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On our somewhat virtual book club

I’ve been meaning to share about what’s happened to our book club since it grew somewhat virtual.  My friend and colleague Jane Lofton beat me to it with this post.  I asked her if I could re-post with a few comments to describe what it looked like on the Springfield end.

From Jane:

Connecting Our Library Club Across the Country

December 10, 2011

virtual book club map & books

. . .  in October, we had the opportunity to expand our club beyond our school when I responded to a generous open invitation from Joyce Valenza, Teacher Librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania, to join several school library clubs in a virtual book club discussion of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Despite some technical difficulties with my computer and the challenges of time differences, our club members were able to join the group for approximately a half hour of a lively discussion of this engaging book. And, they are looking forward to “Round 2,” when we have revisit Hunger Games after the movie comes out in March.

photo of TLC Members discussing Blood and Chocolate
TLC Members discussing Blood and Chocolate

On December 1, we had our second virtual book discussion about Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. Two of the other schools – Springfield Township HS in Pennsylvania, led by Teacher Librarian Joyce Valenza, and Van Meter in Iowa, led by Shannon Miller –  were able to attend this session, and one student who was ill even Skyped in from home. The students enjoyed a very lively debate about the different characters and clearly had very divergent views about how sympathetic they were. I was so impressed by their insightful comments and their ability to disagree with each other while always remaining polite and considerate.

Photo of TLC Members discussing Blood and Chocolate

We are now reading Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and plan to compare it to the new Hugo film in January.

To bring the groups together, we have been experimenting with different platforms, including Google + Hangouts and Skype. These are some of the tools that we teacher librarians have been using for webinars, virtual conferences, and professional organization meetings. Communicating across the miles in this way has also offered our students an opportunity to practice virtual meeting skills they are sure to be using in many other contexts.

I know that I have been enjoying the opportunity to communicate across the miles – and connect and plan with talented Teacher Librarians Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, Michelle Luhtala, Colette Cassinelli, and Amy Lott – at least as much as our students.

So what does it all look like in suburban Philly?

On the Springfield end, it’s been a wonderfully wild ride.

We’ve experimented with both Google+ Hangouts and Skype. Each has advantages.  Hangouts seems to be best for multiple points. (I wish I had pics of how it looked on our Smartboard.)

We’ve had to negotiate timing.  Our after-school turned out to be relatively good to accommodate Jane’s students’ lunchtime in California.  But we decided that evening meetings will work best; the California kiddos could join us after school.

Our discussion of Hunger Games was both thrilling and exhausting.  At our end, twenty terrifically booky students showed up AND we included Amber who Skyped in from her study abroad home-stay in Austria. Our Springfield students divided into two groups and helped facilitate two discussions. Leading an online discussion was a new skill and I sensed a lot of collateral learning.

We reflected a bit after that experience.  The kids absolutely wanted to continue as a somewhat virtual club.  They felt an especially strong connection with Sebastian, the club leader at Van Meter.

But we all felt a bit guilty admitting this shared feeling: we missed the depth of our quiet, private group discussions.  (Actually, they were never very quiet.)

Happily, this turned out to be a particularly easy fix.  We decided to begin our meetings 30 minutes earlier to get the need for private discussion out of our systems and it turned out it also helped us in deciding which questions we were absolutely important enough to share with the national group.  And some of our more spontaneous choices are Springfield-only.

My students are building friendships.  They are learning how to moderate webinars and negotiating turns and responses in online conferencing.  They are learning they don’t own the market on YA literary insight. The students outside Springfield responded to Blood and Chocolate in ways that totally surprised my guys.

The students are learning that networking may be social, but it can also be intellectually thoughtful and enriching.

To see what it looked like in Van Meter, Iowa, read Shannon’s post.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I’m honored to have my post included in your blog, Joyce. I’ll share your posting with my students next week. 🙂


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