Judy Blume. Eve Bunting. Bruce Coville. Paula Danziger. Aaron Shepard. R.L. Stine. Jane Yolen.
How would your students like to chat -- live! -- with those authors?
On April 24, more than 200,000 students around the world will pose questions to two dozen of their favorite authors in one of the largest online projects around -- The Read In!
"What an experience!" says Vickie Roop, a teacher at Central Noble Middle School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "I have never experienced anything like it."
Last April, Roop's students gathered in groups around a single computer set up in the school's media center. They typed questions to Avi, R.L. Stine, Aaron Shepard, and other authors of note. The authors -- who were sitting hundreds of miles away in their own homes, publishers' offices, schools, or town libraries -- fired off answers in return!
"My students would cheer when one of our questions would come up for an author to answer," Roop adds. "It was exciting to see them discussing different books they had read. It was fantastic to see them totally involved and animated."
Teacher Yetti Sinnreich is a big fan of The Read In! too. Literacy is a top priority at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School on the campus of Gallaudet Univeristy (Washington, DC), where Sinnreich teaches, and, she says, "The Read In! facilitates that goal in many ways."
"Imagine the excitement of chatting with your favorite authors... Imagine discussing the books you have read with other children across the U.S. and around the world," says Sinnreich.
For Sinnreich's students, who are deaf, The Read In! online project crosses communications barriers. Students chat with authors and other students -- without interpreters.
But the project is special for many other reasons, adds Sinnreich: "The Read In! makes map skills come to life as we map the locations of participants around the world. We also practice reading our favorite books in sign language, because on the day of The Read In! we visit younger students in the school for read alouds."
Last year, more than 140,000 students at 1,300 sites around the world participated in The Read In!, says Jane Coffey, a computer technician at Dutcher Elementary School in Turlock, California. (As of March 21, more than 210,000 participants have registered to be part of the program this year! You can check The Read In! Web site for updated registration numbers.) Coffey founded The Read In! in 1992 when a third grade teacher in her school asked if her students could chat with children in a class in Oklahoma. Both classes were studying the same book.
"I've been in the public school system for some time, so I know that schools are full of great, dedicated teachers -- and yet there are still some kids who aren't good readers or who aren't motivated to read," says Coffey. "I get letters and e-mail every year from teachers who've used The Read In! to motivate reluctant readers. If talking to R.L. Stine on the day of The Read In! is what it takes to motivate one kid to read, that makes all my effort worthwhile."
Any individual, class, or school can participate in The Read In!, which takes place during National Library Week. The only thing participants need is a computer with Internet access, says Coffey. A simple download of free software, which can be accessed on The Read In's Web site, enables students anywhere to participate.
Then, on The Read In! day, students "meet" their favorite authors online at scheduled times. For 30 minutes, each author fields rapid-fire questions from students around the world. Students post their questions "live" by typing them on their computer keyboards. Moderators -- in this case, educational media students at the University of Washington -- select questions to pose to the authors.
Coffey runs this monster program from her computer lab at Dutcher School. Her free time is consumed with scheduling authors and countless other tasks. Fortunately for Coffey, however, The Read In! is supported by many volunteers, sponsors, and organizations.
Coffey's students are deeply involved in The Read In! too. Classes that register can get involved in several online activities. Many schoolchildren compile lists of their favorite books and send them to The Read In! Coffey's students have created a database program to transform hundreds of booklists into consolidated lists for each grade level. Those lists are made available to all participants.
This year, for the first time, The Read In! is operating as an official "nonprofit organization." The Read in Foundation, Inc., supports The Read In! Project and programs, and funds The Read In! Literacy Grants to "innovative educators who develop projects to encourage literacy and the use of telecommunications technology in education."
Teachers, homeschooling parents, and anyone else with an interest in literacy can join The Read In! The first step in the joining process is to register online. Once registered, participants receive regular updates about the program, schedules of author appearances, directions for downloading software, and more. The Read In! Web site offers many other valuable teaching tools including a list of author Web sites and contest information. Transcripts of last year's conversations with authors can be found there too.
In addition, each participating group provides a short paragraph to introduce themselves to others. Many teachers build math and geography lessons around that information. Some use the list to "meet" other classes, forming long-term "pen pal" relationships with classes in other parts of the country or in other countries.
On The Read In! day, K-12 students and teachers around the world bring blankets, pillows, and all sorts of reading materials to school. They spend the day celebrating reading in all kinds of ways. Many schools invite outside guests -- including community workers, local dignitaries, celebrities, and parents -- to read aloud their favorite books. Students discuss books they're reading, engage in debates, present plays built around their favorite books, and much more.
You can check out a selection of activities offered on The Read In! Web site, reprinted with permission of The Read In!, in this week's Education World LESSON PLANNING story, Reading Activities for Read In! Day.
"This project is THE best I've ever seen," says Roop, who this year is serving as the International Read In! volunteer coordinator -- a volunteer position! "The Read In! integrates the two things I love -- reading and telecommunicationsThere's no better way, in my opinion to combine reading and the future."
So what does the future hold for The Read In!?
"Video-conferencing would be great," says Coffey. "Someday I'd love to see kids' faces at they watch Eve Bunting read aloud one of her books to them. But most schools can't afford video conferencing, and it's not important. As long as I'm involved, The Read In! will never charge any school a single penny to participate. We don't pay a cent to any of the authors involved either. We don't even pay for their Internet connections. They do this because it's important to them. They want to be part of something special for kids."
|Fifth Annual Read In!|
|Schedule of Authors|
|8:00 am EDT||5:00 am PDT||David Boyd|
|8:30 am EDT||5:30 am PDT||James Moloney|
|9:00 am EDT||6:00 am PDT||Lloyd Alexander|
|9:30 am EDT||6:30 am PDT||Jane Yolen|
|10:00 am EDT||7:00 am PDT||Eve Bunting|
|10:30 am EDT||7:30 am PDT||Connie Porter|
|11:00 am EDT||8:00 am PDT||Karleen Bradford|
|11:30 am EDT||8:30 am PDT||Virginia Hamilton|
|12:00 noon EDT||9:00 am PDT||Bruce Coville|
|12:30 pm EDT||9:30 am PDT||R.L. Stine|
|1:00 pm EDT||10:00 am PDT||Ann M. Martin|
|1:30 pm EDT||10:30 am PDT||Avi|
|2:00 pm EDT||11:00 am PDT||Judy Blume|
|2:30 pm EDT||11:30 am PDT||Ed Emberley|
|3:00 pm EDT||12:00 noon PDT||Bruce Balan|
|3:30 pm EDT||12:30 pm PDT||David Wisniewski|
|4:00 pm EDT||1:00 pm PDT||Aaron Shepard|
|4:30 pm EDT||1:30 pm PDT||Jackie French Koller|
|5:00 pm EDT||2:00 pm PDT||Daniel Hayes|
|5:30 pm EDT||2:30 pm PDT||Paula Danziger|
|6:00 pm EDT||3:00 pm PDT||Evelyn Clarke Mott|
|6:30 pm EDT||3:30 pm PDT||Rob Thomas|
|7:00 pm EDT||4:00 pm PDT||Joan Irvine|
|7:30 pm EDT||4:30 pm PDT||Closure/Guests|
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education WorldÂ® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright Â© 1998 Education World