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Jamie Boston


"Book clubs promote the reading that improves literacy," says Jamie Boston. "The primary goal of any book club is to increase the enjoyment of recreational reading, with the secondary hope that reading comprehension will improve."

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As the librarian for two junior high schools on opposite sides of Davis, California, Boston's split schedule at first frustrated her efforts to establish a meaningful club. She wanted to include staff and parents in discussions, too, but grew tired of evening meetings. No matter how much she encouraged families, when she held an event at one school, almost no one from the other school would attend.

"I didnt want to just give up," Boston told Education World. "Given all those scheduling and location problems, however, I thought I would try meeting in cyber space, which would allow participants to add to the conversation at a time and place convenient to them."

The Davis Jr. High Online Book Club reads and discusses a book about every six weeks. Parents and children can sit down together to read and discuss a book, or they can do it separately. Boston posts several questions based on each title, and participants respond to any or all of them, reply to the posts of others, or just sit back and lurk. There is no requirement for participation, so members may post often -- or even skip a book entirely.

Jamie Boston and a student log-on to a discussion on the Davis Jr. High Online Book Club.

A "book talk" forum allows club members to chat about other books they have read. Membership is open to all students of Emerson Junior High and Harper Junior High, as well as to school staff and parents. Some home-schooled students have been invited to join too.

Security is a focus for the online forum, so participants must complete a registration form. Then Boston assigns each user a unique number and the user visits the Web site to officially log in. Participants select their own passwords and choose an online persona from a list of literary characters.

"I have two rationales for providing anonymity," Boston explained. "The primary one is for safety. But anonymity also serves to level the playing field when making comments. Members have no idea if they are sharing their thoughts with a student, a parent, their teacher, or perhaps the principal."

During registration, participants are reminded to abide by the guidelines in the district's acceptable use policy. In the book club forum, posts are held until Boston approves them. Although that takes away a little of the joy of blogging, she believes its important because the practice avoids issues of harassment, bullying, and embarrassment from teenage silliness. Boston has been impressed by the quality of the student's entries and the fact that she has seen no problems with inappropriate behavior.

"I believe the forum is particularly effective for students who might be too shy or limited by other social constraints to participate in a classroom discussion or formal book club," observed Boston. "It also is helpful for students who need to reflect about the discussion longer than is allowed in a structured time frame."

One of the most active posters in the club is a student who possesses fairly sophisticated reading and writing abilities, but is still learning English. She is hesitant to speak aloud because of her heavy accent. Another active participant is an autistic boy who benefits from the added time to generate a response that truly reflects what he wants to communicate. The convenience of blogging and its ability to draw out reluctant learners leads Boston to anticipate greater use of online discussions in schools.

"Classroom teachers who are using an online forum that requires participation report that it is very time consuming," she said. "The good news is that many students enjoy the format and make multiple postings. They are not confined to making only one comment or limited to the 50-minute class time frame. The downside is that the number of postings is sometimes overwhelming."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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