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Building an Online Community of Readers

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I was looking for a new and interesting way for my students to keep track of what they read. I also wanted a way for us to share with each other and talk about books as a classroom community. I turned to my good friend the internet to help find a book sharing site appropriate for second graders.

I already knew about GoodReads and LibraryThing and did not find them suitable for students as young as mine, for various reasons including layout, privacy, and other settings.

I did choose to use GoodReads to generate a list of books we read aloud in class that I’ve embedded into my classroom blog as a widget. This will inform parents which books we have read in class.

Click here for an online tutorial on how to embed a Custom Goodreads Widget into your blog.

I did a google search for book-related social networks for kids and found two sites that looked promising. I checked out Biblionasium first and was immediately impressed with the layout of the site and it’s function to get kids reading and keeping track of what they read and want to read. I did, however, have some apprehensions about the site’s focus on reading levels and rewards. I got into it anyway and set up a class and went ahead and enrolled my students with usernames and passwords. I then created a fake student for me to try out, thinking that maybe I could turn off settings that I didn’t like.

As a student I enjoyed setting up my avatar and searching for books, until I realised that the site’s database didn’t include many of the new books I purchased for my class in May. These are the books my students are currently reading. I did like filling out the easy reading log function and I loved that I could recommend a book to my classmates and my teacher. But I hated that I received badges as rewards for everything, like agreeing to the site’s code of conduct and completing my first reading log. I want my students to read because they love it, not because they get a virtual reward every time they do.

I decided that the rewards plus the lack of depth in their catalogue outweighed any positives and abandoned this site and proceeded to completely glaze over this similar one.

I was about to give up hope and submit to the old paper reading log but luckily did one last search and found this article that reminded me of Shelfari.

New Shelfari account screenshot

New Shelfari account screenshot

I did another quick google search to find out about using Shelfari with kids and found some good tips in a review from Common Sense Media advising to use privacy settings, and this great blog post from a first grade team that used Shelfari as a class and their students were inspired to have their own ‘shelves’ using personal accounts.

Shelfari’s downfall is that each user must log in with their Amazon account. This means setting up an Amazon account for each student using a unique email and password.

I decided to check out Shelfari anyway and created an account paying close attention to the privacy settings. I then began adding my classroom books to my ‘shelf’. Because it uses Amazon’s catalogue of books, it has practically every book under the sun, including any new books I buy as well as old classroom favorites.

I then went on to create a group for my class and added a couple of books we have read aloud to that shelf.

After all my searching and trial and error, I have decided that this school year I will try to use Shelfari in my classroom. I plan to begin using it as a whole class and then if students seem interested, I will see how to make it possible for them to have their own accounts.

It seems like a great way to introduce students to using Social Media safely and responsibly at an early age. Teaching students about privacy settings and exposing them to appropriate online interactions at an early age will make sure they have some knowledge before they venture off on their own into the world of Facebook and the like.

But most importantly, I would like my students to get excited about books and reading. Maybe Shelfari can help. We’ll see.

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2 thoughts on “Building an Online Community of Readers

  1. Hi Alie, Great post. I love the look of Shelfari and will definitely explore it as an option for my class. We are building a book tower in the corridor, a block of which gets added each time one child reads and rates a book at home. It will hopefully be a Recommendations resource for all the kids who pass by, but also an additional motivational tool to promote reading in my class. I think something like Shelfari will be the perfect in-class complement to that, especially with the use of 1:1 iPads we are piloting this year. Thanks!

  2. Hi Msaquinn,

    I am a Secondary School Librarian and use Shelfari with my Grade 8 students and their reading programme.
    I am doing some master’s study/research into the use of Shelfari. I am looking at does it afford students the time, space, independence and motivation to become independent, self regulating readers and will the disucssion forum (Grade group) allow me to engage with the students and them with each other around their books and reading.
    Did you continue with the use of Shelfari with your class?
    If you did or even if you did not would you be open to answering some questions about your use of Shelfari with your class that I could use in my research?
    We could chat on SKype or I could send you some written questions you could answer.

    Many thanks

    Irene Reid
    Durban, South Africa.

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