!

    • 1) I assume your school is 1:1, correct? You mention at the end having students go through this process on their own free time, which I imagine will require them to have access to a computer and the internet to be able to complete.
      Assumption wrong! We’re only 1:1 in 6th grade. We have laptop carts we use in the high school. Because we see most of this being done as homework and on the students own time it makes it that much easier and sustainable. As long as teachers keep it as part of the year plan. It also helps that every English teacher will have a blog and be tracking their own independent reading this year to help give validity to the program which I think is a great idea.

      2) What is the school’s (or perhaps just English department’s) homework policy and/or culture? Do students, a la Alfie Kohn, have very little “traditional” (e.g. worksheet-oriented) homework tasks to do, but are instead expected to make their way through a number of books of their own choosing? Are there expected due dates for when each student posts an IR update, or expectations about how many IR books a student makes it through in the course of the year?
      Yes on the homework, and we’re still working out the details on how many books and how do you grade, or do you grade, something that is suppose to be independent. In our high school they still take time to do silent reading, which I think is fantastic and they are finding ways to have IR conversations where students talk about books they’re reading. I think you need to make it a culture of your classroom, that reading is important, and the rest will fall into place.

      3) How well do you find students able to acclimate to this process of setting up their blogs, the Google Spreadsheets, the Goodreads widget, and the like? What sort of acclimation do students have to these types of tasks, to which they as 9th graders, may or may not have any experience? (Or perhaps they do have experience from 8th grade, which makes my questions moot). I’ve found that trying to introduce a lot of new technological tools and skills all at once can lead to a real disorientation on the students’ part, which has ramifications on how much investment they have in this type of program. Do you have any thoughts on how to avoid this techno-induced shut-down?
      Our returning 9th graders came in with a lot of skills because blogs as e-portfolios is now the culture of our school. At the same time what I was completley amazed with was how fast students not only picked up the idea of how all this was going to be tied together, but alos how quickly they were able to do it (see this post) Like any good lesson I think it helps to start with the end in mind. Before we started setting up the whole system we talked about why do we have a blog? Why would we want to track what we are reading? and then I walked them through the sample blog to show them what the end result was going to look like. I then asked if there were any questions and off we went. Because I first explained what it was going to look like, some students who understood what needed to happen were 3 or 4 steps ahead of me explaining what to do.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing these resources. I enjoy GoodReads. I have also used Shelfari, but I think I think the “friends” part better for sharing. Have you set up a group for your school?

    Jim

    • We haven’t set a group up for our school. I want to see if kids start creating groups themselves around the books they are reading or set up a group for the school. It’s not part of our “plan” so we’ll leave the groups (which I do think could be powerful) up to the kids.

  3. Wow! This is a very powerful combination of web tools. I was worried that it would be complicated, so I did a test run for myself…took less than 15 minutes (but I already had a blog, a google account, and a goodreads account).

    I can’t wait to get this started with students! I can also see myself using this as a way to track incremental assigned reading (i.e. novel study).

    Thanks so much for another great idea!

  4. Hi Jeff: What a great idea on how to track independent reading. In my fourth grade class, we kept a log. However, the students hated using it. This gives them a real audience with their book review. Do you have any thoughts on how this would work with 4th graders?

    • In 4th grade we just have the students write book reviews directly as blog posts and put them in a category called “Book Reviews”. You can check out Izzy’s Blog and click on Book Reviews to see a sample. Izzy is now in 6th grade so you’ll also see how we’re using the blogs as portfolios over the years.

      • Thanks Jeff for posting Izzy’s blog. It does give me good insight on how this can look for my students. Do they all have their own e-mail addresses? My system is very leery of students under age 13 having their own e-mail addresses. How do you address this?

  5. My librarian and I hatched a program whereby we found sponsors to donate a dime or so per book read; this year they donated 0.55 per book total. We then challenged the kids to read as much as they could over the year with the proceeds going to buy books for a couple schools in Africa where my librarian also did service work. She checked in with the kids once a month, tracked their reading and offered encouragement, new titles and so forth. The 50 kids in the school read over a thousand books this year so a nice cheque went to Africa and I, as the English teacher and asst head, knew the kids were getting plenty of reading practice.

  6. Goodreads would be a great way to track independent reading. I hadn’t thought of using it that way, and given I’ve been on Goodreads for a long time, I’m surprised it didn’t occur to me. It would be very easy to create a group for students, making it easy for everyone to see reviews and for teachers to check.

  7. Hi Jeff! Thank you for all of the great information. I’m having trouble finding your IR tracking sheet. Can you help me? Thanks so much.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Some Recommended (EdTech) Weekend Reading | Hack Education - [...] “Tracking Independent Reading in High School,” The Thinking Stick: Jeff Utrecht details the tools his school used in order …
  2. A prayer for Pakistan « READINGPOWER - [...] 11. Tracking independent reading and using blog as eportfolio http://www.thethinkingstick.com/tracking-independent-reading-in-high-school 12. HOW TO: Undo “Send” in Gmail [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>