Online Literature Teaching and Learning

In recent weeks, several national and state-level organizations have suggested various roles and activities for school librarians and other educators in face-to-face, hybrid, and remote learning contexts.

Image: Laptop with book shelves on the screenIn my opinion, there are roles and activities around children’s and young adult literature teaching and learning that have not been prominent or fully promoted in these documents. These are some possibilities:

  • Facilitating online book clubs for students and other educators;
  • Coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing online literature circle discussions in collaboration with classroom teachers;
  • Curating and guiding technology creation/productivity tools use and integration for students and other educators during literature studies;
  • Supporting individual readers through remote reader’s advisory for both personal and academic books and other resources.

Both as a practicing school librarian and a university-level preservice classroom teacher and librarian educator, I have been integrating technology tools into children’s and YA literature teaching for twenty years. The experiences I’m sharing in this post were hybrid, including both face-to-face and electronic communication (not necessarily in equal parts), or totally online.

What Does Technology Have to Do with It?
In spring 2000, I was a doctoral student teaching a face-to-face undergraduate children’s lit course for preservice classroom teachers at the University of Arizona (UofA). In the article cited below (which is no longer readily available online), I shared the students’ Southwest Literature website book review publications and our long-distance book discussion with preservice educators attending Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Traverse City, Michigan.

Then:
Each student wrote their review of a Southwest-themed children’s book and submitted them to me as Word documents; I offered the students feedback. Using my personal computer, students met with me to transfer/design their work and publish their pages and images, including book jackets and students’ artwork, on the website.

Reading and discussing in small groups, the UofA class, 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and NMC students, a couple hundred miles from the U.S.-Canada border, shared our responses to and questions about Esperanza Rising (Ryan). We communicated via email. We also exchanged paper print artifacts. The geographically distant perspectives of Arizona and Michigan undergraduate students enriched our conversations around the book and issues related to immigration and migrant labor.

Now:
I believe it is important for preservice classroom teachers and school librarians to read book reviews and compose and possibly publish book reviews. The combination of reading and writing helps educators become more critical of what is included and what is left out of some book reviews. Doing professional work, such as writing/publishing book reviews, during their preservice education, can help develop the skills necessary and a commitment to share professional knowledge and experience with colleagues.

Rather than exchanging paper print artifacts–our personal photographs and photos and information about our local communities–we would exchange Google Slides or create a collaborative website or blog for sharing.

If I were teaching college-level or 4th-12th grade students today, I would still reach out for long-distance literature discussions. I believe bringing together learners from different locations (even within the same city) can bring new perspectives into the online classroom. I have not much success with this in higher education since the AZ-MI collaboration with Barb Tatarchuk, but I made several good faith 7th/8th-grade students-and-preservice classroom teacher attempts in a hybrid model while teaching at Texas Woman’s University.

Additionally, knowing that all learners had high-speed Internet access, I would support the whole class or student small groups in holding online meetings within the learning management system (LMS) or outside of it, if appropriate. I would rotate among small groups as a solo educator or as a coteacher and serve as a listener or questioner in breakout group meetings.

**Whether school is taught face-to-face, in a hybrid model, or totally online, offering both asynchronous and synchronous options is critical. Knowing the resources available to students and any other life situation-learning constraints is critical.

Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland (focused on 8th-graders)
In the 2008-2009 academic year, I served as the school librarian in a combined middle and high school library facility for Emily Gray Junior High (EGJH) and Tanque Verde High School. That year, I had the pleasure of co-planning, co-implementing, and co-assessing a year-long hybrid literature circle unit of study with 8th-grade English language arts teacher Jenni Hunt.

The unit involved students in one literature circle activity each quarter. In the fall of 2008, I was also teaching Children’s and Young Adult Literature in a Multicultural Society in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of Arizona (UofA). (The article I wrote related to our collaboration is available through databases.) Unfortunately, most of the EGJH students’ responses to the books are no longer available (since Wikispaces left the Web). I have summarized two of the four circles.

Then:
First Quarter: The EGJH students who co-read and discussed books with UofA grade students selected one of ten books with Southwest settings: Hole in the Sky (Hautman), Ghost Fever/Mal de fantasma (Hayes), Downriver (Hobbs), Walker of Time (Vick), Canyons (Paulsen), Weedflower (Kodahata), The Big Wonder (Hobbs), Crossing the Wire (Hobbs), Becoming Naomi León (Ryan), and Esperanza Rising (Ryan).

The 8th-graders and grad student used the discussion feature on Wikispaces to share their responses and questions regarding the books. The UofA graduate students preserved some of the EGJH students’ responses on the Southwest Children’s and Young Adult Literature Web Site. (See the “students’ voices section of each of the EGJH titles reviewed.)

Now:
Fortunately, there are many other “Southwest” novels from which to choose today. For remote teaching, it is essential to ensure that that all students will have access to downloadable ebooks from their school or local public libraries. (In my opinion, some of the online platforms that are currently offering free ebooks lack diverse and #ownvoices titles as well as sufficient user privacy.) I would still create small groups around a particular theme or learning objective to offer choice within a framework.

Then:
Fourth Quarter: The EGJH students read one of six titles by Jacqueline Woodson. Still using the Wikispaces discussion feature, they discussed the books with members of their small groups. They also invited the twelve high school library aides to join in their discussions. 8th-graders created final projects related to their Woodson author study. Their projects were linked to their wikipages and includes tools such as: VoiceThread.com, Wordle.net, Newspaper Clipping Generator (available from Fodey.com), and other Apple and Microsoft software that was available at the time.

Now:
This year-long classroom-library collaboration literature circles unit could have been co-taught totally online. Using the discussion feature of any LMS, including Google Classroom, 8th-grade students, high school library aides, and children’s and YA lit undergrad or grad students can conduct literature circles totally in the only environment.

**I, personally, would require all students who had cameras to turn them on (the bandwidth willing). I think it is important for students to see one another in the online environment. Audio and posting in the chat or elsewhere are an option, but in my opinion, maintaining some traditions of the classroom is essential if we are to create virtual learning communities.

I believe author studies are central to literature teaching. Authors with five or more ebook titles are good candidates for online literature discussion choices. There are a number of platforms and authors who stepped up and reached out to share during the school closures of 2020. These are just a few highlights:

Companies, Organizations, and Publishers

Book Trust (United Kingdom)

Candlewick Press

Lee & Low Books

Teaching Books, especially Read-Along Audiobook Performances Collection

Authors:

Kwame Alexander (illustrations by Kadir Nelson): The Undefeated

Monica Brown: Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match

Grace Lin, a generous selection of her work on her YouTube channel

Jason Reynolds: from Ghosts

**I would use all of the tools students used in 2008-2009, especially VoiceThread.com which was especially effective for students’ presentations. To these, I would add any number of creativity/productivity tools spotlighted for iSchool graduate students (spring 2020), especially infographic generators, Mentimeter.com polling/word cloud generator, and brainstorming/mindmapping tools, such as Padlet.com.

I would also use Flipgrid.com for introductions, community building, and selected lit response/booktalk activities. I would use the entire Google Classroom suite or other LMS features with which students and classroom teachers are familiar.

Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens
In summer 2019 and spring 2020, I taught a fully online graduate course focused on children’s and YA nonfiction and informational books and resources. The iSchool graduate students were preservice school or public librarians.

Then and Now:
Graduate students used Flipgrid for course introductions and book or resource talks. They engaged in an author study with narrative nonfiction author and photographer Susan Kuklin. Kuklin’s body of work offered both picturebook and YA nonfiction allowing for student choice and relevance to their practice. They participated in a Zoom meeting with Ms. Kuklin and engaged in a Twitter chat focused on their reading and response to her work before and after our class meeting with her.

Library science students studied and practiced the Guided Inquiry Design framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012). After engaging in a whole class example, students formed small interest groups around an inquiry question. They collaborated, curated books and digital resources, and published their work on Google docs. They presented their work to the class using combinations of the spotlighted tools on the IS445 course wiki as well as their own favorite and effective tools. (I would keep adding to these tools as students bring them to my attention.)

Students also engaged in three additional Twitter chats focused on their reading. After the author study, their reading was focused predominantly on their small group inquiry questions and their final course project choice.

As one possible final project, students had the option of composing and submitting critical book reviews with the potential of publication in WOW Review. (I’m disappointed that a few of the summer 2019 students did not submit or were not published in the nonfiction and autobiographies issue.)

**With planning and preparation, author-illustrator studies and inquiry learning can be effective in the virtual environment can be successful. Identifying authors for author study takes a good amount of preparation time searching, selecting, and communication—and is so worth it.

Identifying ebooks and resources is time-consuming; collaborate with your librarian! (Side note: Finding author-created or publisher-promoted recordings of fiction genres seem to me easier to locate than nonfiction and informational book recordings, particularly international titles or those created by diverse, #ownvoices authors.)

School Librarians
With students and educators, I would also stress Applying Fair Use AND Honoring Copyright During a Crisis (or at any other time for that matter).

As national-, state-, and district-level advocacy tools are proliferating in the school librarianship world, it is clear that school librarians know their work will be tested and evaluated, especially in the upcoming school year. During this time, it is more important than ever to create access points and procedures for responding to individual students’ and classroom educators’ reader’s advisory requests. Making ourselves available via email, social media, and other messaging services is essential.

Whether we are teaching face to face in the physical library, using a hybrid model, or teaching totally online, we must show our value added and document the outcomes of our work in terms of student learning, educators’ teaching, and support for families (not addressed directly in this post). Let’s not forget that teaching literature with the support of digital tools has been and is central to our work then and now.

References

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie C. Maniotes, and Ann Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Moreillon, Judi. 2001. “What Does Technology Have to Do with It? Integrating Technology Tools into a Children’s Literature Course.” Reading Online 5 (2). (No longer available online)

_____. 2009. “Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland: Literature Circles in the Digital Commons. Teacher Librarian 37 (2): 23-28.

_____. 2019. “Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens,” 4-part Series. WOW Currents. Available from https://wowlit.org/blog/tag/judi-moreillon/

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

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About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award. She is currently editing and contributing to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

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