Fact #1: Independent reading is an important way to learn and grow–even when one is a high school senior.
Fact #2: High school seniors (not to mention nearly all other teenagers) love to communicate through social media.
Senior English teacher Jennifer Jacobs recently decided to take advantage of Fact #2 (her students' love of social media) to foster Fact #1 (independent reading). Continually struck by the time and effort her students expended to read and write on social media, Mrs. Jacobs decided that it was time to harness that energy for learning--by purposefully inviting social media into her classroom. Thus was born what has become the successful and expanding HSE Google Community of Readers.
Taking advantage of our district’s Google Apps for Education (GAFE) status, Jacobs created an 'invitation only' Google+ Community and posted the prompt, What Are You Reading? In order to work out any account issues on the front end, Jacobs scheduled a computer lab and rolled out the project during class one day. Before the day was over, each senior English student had joined the Google+ Community using their school account, understood site navigation, and had written his/her first post!
Students now have ongoing participation requirements in the Google+ Community throughout the semester. They write book reviews, and share other thoughts about what they are personally reading. Much like customers at Amazon, students can rate the books they’ve read, recommending them (or not) to peers as they see fit. To organize the Community, Jacobs has created LABELS (like tags or folders) for specific literature genres. It's easy for students to choose the type of book they most enjoy, and then scan reviews for titles they'd like to read next. Community conversation often springs up over a title, often led by quieter students who would rarely speak up in class.
Already, this Google Community of Readers has expanded, as other senior English classes in the school have joined the group as well. The idea of using social media for curricular purposes is catching on! What other curricular applications might there be for Google + Communities? How else might educators harness the power of this digital tool to deepen and extend student learning?