How Digital Literature Circles Help Readers Create, Compose and Connect

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How Digital Literature Circles Help Readers Create, Compose and Connect

by Jeremy Hyler

In Create, Compose, Connect!, Troy Hicks and I advocate of using technology in the classroom. I use tech both to make lessons more engaging and to break down the walls of the classroom so students are discussing what they are reading beyond the school day. Create, Compose Connect demonstrates how to manage the juggling act of trying to implement new strategies, lessons, and units while also implementing the use of technology into a middle school English classroom.

Over the course of the last two years I have taken on the challenge of integrating Harvey Daniels’ concept of literature circles into my class but changing them to digital literature circles. While trying to meet the challenges of teaching reading and incorporating technology, I am also balancing the need of meeting grade level standards. In Create, Compose, Connect, we focus on two key skills–listening and speaking.

By focusing on these two ideas, students become better readers and users of technology. Students are given roles and choice in what they get to read. Also, the students are doing in-class group discussions about the book they are reading.

Digital literature circles require students to use digital tools and extend the conversation beyond the walls of the classroom. Students are learning and thinking about reading outside as well as inside of school, playing a variety of roles. Digital literature circles roles include: Discussion Manager, Summarizer, Illustrator, Passage Pointer, Connection Maker, among others.

One tool that enhances digital literature circles is Celly, a social networking tool that can be used for helping students organize, collaborate, and discuss books outside of school.

Using their phones, students have the opportunity to participate in a reading group or book club that lends to everyone participating and conversations where students are thinking more critically. Previously, only the same students would participate in each class and the more introverted students kept to themselves. In addition, the conversation was more teacher driven. Now, with Celly, more students are not only participating, but students are directing the conversations while I can observe and gently guide them if needed. Furthermore, deeper discussions or more critical thinking is taking place where students are talking beyond the text and making real world connections.

Celly is also available for for use with any web browser, too. I also enjoy using Celly as a way for my students to communicate about questions with homework. It is completely private and very user friendly.

When students are using Celly while participating in our digital literature circles, I encourage them to put their job title in their post they send to their group. Also, I ask them to use proper sentence structure and to be grammatically correct in their responses or posts. Because this is a class assignment, I do want them to practice correct writing skills, even if it is on a mobile device or a social media service. For this audience, purpose, and context, I don’t want them using digital talk like they would on their social networks or text messages.

Teaching students to read effectively while they are surrounded by technology doesn’t have to be difficult. Challenging, yes, but with effort, student feedback, and collaboration with other colleagues (all parts of digital literature circles), we can meet the needs of our students and welcome them into a wonderful world of reading while using digital tools responsibly. As one of my students remarked, “digital literature circles has jobs for everyone and we are allowed to have choices in what we read. I like using our own cells to talk about the book.” What could be better than this?

Jeremy Hyler is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Create, Compose, Connect. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremybballer.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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