Striving and Thriving in Virtual Book Clubs During a Pandemic

“The power is not in the book itself, but rather in the readers who create meaning or co-construct meaning through dialogue, develop empathy and are inspired as change agents”.

-from Reading to Make a Difference by Lester Laminack & Katie Kelly, p.xxi

Connecting readers for in-person book club conversations is difficult due to the safety restrictions limiting social interaction during the pandemic. However, technology allows us to connect to engage in rich discussions and to deepen our thinking and our humanity. 

It’s been a full year since COVID began and school as we knew it completely shifted to a fluid combination of online and face-to-face learning with masks, plexiglass shields and desks in isolated islands spaced six feet apart. Many headlines across media sources suggest learning loss and children falling further behind in reading. We reject this deficit view and instead acknowledge the innovating ways educators and children have engaged in meaningful learning experiences. By partnering preservice teachers in Katie’s literacy methods class with Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders for virtual book clubs, we witnessed first hand the joy and growth that comes when readers have a space to connect and discuss their thinking. Even in the midst of one of the most difficult school years ever, there is much learning and thinking and growing happening albeit occurring in different ways and through different contexts BUT still present and strong nonetheless.

Choosing Books and Establishing Book Clubs

Because we believe that all children should have opportunities to read books that matter to them, the partnership began with Alyssa providing a list of suggested chapter books based on her students’ interests, identities, and reading histories. The preservice teachers in Katie’s class then selected a book to read and created a book trailer for the fourth graders to view and then choose the book they were interested in reading.  

Virtual Book Clubs

With book clubs established, the preservice teachers and fourth graders connected at least twice a week for four weeks using Edmodo, Flipgrid, and Jamboard to discuss the self-designated chapters. They brainstormed ‘words to live by’ or a set of norms and expectations for participating in online book clubs and developed their own reading schedules to hold themselves accountable. 

For the first post each week, Alyssa offered personalized, needs-based guiding questions to scaffold the discussions and modeled for the preservice teachers various types of open-ended questions to facilitate discussion. The first posts often pulled in supporting resources to deepen understanding of topics within the books: non-fiction articles, guest experts, parallel read alouds and video clips. The second post each week was more open-ended in nature with the fourth graders sharing their thinking and the preservice teachers responding with a ‘nurture and a nudge’. For example, when a student posted that “Nya (from the book A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park) cares about her family because she goes and gets water for them,” the preservice responded as follows:

“This is a very thoughtful observation in the text of the book of how Nya cares and takes care of her family. What questions or other thoughts do you have as to why Nya, being a child, has to do such hard work for her family?”  

Some groups created multimodal Jamboards with images and links to Google Earth to explore the settings and learn about geographical contexts for the books they read, while others conducted research to understand the cultural and historical contexts within their book. Students and preservice teachers alike were empowered to take control of their own learning directions and use their voices, openly and honestly.

For the culminating discussion, Katie and Alyssa surprised them with a synchronous gathering using Zoom. Before heading to book club breakout groups in Zoom to discuss their post-reading reactions to their books, they blew up the chat box with their excitement to see their reading buddies in real time.

Good morning book buddy!!!!!

this is so fun

This is a fun surprise for us!!

The preservice teachers facilitated post-reading conversations using co-constructed thinking stems they brainstormed together using Jamboard. As the fourth graders met in breakout groups with their reading buddies in real time, Alyssa observed the pure joy and excitement filling her classroom. Every single child was engaged… talking, smiling, and participating fully in the book club conversations. 

Book clubs are for everyone! One student who is deaf signed her thoughts while her translator translated for her reading buddies in the Zoom breakout. Her college buddy from Katie’s class made this completely normal. When Alyssa popped into the breakout, she commented, “Hi Miss. Cameron, Right now Emma is talking and sharing her ideas.” Her entire group was glued to the screen, listening, nodding and ready to respond. Her voice mattered, just as much as everyone else’s even though we “heard” it in a different way. 

“Kids are often limited by what adults think they can do, especially in schools right now. And these book clubs proved so clearly that kids are ready to talk, ready to grow and able to have BIG conversations… reading DOES make a difference… and so will these humans – big and small!”

-Alyssa Cameron, 4th grade teacher

Read more about Alyssa Cameron’s work in chapter 5, Advocating for Change in Reading to Make a Difference.

This One is For the Birds!

Lester’s 4-year-old granddaughter is fascinated by birds, especially owls. She can identify most any owl by sight, can identify several by their call, and can host rather engaging conversations about the habitat, diet, prey, and size of several different types. Her fascination is fed by a steady diet of books read to her by her parents. She is equally interested in fiction and nonfiction and is quick to let you know whether what you are reading is something that birds do in nature or only in stories.  One book she likes caught Lester’s attention.  A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart features several birds revealing the impact of threats to their habitats.  Now the whole family is making conscious efforts to protect native birds and make them welcome.

Her interest led us to do a bit of exploration of our own. Did you know that the bird population in North America has been in significant decline?  The National Audubon Society reports that North America has lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the last fifty years. Researchers indicate that it isn’t just threatened species that are declining. Many of your favorite backyard birds are also.  

CBS news reported that while most bird species have seen a significant decline in population, the numbers of ducks and geese have actually increased. This fact may be attributed to the work of Ducks Unlimited which was formed over one hundred years ago by a group of waterfowl hunters concerned about declining population. Ducks Unlimited has worked to protect waterfowl by purchasing and protecting wetlands. The group has also effectively encouraged legislation and conservation easements on private land to protect the birds. 

While many species of wetland birds have benefitted from these efforts, other species of birds have suffered due to a loss of habitat. Specifically, there is a reported 53% decline among grassland birds, a 33% decline in birds that thrive in boreal forests, and a decline of 29% among birds found in western forests. In addition to a loss of habitat, the decline in bird populations has also been attributed to the use of “deadly pesticides…, feral cats…, collisions with buildings, cell phone towers, electricity generating windmills and powerlines; and of course, global warming.” (CBS News, Sept.19, 2019) https://www.cbsnews.com/video/staggering-decline-in-americas-bird-population/#x

Is there anything we can do about this situation?  Of course!  Oftentimes, children’s spark for curiosity and inquiry are ignited by the books read to them by the adults in their lives. 

We have included a list of books that can spark an interest in birds and raise awareness of the significant decline in the bird population. This collection could be used to launch an inquiry into birds, birdwatching, conservation, reclaiming habitat, providing food and shelter for native and migrating birds and more. Perhaps you’ll share the CBS news clip to spark a bit of interest and generate initial questions to launch your inquiry. 

Image result for About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

Image result for A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

Image result for Bird Watch by Christine Matheson (Greenwillow)

Bird Watch by Christine Matheson (Greenwillow)

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Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer (Charlesbridge)

Birds

Birds by Carme Lemniscantes (Candlewick)

Bird Count

Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond (Peachtree)

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Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre (Beach Lane Books)

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Backyard Bird Watching for Kids by George H. Harrison (Willow Creek Press)

Image result for National Audubon Society Pocket Guide Familiar Birds of North America east

National Audubon Society Pocket Guide Familiar Birds of North America east

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National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America 2nd ed. by Jonathan Alderfer and Noah Strycker

https://www.citizen-times.com/story/opinion/2021/01/23/word-smokies-park-birds-may-have-benefited-clean-air-act/6672644002/?fbclid=IwAR3HZBgPjJxwjSXmu8X5-F9k2QpNPPsGTOSEDIJMJc2LalClIUjs03sBziA

Discovering Our Identities through Names

Something we all share is the fact that we have a name. Yet each of our names are different and unique. Some of our names derive from our loved ones or hold a special meaning in our cultures. During a workshop with teachers, one participant shared how she was named after her grandmother. To distinguish between their names, they went by Big Jaime and Little Jaime. She teared up as she described how their names have since reversed as her grandmother now has dementia. The roles have reversed and Little Jaime has now become Big Jaime, her grandmother’s caretaker. Others of us are named after special places or even a favorite singer or actor. When sharing about our names in class, one student giggled as she told our class her mom named her after her favorite soap opera star.

Some of us like our names. Others do not. Yet, this likely changes with time and the shifting nature of our identities and understanding as we navigate through the world. Nigerian American actor, Uzo Aduba, from the Orange is the New Black series on Netflix, never liked her name because people had difficulty pronouncing it correctly. When she asked her mom if she could change it, her mom replied that if people could pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they could learn to say Uzoamaka. She now realizes how important her name is and what it represents.

It is important that we honor students’ names and learn to pronounce them correctly. To learn more about ways to learn about each other’s stories, visit My Name, My Identity and take a pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly.

Then read some of the following books with your students and invite them to share the story of their own name!

We recommend that you first model by writing and sharing about your own name. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:

  • Who selected your name? 
  • How was your name chosen?
  • Are you named for someone? Some place? Something? 
  • Does your name have a significant meaning? 
  • How do you feel about your name?  
  • Have you ever considered changing your name? Why? Why not? What would it be?

To read more about discovering identities, download a free chapter from our book, Reading to Make a Difference!

reading to make a difference

Teaching During the Election 2020

Photo taken at Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY

Next Tuesday, November 3, 2020 is the date for elections in the United States. According to a report from NPR “…Americans have already cast a record-breaking 66 million early ballots, putting the 2020 election on track for historic levels of voter turnout.” This is a significant shift compared with the low voter turnout in 2016 (only about 6 in 10 ballots cast).

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming presidential election (and whether or not we know the outcome on Wednesday) there will be feelings of angst and uncertainty across the country. Teachers and students certainly will not be immune from these feelings and concerns. Self-care and support for students is necessary regardless of the election results.

With relationships as the heartbeat of our work as educators, it is important that we reflect on how we might consider ways to sustain community and a sense of safety during the election. Teaching Tolerance offers four suggestions to prepare for teaching during the election. First, re-establish the values of inclusivity in your classroom. Second, reflect on your identities, positionality and feelings. Next, reaffirm our responsibility to engage these issues. Finally, have plans in place if things go wrong or students need support. To read more click here: Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?. We have also included some resources at the end of the blog post to support your work as you guide students through the election (and beyond).

Voting is a right and a powerful way to have a voice in the democratic system. Although Election Day was first observed in 1845, several groups remained excluded and were not given the right to vote until many years later. It took 75 years before women were granted the right to vote and one hundred and twenty years for the Voting Rights Act to be signed into law giving African Americans the right to vote.

We have curated a small collection of books as a reminder of the tremendous privilege it is to vote. These titles can introduce students to the history of voting and concepts such as the electoral process.

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice
Author: Nikki Grimes Illustrator: Laura Freeman

This recently released biography of vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris tells the story of a young daughter of immigrants who grows up to advocate for the rights of all. The reader is introduced to Kamala as a young girl and follow her story and her accomplishments through college and her career right up to being invited to be the vice presidential nominee.

Grace-for-President
Grace for President
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

When Grace learns that the United States has not yet had a female president, she is inspired to become the first female president. Her teacher suggests an election at the school. Grace campaigns against Thomas, a fellow classmate. They each make compelling speeches and promises to their peers in an attempt to win votes. The election is a nail-biter and teaches the reader about the electoral college through the story. The author’s note in the back of the book provides additional helpful information about the electoral system.

Duck-for-President
Duck for President
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin

Life is hard on Farmer Brown’s farm. Duck did not like to do chores and questions why Farmer Brown is in charge. He decides to campaign to replace Farmer Brown. The animals registered to vote and cast their ballots resulting in a win for Duck. Duck soon realized that running a farm was hard work so he sets out to run for governor and won. However, he soon learned running a state was hard work. So Duck successfully ran for president. Yet, he quickly learned that being president was also hard work. He returned to the farm to write his autobiography. This text follows a predictable pattern and highlights the importance of conveying meaning in print as the animals who cannot communicate verbally beyond animal sounds rely on reading the signs to empower them to vote.

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Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage
Author: Claire Rudolf Murphy
Illustrator: Stacey Schuet

Bessie who is not allowed to go with her father and brothers on a hike because it is too strenuous for girls soon learns that there are many things girls are not allow to do in the late 1800’s.  Bessie’s aunt, Mary McHenry Keith, introduces her to Susan B. Anthony and invites her to attend a rally in San Francisco for women’s rights. Inspired by the rally Bessie joins her mother and aunt in a march led by Susan B. Anthony.  Though the 1896 campaign did not result in the right for women to vote Bessie and her family were undaunted and continued their efforts. The author’s note reveals this story is based on a real girl named Bessie Keith Pond. In addition there is a profile of Susan B. Anthony, a timeline of progress toward women’s right to vote from 1787 through 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The book also includes a list of further resources for young readers.

around-america-to-win-the-vote-two-suffragists-a-kitten-and-10000-miles-by-mara-rockliff-258x300
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Hadley Hooper

In April 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set off in a little yellow car to drive around America.  Their journey took them “ten thousand bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles–facing danger and adventure all alone…” Their mission was to rally for women’s rights. Their rallying cry, “Votes for women!” was heard across the country.  In September, 1916, the two women returned to New York City. They traveled through a blizzard, mud and flooded creeks, across the desert, through small towns and cities to inspire support for women’s rights. There are three pages of detailed background on the time period, the newness of the automobile and the fascination generated by the little yellow car, and the long struggle to win the right for women to vote in America.  There is also a list of resources for further reading.

gogo
The Day Gogo Went to Vote
Author: Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Illustrator: Sharon Wilson

Thembi stays with her one-hundred-year-old Gogo (grandmother) after school until her parents are able to leave work.  Although Gogo is very old and rarely leaves the house anymore she has vowed to go to the polls to vote in the April 1994 election.  Thembi asks her Gogo why it is so important and Gogo explains, “Thembi, black people in South Africa have fought for many years for the right to vote?  This is the first time we have had a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last…” Finally arrangements are made to get Gogo to the polls and she casts her ballot in the election that seated Nelson Mandela as president of the country.

g-papas-mark
Papa’s Mark
Author: Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert
Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Young Simms and his family live in Lamar County and the upcoming election will be the first one African-Americans have been allowed to vote.  Each week Papa makes his mark, an X, at the general store when he and Simms pick up their order. Simms wishes his father could sign his name rather than making his mark on documents.  Papa sits at the table by candlelight and tries to write his name, “This writing looks like chicken scratch…When I vote…I’m going to write my name to get my ballot.” Before leaving for school the next morning Simms writes his Papa’s name on a piece of paper and leaves it on the table.  Papa tries and finally asks for Simms help. Slowly Papa learns to make the letters in his name. On the morning of voting day Papa and a wagon load of men from the community ride into town and Papa proudly signed his name to receive his first ballot.

LIllian's Right to Vote
Lillian’s Right to Vote
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans

Lillian walks uphill towards a voting booth. She recalls relatives being sold on the auction block. As she progresses in her walk, Lillian recounts how her great-grandpa was unable to vote because of a poll tax and her Uncle Levi was turned away from voting after being asked such ridiculous questions as “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”  After the 19th Amendment is passed, Lillian remembers being chased away by an angry mob after her mother attempts to vote. She details the marches, the beatings, and the tenacity of those who fought for her right to vote. She votes. She has to. It is her right, her duty, her honor as an American.

*Many of these texts including Lillian’s Right to Vote could be used through high school as a catalyst for discussion on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter ID laws, and the 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.

Suggested Follow-up Activities

  • Brainstorm reasons why people should vote. Then work in groups to create posters, public service announcements, speeches, etc. to encourage registered voters to get out and vote.
  • Research the Voter ID Laws.  Are these “laws” legal? Why or why not?  Encourage students to write opinion pieces and engage in debate.
  • Why do we vote in America? Is it important? Interview up to three people (family members, community members, friends) to ask why it is important that we vote and whether or not they plan to vote in the midterm election and why.
  • Create a poster, timeline, or infographic detailing the Amendments that led up to our rights to vote.  Why is it important (or not) that we vote today? (see the Timeline tool from Read Write Think)

We invite you to share some of your favorite books and resources about voting and teaching during the election.  We will compile a list on the blog. Email us at katie.kelly@furman.edu or lesterlaminack@gmail.com or leave your thoughts and additions in the comments box. Also, please check in on yourself, your loved ones, and your students in the upcoming days and beyond.

Sending you peace and love,
Katie and Lester

Additional Resources:

After the Election: A To-Do List

Teaching in Response to the Election

Voting and Voices from Teaching Tolerance

Voting! What’s It All About? Lesson from Read Write Think

Honoring Indigenous People

Many cities and states in the U.S. have renamed Columbus Day (celebrated on the second Monday in October) as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and many places have made decisions to remove statues of Columbus. The city of Columbus, Ohio (named after Christopher Columbus) will no longer observe Columbus Day as a holiday and plans to remove a statue of Columbus from City Hall. The county will replace the holiday with Juneteenth, the celebration of the abolition of slavery.

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 as a way to honor Christopher Columbus’s achievements. Yet, the dark side of Columbus and the inhumane effects of colonization were largely ignored. He did not stake claim to uninhabited land. Indigenous people living on the land when Columbus (and later other colonists) arrived were enslaved, tortured, and murdered. Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas and is a call to reframe history.

The stories of Native people have been omitted or whitewashed in history books. The genocide of Native Americans and the forced removal from their land and stripping of their identities, culture, and language when sent to boarding schools is rarely discussed.

As educators, we make choices everyday. We decide what books to read with our students. We decide whose stories are honored and whose are ignored. We decide what to say and what not to say and how we say it. Sometimes our choices make us complicit in the perpetuation of institutional racism.

So what can we do? We can make intentional decisions to ensure all voices and stories are honored and celebrated. Begin by talking with students about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Ask: “Do you know what is special about today?” Follow students lead and guide them through a discussion to determine what they already know about Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Invite them to share their own questions as a springboard for further inquiry.

As you engage in this work alongside your students, you may consider the following questions as a framework: Whose history has been told? Whose history has been silenced? ignored? or whitewashed? Who benefits as a result? How does that perpetuate inequities and injustice?

Create land acknowledgement statements such as the one created at Furman University where Katie teaches. We (Lester and Katie) both live on the ancestral homelands of the Cherokee people and Katie grew up on the land of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Upstate New York (also known as the Iroquois, the name given by the French colonists and therefore pejorative). Do you know whose land you live on? Do you know whose land your school resides? We invite you to research and learn about the first people of your own land.

You might read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen and discuss how this counternarrative as told by a young Taino child disrupts the dominant story of Christopher Columbus. Or you might view this short video from Adam Ruins Everything.

Additionally, share stories about and written by Indigenous authors, or #OwnVoice texts with your students all year long. Integrate these books into your bookshelves and your regular read alouds. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

Picture Books:

Books for Upper Elementary and Middle Grades:

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

This book tells the story of Hannah who moves with her father to the South Dakota prairie in 1880. She makes friends with the indigenous people who lived on the land long before the white settlers arrived. Seen as dangerous savages by most of the townspeople, Hannah befriends them and learns from them. This is an important detail that honors the native people who were negatively portrayed in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series that was the inspiration for Park’s book. This book could lead to conversations around land acknowledgement and students can research which Indigenous tribe first owned the land where their school and homes are located. For instance, we acknowledge that we live on the land once belonging to the Cherokee and the Catawba. Additionally, this book could be a springboard for conversations about marginalized perspectives during the westward expansion. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell

This historical fiction novel is based on real events in the author’s life. It takes place during the 1950s on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s reservation. When the government passed the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 indigenous people were forced to move off reservations. They were told they would receive job training, transportation, a new home, and be assimilated. When faced with this situation, Regina and her family moved to Los Angeles and she becomes “Indian no more” and her life changes instantly. Her new neighborhood has more concrete than grass, new food, new friends, a larger school, and she and her new friends experience racism. Her grandmother (chich) helps her remember stories of her people and memories from the rez. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.

Additional Resources:

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

This highly informative book is a must read as you expand your own understanding and knowledge of history and is appropriate for middle grades and young adults.

American Indian’s in Children’s Literature blog

National Museum of the American Indian

Five Ideas for Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the Smithsonian