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Building an Online Community of Readers

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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Custom Widgets Tutorial – Goodreads

I embedded a custom GoodReads widget on my blog and wanted to share how to do it.

(These steps are transferable and may also work for other custom widgets.)

FIrst I went to my GoodReads account homepage and clicked on ‘My Books’.

Custom Widget Tutorial #1

In ‘My Books’, check out the menu on the left-hand side.

Custom Widget Tutorial #2

Find and click on ‘Widgets’.
Custom Widget Tutorial #3

If you scroll down, you will see several widget options. You’ll most likely want to create a ‘Custom Widget’, that will look something like what’s in the red box below.
Custom Widget Tutorial #4

You can change the appearance of the widget to meet your purpose and liking using the options under the heading ‘Customize Your Widget’.

You have several options to choose from and can decide which category of books are displayed, what information about those books you’d like displayed, how many books, and in what order. You can even select a title for your widget box.
Custom Widget Tutorial #5

You can preview all the changes you make by clicking ‘Save Changes’. Play around with the settings to get exactly the look you want. You can make changes, click save, see what it looks like and continue by making further changes or changing back based on what you see and like.
Custom Widget Tutorial #6.5 (1)
By clicking on ‘Customize Style’, you can make aesthetic changes to the widget.
Custom Widget Tutorial #6

This is where you would play around with size and placement of text, book covers, and the widget itself. You can also choose to alter the border and the colour of your widget background and text. Again, click ‘Save Changes’ to preview what it will look like.
Custom Widget Tutorial #7

When you think you could be satisfied with what you have and are ready to test it out on your blog, grab the code from the HTML box by copying it. (Highlight the full text and “Command C”.)
Custom Widget Tutorial #8

Don’t close the GoodReads custom widget window, because if you don’t like the look or fit when you copy it into your blog, you’ll want to go back again and try some different settings. Just open your blog’s dashboard in a new window or tab.

On your blog’s editing menu click on the Appearance tab. Find and click on ‘Widgets’.
Custom Widget Tutorial #9

Your widgets page should look something like this:
Custom Widget Tutorial #10

You’ll want to find the ‘Text’ Widget.
Custom Widget Tutorial #11

Decide which sidebar you want your widget in and click on the arrow to open it up. Drag the text widget into the desired sidebar.
Custom Widget Tutorial #12

Once it’s there the Widget should open a text box. If it doesn’t automatically, click on the little arrow on the right hand side and the widget should expand to show a box for you to paste the code into.
Custom Widget Tutorial #13

Paste the copied code into the HTML text box in your Text Widget. (“Command P”), and click ‘Save’.
Custom Widget Tutorial #14

You are new ready to open your blog and check out your widget. Remember not to close your blog dashboard or your GoodReads. You may still want to make changes, so open your blog’s main page in a new window or tab.
Custom Widget Tutorial #15

If you like the look and size of your widget, you are done!

If your Widget is too big and part of it is cut off or if it’s too small and looks smooshed or silly, go back to your widget’s page and take a look at the code you pasted in your text box.
Custom Widget Tutorial #16

You can change the size by looking for *customize your Goodreads widget container here*. Underneath, there should be the word ‘width‘ and a number followed by px.

The number is the key to adjusting the size of your widget. If your widget is too narrow, make the number bigger. If the widget is too wide, make the number smaller.For example. My widget was originally too narrow. It’s width was 200px. I experimented and changed it to 250px. It looked better, but I thought I could go a little wider, so I tried 260px but it was too wide, so I stuck with 250. should open I wanted to try adding a custom widget to my classroom blog that would display the books we’ve read aloud in class.

I hope this tutorial was helpful in outlining how to make a custom GoodReads widget. 

A couple things that helped me when I was embedding my widget were the GoodReads help page and the WordPress help page.


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The Future of Libraries


Photo by Ellen Forsyth on Flickr

Thanks to the Google Apps for Education Summit and a presentation by Librarian Brian Farrell, my interest in the changing face of school libraries was reignited.  In his presentation, Brian talked about some changes that libraries are facing and pointed out the 3 elements of libraries that need to be looked at critically.

  1. The physical space
  2. What is kept in the space
  3. The person that manages the space

I am interested in  the changing role of the school library and teacher librarian in an age where information is at everybody’s fingertips.

In regards to the physical space of libraries, Brian was of the opinion that schools will always need communal spaces where people can come together to learn. I also came across some interesting ideas by a designer of school libraries in this article.  Two points that resonated with me were the author’s insistance on designing libraries with flexible instructional space, and the author’s strong opinion on the value of printed material in schools: ‘Printed books are still an essential tool, especially for beginning readers.’ 

On the other hand, in one of the blog posts I found online, The Unquiet Librarian argues that librarians can be mobile, and quotes Dr. David Lankes when he says, ‘Want to save money in a school? Close the library and hire more school librarians.’ I thought that was an interesting statement.

In regards to what is kept in the physical space, Lankes, in the same blog post quoted by The Unquiet Librarian insists that the most important collection a library can have is it’s community.

As for the physical and digital collection, during his presentation Brian mentioned there is still no e-book solution for school libraries.  I found this infographic that claims printed books and ebooks can coexist. Not sure what I think.

As far as the role of the teacher librarian, this is still a big question for me.  Here is an article about Sarah Ludwig and in contrast, the thoughtful response from The Unquiet Librarian. (Also referenced above.)

I would like to add one more element to the list of items libraries need to critically reexamine:

4. The purpose of the space

‘Libraries need to change from places just to get stuff to places to make stuff, do stuff, and share stuff.’ This quote is from the School Library Journal article that takes a critical look at the challenges libraries face in this new age.

The changing face of libraries fascinates me and the articles I spent the afternoon reading have only made me more curious and doubled the amount of questions I have.

What about you?  What do you think libraries should look like in the information age?

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My Literate Life

For my Reading Pt. 1 Course, I have been asked to reflect on my life as a reader.  I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

My Experiences as a Reader

Early Childhood

From what my mother tells me, my early reading life consisted of us reciting nursery rhymes and singing together.  I remember having books of Fairy Tales with illustrations that were both beautiful and terrifying.  My other early memories center more around classic children’s television programming more than books.

Elementary School

I attended a French Immersion school, so my primary school books were ‘Dimoitou et ses amis’, and Robert Munch translated into French.
My interest in books blossomed slowly and really bloomed when my mother took my brother and I to our public library.  I was introduced to Dr. Seuss and other books that I would borrow again and again.  I was fond of rhyming and repetition and rereading.

Books gradually became an escape for me in my junior and intermediate years.  I was always very heavily into television, so when I was told to turn off the TV, I would escape into some Babysitter Club, RL Stein, or Christopher Pike book and later any Caroline B. Cooney book that I could get my hands on.  I attribute my becoming a voracious reader to Archie comics and Babysitter Club books.  Although I attempted a few classics when I was stranded at my Grandparent’s house, I wasn’t really ready and ended up quickly abandoning many of them.  I did enjoy the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and fell in love with Alice in Wonderland, but wouldn’t read another acclaimed children’s classic until much later.  My love of television got me hooked on another form of comic book as Japanese animation became popular. Through this medium I discovered Manga (Japanese style comic books) and began a collection of Heroine-centred and fantasy themed manga books.

High School

Starting high school, I continued to read for pleasure to avoid doing homework when there was nothing of interest on TV or my parents thought I’d watched enough for the day.  My feelings about the required reading in my high school English classes depended half on the book itself and half on the teacher’s personality and style of teaching.  I had very little patience for the ‘read a chapter then answer these questions’ method of reading instruction.  Now as an afterthought I find it really strange that we read so many plays in English class, but never acted any out.  Some notable books we read in High School included Romeo & Juliet and Brave New World.  I continued with French Emerson, so we had twice as many novels and pieces of literature to study.  I really enjoyed reading Le pont sur la rivier Kwai, (The Bridge on the River Kwai) in French, but I couldn’t help noticing the books we read in French class were far racier with themes of sexuality and explicit language.  On top of the required reading in high school I discovered Harry Potter series quite by accident.  Like everyone before and after me, I instantly got swept into the world of Hogwarts.


In University, I continued my study of foreign languages by majoring in Spanish language and literature.  This opened up yet another world of books.  I fell in love with the short plays by Paloma Pedrero, the movies of Pedro Almodovar and books such as Bajarse al moro.
One summer I took a Children’s literature class as an elective and was blown away by all the classics I had either abandoned or hadn’t even interested me as a child.  I was introduced to Watership Down which holds a strong position among my favorite books of all time.  This was one of the best courses I took in University and the diversity of books I was exposed to was truly outstanding.
In teacher’s college and my first years of teaching, I am thankful to have been introduced to so many great children’s authors and the power of picture books in particular.

Adult Life

Nowadays I am extremely thankful for technology, because it has really revolutionised how I read and what I read.  Because I’m living and teaching overseas, I don’t have very easy access to books in English and colleagues who share the same practices and resources as the ones I left in Ontario.  I keep up do date via on-line resources and blogs related to Young Adult and Children’s literature.  I get ideas for professional resources and non-fiction reads via renowned teaching blogs and websites.  I can carry my library with me on my Kindle and I can listen to audio books while doing the dishes or laundry.
Right now I am very into Young Adult and Adult Fantasy and Futuristic Distopian Genres.  Books by Megan Whalen Turner, Kristen Cashore, Melina Marchetta, Susanne Collins, and George R.R. Martin are some recent favorites.

How these Experiences Influence the Way I Teach Reading

The reading experiences I have had over the years have made me realise that readers develop at their own pace.  Independent of all curriculum and other mandated documents, I try to teach both students and their parents that reading is a very personal endeavour.  It’s ok to abandon books, to ‘get stuck in a rut’ of a particular genre or author, to reread and to read electronically or with your ears (audio books).  I try to provide my students with different media, such as pictures, articles, and movies to help enrich the reading experience and I do my best to expose them to different forms of reading material such as books, magazines, manuals, websites, audiobooks, comic books, manga, etc.  I also try to read a lot of books at the appropriate age level of my students and keep up to date with new authors and trends.  I am therefore able to recommend and discuss reading material with my students.  My goal is to help students find the joy in reading for pleasure any way I can.

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‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink

I’m really glad I read ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, by Daniel H. Pink.

(Actually, I guess I didn’t read it, I listened to it in audiobook format.)

I liked the author’s combination of scientific research and real-life examples to explain that people are generally more motivated and productive if given autonomy over certain aspects of their work.  This applies to people of all ages.

As an educator, I guess I wasn’t as surprised by Pink’s collection of research and concrete examples as I should have been.  This is because I see the harmful effects that carrot and stick reward systems have on kids every day.

Pink really gave me hope, though.  His tool-kit for teachers in the third part of his book offered lots of solutions for both teachers and parents to foster ‘type i’ behaviour in our kids.  `Type i’ refers to intrinsically motivated people.  (As opposed to those who are mostly extrinsically motivated.)

I know from now on I will definitely be giving any homework I assign the ‘type i’ test be sure it is meaningful home learning.

I hope to use Pink’s ideas so I can better motivate my students with lessons that promote autonomy, mastery, and have a clear purpose.

I will be recommending ‘Drive’ for my school’s professional development literature circles.  I think it is a must read for all educators and others involved in the business of motivating people.