Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Fifth Graders Blog with Preservice Teachers to Discuss Literature

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Fifth Graders Blog with Preservice Teachers to Discuss Literature

Article excerpt

Writing workshop is a busy time in any classroom. The sounds of pencils scratch along the page, the computer keyboards click-clack, and the quiet hum of group discussions fills the air. Students work independently and collaboratively to brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, and publish their writing. However, this was not the case in Lindsay's (first author) fifth -grade classroom. In fact, many of the students were not engaged during writing workshop or reading workshop. Several struggled in writing and reading and needed ongoing encouragement and support. After exhausting everything in her repertoire, Lindsay brainstormed ways to increase motivation and engagement with her students. She contacted a colleague who was working with preservice teachers at a small, private, liberal arts university a few hours away. With the hopes of boosting engagement and providing students with an authentic literacy experience, they decided to partner preservice teachers with fifth graders to communicate on a blog to discuss their reading. The fifth graders were already familiar with the Kidblog website. By adding an outside audience, it was hoped they would be more engaged to communicate via writing to discuss a book.

After discussing the logistics of the study, Katie (the university liaison and second author) suggested the novel, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (2010). This book was selected since it was one of the required readings of children's literature for the preservice teachers and was appropriate for the fifth -grade students. The two main characters, Nya and Salva, were similar in age to the fifth graders. Additionally, this book is based on true events and fosters global awareness as readers learn about the challenges Nya and Salva face in South Sudan. Salva Dut, a Lost Boy, struggles to survive as he flees his war torn country. Due to the limited supply of clean water, Nya walks two hours twice a day to fetch and bring her family water. Upon learning that they would blog with college students, the fifth graders became very excited. They could not wait to begin communicating with their new buddies. Engagement was no longer an issue during reading and writing workshop. In fact, this became the part of the day to which the students looked forward. This was clear to the teacher when, in the middle of math instruction, one of her students raised a hand and asked, "Can I get on the computer to see if my college buddy wrote back?"

The purpose of this article is to discuss what happened when the fifth-grade students and preservice teachers blogged with one another to discuss a commonly read text. In the literature review below, the authors examine how blogging can provide a communicative space that allows participants to interact with an active, authentic audience. Additionally, the importance of utilizing technology in the classroom is explored. By increasing motivation in the classroom, teachers can encourage student engagement. After the literature review, the authors describe the methodology, and then provide descriptive portraits of four of the fifth-grade participants. Next, the findings of the study are described and organized according to the broad themes including the fifth graders' growth as readers, writers, and global citizens, as well as the benefits of technology integration inclusive of authentic audience and individualized instruction. Finally, the authors leave the readers with concluding thoughts.

Literature Review

Learning is social in nature (Graham & Harris, 2013; Vygotsky, 1986) and students' language and communicative skills improve with regular communication (Vygotsky, 1986). Many teachers incorporate communication into daily reading and writing practices in order to provide students with a social learning environment. The construction of meaning is enhanced when students have the opportunity to interact with their peers to discuss a text. In fact, Harvey and Goudvis (2007) wrote, "Readers make meaning. …

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