iPad 2 with Smart Cover running iMovie.

iPad 2 with Smart Cover running iMovie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I wonder if reading “classics” actually detracts from the learning experience in my classroom.  I’ll continue to mull over this question and post about it in the future, but the problem is that wading through Romeo and Juliet (though I do my best to make the experience active and visual) sometimes costs my young readers.  It furthers their idea that reading is not pleasant, that it’s something that they just cant do well.  Whereas, if I put a copy of a current young adult novel into their hands, I may very well create a reader where one has not been before. What is really my goal?  Again, that’s a debate with myself that I will hash out later.  For now, I approach the issue of classics vs high interest novels with an attempt at balance, and I try to spend at least one grading term, if not two, devoted to student-selected book groups.

What I’d like to share here, specifically, are some of the ways I’ll use the iPads our students have been given to support book group activities.  Year’s end fast approaches, and I just spent Spring Break with a tower of papers to grade looming over my head.  So, I’m especially interested in any ways I can use the iPad to decrease the number of papers coming across my desk.

Let me also add, I’m not opposed to devoting actual class time to reading.  A student in the midst of a group of other students whose heads are bent over books and in front of a teacher whose head is also bent over a book has a valuable experience.

In addition, I want students to interact with their texts in ways that will make them better readers in general.  While they read, I want them to make notes–what questions do they have, what words have they discovered, what observations have they made, what connections can they make?  I want them to share those questions and discoveries with other students.  I want them to predict, analyze, and evaluate as they work together collaboratively.  And I want them to enjoy it nearly as much as I do when I sit around with a group of readers and discuss the latest novel.  Here are some of the things we’ll do and how we’ll enhance the experience (and please parents and administrators) by incorporating our iPads.

Prior to Reading

  •  Use the iPad for mini-research activities.  Because of the Hunger Games frenzy, my seniors were interested in reading other dystopias. They looked around on various web sites and Amazon.com, and came up with a list that included 1984, A Brave New World, Uglies, A Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, The Road, The Giver, and several others.  For various reasons, the groups formed around The Road, 1984, Lathe of Heaven, and Uglies.  To drum up anticipation and create some prior knowledge, I’ll have students use their iPads to access the Internet and locate information.  For example, I might have the 1984 group look for a photo of Josef Stalin and note some facts about his reign in Russia.  As they read, the description of Big Brother should sound familiar to them. I might have the Lathe of Heaven group look up Chaung Tzu and familiarize themselves with some basic information about him.  As they are reading, they will discover that epigraphs from his writing begin each chapter.  The group reading Uglies might look about the amount of money Americans spend on cosmetic procedures each year.

During Reading

  • Use the Tools4Students app.  It provides graphic organizers for character analysis, a Venn diagram for compare and contrast, a pro-con chart, KWL templates, and story maps for sequencing events.  I’ll have students work in their groups with the app using these graphic organizers.
  • Use Safari to access Today’s Meet–During some reading sessions, I’ll have students enter a discussion room at the website Today’s Meet. As they read, I’ll require them to pause from time to time and share something they’ve noted during reading.  They might ask a question: “I don’t understand why Winston feels so violent about the girl. ” They might note a word definition. They might make a connection–“This story reminds me of that celebrity who had 20 plastic surgeries”.  But for five minutes out of every fifteen, they will use the discussion room to silently discuss the reading they are doing.  On other days, we’ll use the rooms to discuss thematic and character analysis topics too. If you haven’t read my earlier post about Today’s Meet, it’s a great way to foster discussion.  Students enter a discussion room and dialogue with each other about whatever topic you have in mind.  At the end of the discussion, you print a transcript, highlight students responses in different colors, and give a discussion grade based on participation and thoughtful contribution. Students who might not have responded in oral discussion have to participate, and even though fingers are flying, the classroom is silent.

Midpoint Project

  • Use the iMovie app to make a movie trailer. iMovie specifically offers a movie trailer feature that I’m going to experiment with.  I’m concerned that it will make the groups’ work a little too “cookie cutter” in similarity,but it may give us scaffolding that we need as first time users of the app.  Movie trailers shouldn’t give away the ending of a book anyway, so somewhere between the mid-point and two-thirds of the book, I’ll ask students to put together words, text, and music to create a trailer.  They’ll have to consider the most important scenes, how they want the main character to be perceived by the audience, and what catch phrases or important lines from the book they want to highlight. They’ll have to think about mood and atmosphere and possibly write dialogue.  This year, I will allow them to be actors in the trailers themselves, or I’ll allow them to use appropriate, credited images from somewhere else.

Final Project

  • Use the Key Note app and Pages app to support the PechaKucha project.  I’m only going to discuss this briefly because I stole it from my colleague over at techgeekteacher.com, and it’s really his blog post to write if he chooses. I think he got the idea from a book called Presentation Zen.  But basically, PechaKucha originated in Japan in 2003.  At a PechaKucha event, thinkers, designers, writers, artists come together to share their ideas, but they must follow a very specific presentation format.  Each presentation must consist of 20 slides set to automatically progress after 20 seconds, and each slide can contain no more than six words.  This format allows presenters to share their ideas, but no one rambles or dominates the time because the presentation requirements are so strict.  PechaKucha became quite popular all over the world, to the extent that in April of 2010, I could have attended Nashville’s second PechaKucha night at the Rutledge for some “drinking and thinking” if I had wanted to. If I were in Fort Worth, Texas, I could attend an event tonight.  Now, my students won’t be doing any drinking of course; they’ll only be thinking.  I’ll ask them to write a brief  correctly cited paper discussing a few basic literary elements of their novels. Then, in their groups, they’ll bring their ideas together to create a PechaKucha presentation about the novel.  Most of them are used to doing Power Point presentations, and they’ve become Power Point slackers to some extent.  They slap a few pictures and a whole lot of text onto some slides and read directly from them as they present.  However, this format requires critical thought about what six words to place on each slide, and they have to be very familiar with their material…almost to the point of scripting what must be said for each slide so that the timing works out.  It’s hard work, but the results pay off.  This is an activity I’ve done before.  The new perk is that with our iPad program, we don’t have to reserve the computer lab for a week and lose instructional time trooping down the hall and setting up class there.  Instead, we can work right in my classroom using the Key Note and Pages app for the slides and noting the information that goes with each. At the end of each presentation, every member of the class will have an understanding of the novels the other groups read, and they might choose to read that novel themselves.

I’m betting there are lots of other ways to use the iPad to support book groups that I’ve not even considered.  What have you done with literature circles in your classroom that incorporates technology?  What activities have you done that I can tweak with technology?  Please share and feel free to steal my ideas as well.  Why reinvent the wheel?