West Aurora Students Giving Thumbs-Up to Online Book Reviews

Article excerpt

Byline: Molly Kozik

Imagine what it's like for today's teachers to convince teenagers that a "CUL8TR" text message is not considered a properly written English sentence.

Teachers at West Aurora High School are continually looking for creative ways to combine technology and education and since February more than 250 freshmen have been using a new online book review site on the school's intranet to practice their reading and writing skills.

"Students want to communicate online," said the school's technology coordinator, Bridget Danish. "So we thought of the idea of the Online Book Bistro, which is basically an online community where students can log into a secure site and they are able to review books and share their opinions on them. It really allows us to take a book report concept to a much wider audience."

Students give the books a rating - from zero books to four books. The reviewers write a summary of the book and tell why they like it and suggest who else might like the book.

"I don't know if any other school has something like this. West Aurora is pushing the envelope to have these opportunities for the students," Danish said.

Danish and West Aurora's reading coordinator, Carol Wilson, started developing the site at the beginning of the school year.

Wilson received a grant from the Foundation for West Aurora Schools to purchase books for the program. The books are available for the students in the Freshman Academy, where a group of freshman are kept together for all their classes to help with the high school transition, and to the Developmental English class, which is a two-hour block of combined English and reading classes.

With the grant money, Wilson and the other English teachers selected a wide assortment of mostly current books geared toward the young adult reader. The books are only available to the students in the Academy and Developmental classes.

"The teachers are coming back and telling us that the students are coming in and bragging about what they've read. They want to be the first one to have read a book and post the review on the site," Wilson said.

"It's a race to finish a book and write about it," she said. "Think about the power behind that. These kids are learning how to read books and go and write about them for their peers."

So far the students have reviewed and commented on a variety of books including "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe;" "Plague Year;" "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul;" "To Kill a Mockingbird;" and "The Wave. …