NOTE: The following post will be cross referenced with a future post at Edutopia.
This summer I created a summer reading network that allowed me to monitor the progress of my AP English Language students. They are reading 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose and I have asked them to read and annotate the text very closely. I also wanted to monitor their progress by questioning them throughout the summer at varying intervals and compose a response journal. This is all standard, but how could I provide oversight and seamless communication with my students who are scattered around Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, and Senegal?
I used these tools:
I first created a wikispace for our summer reading assignments and communication. This forum has always worked well for me and allows for transparency and ease of use. Plus, students can take ownership over the site and can make the site theirs. The wikispace is also a great starting point for students to post external links to their blogs.
Once the wikispace was up and running I introduced all of my AP students to the website after school. I spent 30 minutes covering the basics of a wikispace – edits, posting, linking, etc. – and also showed them how I could see every edit they made. Yes, big brother will always be watching. Any time you use a wikispace, stress the history tool and how you can see everything that is edited.
After I set up the wikispace, I had the students create a blogger account and give it a title. Their title could be anything they wanted as long as it was appropriate. Once they had their blog created they copied the link to our blog roll on the wikispace and created an external link on their name.
I embedded a Google Calendar on the wikispace and would post new assignments via our calendar and post handouts using attached Google Documents. All of my students carry cell phones and probably check them more than my parents check the weather. I can easily type up a mass text message to my students via Google Voice and remind them to look for assignments and also any updates I have to convey. This allows for ease of communication and I can always be reached if they have a question. For those who like to be left alone in the summer, you may just want to stick to email communication or pigeons.
My students are reading weekly and responding to the assignments on their blogs. We are in constant communication via Google Voice and they check the Google Calendar embedded on the wikispace every Monday for assignments. They have are genuinely interested in reading each others blogs weekly and commenting on what their peers are writing. And remember, this is all happening during the summer months. My students are basically learning year round, only the classroom structure is missing. I feel confident and excited coming into the beginning of the school year knowing that my students were engaged readers and writers all summer.
This type of assignment can easily be incorporated during the school year and it may be something you want to set up and have ready for the beginning of the school year. The setup is the most work for the teacher, but once you have the elements mentioned in the above process set up you can easily manage your class room in the summer and during the school months.
This is the way I like to set up my classroom. You may want to explore other platforms for classroom social networking such as moodle, edmodo, schoology, facebook, etc. However, the wikispace has always been a platform that allows for seamless student participation and classroom transparency. Please provide comments if you have tried this type of assignment. I am interested to hear positive and negative feedback concerning your experience with building a classroom social network. Maybe you used twitter in conjunction or one of the aforementioned platforms for housing your student work.
If you would like more information on this assignment and future assignments, please feel free to contact me.