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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Online Discussions?

The comments on Cream of the Crop (and Jonathan’s follow up) are starting to resemble the sort of discussion we hope to have in person this Sunday in Oakland. But, are they really … discussion?

Even though there are now many ways to do it, the actual Newbery committees still generally refrain from email or online discussion, reserving all of the "real" discussion for the Midwinter meeting. There, at a table, the chair can facilitate to make sure that everyone participates, stays focussed on the criteria, and addresses every title adequately.  She can also make sure that potentially contentious issues can be discussed thoroughly, without jeporadizing committee relationships.  Equal care is given to the books, and the process. The award is what it is because of both.  This balancing act is extremely hard to pull off when you can’t be with the people involved.  (Newbery committees even generally go to the bathroom together.  Or, rather, at the same time. :))

This is also why a live discussion is so much fun, and why I keep doing it. But I’m curious to try to figure out how one would conduct a Mock Newbery online that would best approximate the actual discussion.  Here are some issues:

How do you make sure that everyone who is voting has a voice? Require registration and a certain number of postings for access to the ballot?

Does it need to be a linear discussion (one title at a time, in a chat room for instance)…or could it be free-floating to help organize thoughts…an online classroom, for instance, which discussion threads for each title? But then the discussion is all over the place, and you don’t have the benefit of "seeing" people leave the room and come back.

How do you make sure that everyone reads everyone else’s postings? (that is, listens?) 

Wendy suggested in a comment somewhere trying to organize an online Mock discussion, and I’m not sure she had any bites. But I’d like to think about how to do this (perhaps for next year?), because I’m sure it can be done well. And the more heads the better on this one.

I still don’t think it would be quite the same.  Tone and body language just don’t read well on a screen, and are so important when trying to raise complex points and be understood.  The SLJ blogging software makes it extremely difficult to keep up with the comments, and while the comments display linearly, they don’t develop that way. It’s hard to call it a discussion when you don’t know who you’re talking to, or how long they’ve been listening.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Based on experiences with online classes, I think it’s possible (although perhaps not ideal for a discussion requiring consensus). You need structure – multiple threads each covering different issues, the ability to quote previous comments and clearly see who is saying what, and someone moderating. An expectation in terms of participation is good, too. In my experience it also helps if you feel like part of a community – you know a little bit about the other people posting, even if not in person. Some classes had great online discussions, others fell short, and part of that is combination of people, the way it’s moderated, and the topic being discussed.

  2. What about teleconferencing? I think it’s still important to see the people on the committee, as opposed to an online class kind of setup, where you write in & participate when you want to. I think the discussions/voting need to be done in real time, as close to the real thing as possible. Perhaps the use of Skype. At the very least, if not videoconferencing, then an instant messaging kind of setup where there’s back & forth. But again,that wouldn’t flow well, and wouldn’t allow the committee chair to step in gracefully in order to keep the process positive for all.

  3. It would be a big help if you could post your complete list of books you are considering for your Mock Newbery. I know you posted them in November and early December, but it would be helpful to have the whole list posted together. thanks!

  4. Monica Edinger says:

    Interesting that Jess mentioned online classes. I taught one a few times for Rutgers and the environment (ecollege) gave instructors tons of information about student participation of the sort Nina was concerned about. However, blogging software I’m familiar with (wordpress and the SLJ one) hasn’t anything like that.

    But this intrigues me tremendously and I’d love to help pull one off for next year.

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here is the full shortlist for Nina’s Newbery.

    ALMOST ASTRONAUTS by Tanya Lee Stone
    CHARLES AND EMMA by Deborah Heiligman
    CLAUDETTE COLVIN by Phillip Hoose
    THE DUNDERHEADS by Paul Fleischman
    MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge
    WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

    Can’t wait for all the verbal eye-gouging and hair-pulling this Sunday. Should be a fun discussion. πŸ˜‰

  6. I try to include links back to our complete list as often as possible. In other blog software, I can put it in the sidebar…but SLJ software precludes that: I have no control over that sidebar (I don’t know what Mephistian deal fuse#8 wrangled to get hers up, but you’ll notice she’s the only one.:)) It is truly a bummer.

    I’m thinking that a classroom set-up would provide the space to organize participations, threads of early discussion, resources etc….and could get established for, say, a week leading up to a chat room/IM “live” discussion (precluding access to videoconferencing).

    Any thoughts for how to handle anonymous, ranked voting in real time?

    Keep ideas coming…

  7. A Ning might be a good place – there is a message board area and a front page where announcements could be, the ability to upload A/V files, an Events page.

    Google Documents can absolutely do anonymous, ranked voting in real time. You set up the spreadsheet with the titles and the formula (number of first place votes multiplied by four, etc). Then you use the Live Form Editor to create a survey – all the titles with bubbles to select them as first, second or third place. It has a unique url that the group uses so it doesn’t require a gmail account or invite. The back end imports the results live into the spreadsheet and can be shared through email among a group, so everyone could see the results right away. We are using this here for Mock Geisel this year.

  8. Briar, would you be willing to email me at and give me your contact info so I could pick your brain about this next year? Sounds like you’re doing it already…

  9. Monica Edinger says:

    First of all, have fun today! Can’t wait to see what you end up with.

    Secondly, I’d be very, very willing to help you set up an actual voting system for next year. If you want a small subgroup to help, count me in.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with too, especially because there are too many people for one group so we’ll have two sets of winners to report.

    To whet your appetite, here are some of the mock Newbery results so far.

    Austin Public Library



    OLA/WLA (Portland, OR)



    (I saw these results posted on Garish & Tweed and Jess was uncertain of HEART OF A SHEPHERD was actually made a Newbery Honor, but I like the book so . . .)

    Allen County Public Library (IN)



    Ossining Public Library (NY)



  11. The Brain Lair says:

    How about doing a Google Wave? Everyone can contribute at the same time and you can see what others are typing…

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