Tag Archives: reading

Social Media Duh: English Teacher (me) Discovers Goodreads

I have started getting all of my students signed up for Goodreads, a website that allows you to track what you’ve read, what you want to read, and what you’re currently reading. The train of thought that led to this stroke of brilliance went as follows:

  1. I really want my students to read more on their own. Some do, some don’t.
  2. Last time I tried to get students to read on their own, I made them fill out reading logs.
  3. I really got sick of printing those.
  4. The kids really hated filling those out. So much so that many just… didn’t.
  5. There’s gotta be a better way.
  6. Hmmm….
  7. Well, while I ponder that, I’ll go catch up on reading for next week’s lessons.
  8. 20 minutes later, distracted from The Awakening by the need for a snack: I should enter this on Goodreads, I don’t think I’ve done that yet.
  9. OMG.

When I signed up for Goodreads last semester, I didn’t think I would use it. Goodreads cons: the interface isn’t entirely intuitive, some people log regularly while others don’t, and I still can’t figure out how to tell Goodreads to stop posting my activity to Facebook (anyone know how to do this?). But there are some serious Goodreads pros for a teacher who only sees her students for about 45 minutes a week, too. Pros: it’s digital, which means no more printing logs; it’s digital, so I can keep track of students’ activities even when I’m not seeing them every day; it’s digital, so they can all be “friends” with each other and keep each other accountable; and it’s digital, so they can have discussions even though they never actually have sessions together with me (since most of our lessons are one-on-one). A non-digital pro: it’s a great way to keep a log of all you’ve read. I can see students enjoying seeing their lists of “read” books grow!

We have a group called “Liz’s Tutoring Students.” I need to come up with a better name. From what I can tell, students can have book discussions and add books to the group list from our group page. They can also do this maintenance on their home pages, and I’m not sure how the two overlap. I’m also not sure if there’s a way for me to keep track of “minutes read” or “pages read”… still trying to figure that one out. Would love to hear stories about awesome ways you’ve used Goodreads, or any advice or warnings you have if this is something you’ve done with students before. Or, if you know of other wonderful sites to support students’ independent reading, send them along!

How Catch-22 Landed Me in a Catch-22…

…of sorts, anyway.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 56, ch. 5)

I’m reading Catch-22, among other things, with one of my tutoring students. Why? Because he wanted to read Catch-22. Some books have a mystique to them for my students. They’ve heard about the book, they’ve heard about characters in the book, or some other book we’re reading references the book. And then they want to read the book. Well this particular book is about to make me as insane as Orr.

I have a theory about classic, canonicized texts. Said opinion easily constitutes a separate blog post that perhaps I will write later. But suffice it to say that I think a number of canonical texts should lead perfectly fine existences as texts that others reference, but rarely ever read, and that society should stop pressuring us to read them. Or even more specifically, ETS should stop pressuring us to read them. Catch-22 is one of these books.

Don’t get me wrong. Catch-22 is funny. Clever. But it’s decidedly not a favorite of mine.

So when a student wanted to read it — a student who pretty regularly decides I suck at picking out books for us to read together or for him to read on his own — I threw up my hands and said “fine.” And thought, there’s no way this is going to stick anyway. That book is dreadful.

Well, it stuck. He seems to be enjoying it and I’m finding that reading it out loud and having someone to talk to about it actually makes it a lot more fun. The book that was driving me insane is strangely making me more sane, which means I need to keep reading it. If I were insane, I wouldn’t have to read it, but as soon as I admit that I’m insane I’m sane for not wanting to read it… oh, nevermind.

So I’m stuck reading the rest of this book with this kid whose taste in books I still can’t figure out. Oh well. We’ll have a grand old time talking about sanity and insanity and war and peace and logic and irony. Off to tutoring I go, caught in my Catch-22.

More Book Love

Still thinking about book love.

Came across this review-meets-thoughts-on-ebooks on Chronicle of Higher Ed today.

Scott McLemee tells of the arduous process of re”organizing” his bookshelves, a process I know well (but as I noted in this post, my organizational scheme has eschewed such organizational measures in favor of chaos). He also makes me want to read Piper’s Book was There: Reading in Electronic TimesWill perhaps order on Amazon. Kindle edition? Hmmm…

What McLemee says that really resonates:

Given the limits of space, my acquisition of hardbacks and paperbacks must slow down; at this point, the ones on hand are saturated enough with significance to last the rest of my days. But the e-texts filling my coffee cup can accumulate as rapidly as ever. No shelf bends under the weight, and their imprint on my memory is like footprints in the snow.

He describes how each book, with its material there-ness, makes him remember from whence it came as he reorganizes his shelves. Inscribed with the names and notes of long-gone friends and family members, the books mean more than the words on the page. Unlike the argument Coxon makes, that I noted in my earlier post, the books aren’t made magical by the words on the page, but by the memories they evoke when you hold them, when you “feel your way” to what you’re looking for — a quote, a citation, a favorite passage.

I have a tutoring student who, every time I give her a new book, she buries her face in it and breathes.

Some Words About (e?)Books

Here I sit on an extremely cold January day, reading through education blogs, surrounded by my post prized possessions… my books.

I may or may not have a slight hoarding problem when it comes to books. It is an addiction that I know many English teachers share with me. Years ago, I gave up my obsessive need to alphabetize them by author and just started semi-categorizing them by “genre.” But good luck finding a book in my library. The categorization scheme makes sense only to me. An example from one of my bookshelves (this is the books-that-are-great-literature-according-to-my-standards shelf):

bookshelfThat bookshelf was purchased last year around my birthday, because I had stacks of books all over my office and my mom and I concluded that something needed to be done about it. As you can see, I have already spilled onto the top of the bookcase, and those bookends are coming frighteningly close to toppling to the floor.

I’ve been a book hoarder for a long time, so this is nothing new. As a child, I always asked for a book I was dying to read for Christmas, and when that’s what was under the tree, I would squeal as though I’d just been given a new car. My favorite store in town was Pages for All Ages, which has since folded, but which had the best children’s section I’ve seen to this day.

I know my books are my favorite things because I surround them with my other favorite things. For example:

bookshelf2Above this bookshelf is a picture of me, my mother, and my grandfather — three generations of Illinois graduates — in front of the Alma Mater statue on my graduation day. The bookends about to fall off of the other bookshelf were gifts from my aunt. Let’s just say that, with the possible exception of that Nicholas Sparks book in the floor stack (sorry, it’s from an earlier time), my books rank among my most valued of valuables.

And you know what? They’re not going anywhere.

I am a fan of the digital — anyone who knows me can tell you that. But when it comes to books, my husband will be the first to tell you that much of the money I make goes into buying good old ink-and-paper books (or good old wood-and-nail bookshelves). The eBook movement, therefore, is one I have been slow to criticize but also slow to join. When my friends were all getting Nooks and Kindles, I watched. Considered it. Got a Kindle. Said Kindle is now in my desk drawer. It comes out occasionally, at best.

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about eBooks when I was tasked, along with a team of fellow graduate students, with creating one for teachers this past summer. It is still in review and addresses issues surrounding text complexity and the common core. We incorporated videos, interactive quizzes, audio, etc. The authorship process was awful — anyone who has done digital composition understands its tendency to become a mind-numbingly recursive and dialogic process. See further thoughts on digital composition in this blog post from October.

This post from Dan Coxon on The Nervous Breakdown defends eBooks, and the argument Coxon makes resonates with me. He argues that the my-books-must-be-tactile approach is both outdated and unhelpful as the way we read shifts alongside the technological landscape. He reminds us that what is magical about reading lies in the words, not the pages you can touch, while at the same time acknowledging his own love of paper-and-ink texts. He writes:

The arrival of the Tablet in many ways echoes the invention of the paperback. Most ebooks are cheaper than their physical counterparts, and their ephemeral nature lends itself readily to pulp genres and mass market fiction. As a moderately unsuccessful writer I’ve found that ebook sales now make up around 80% of my book sales. While many readers are unwilling to pay $15 or more for a book by an unknown author, they’re prepared to hand over $2.99 for the ebook. I’d love it if everyone bought my physical book and cherished it, sharing it with friends and discussing it at parties, curling up with it at night in the intimacy of their bedroom. But I’ll settle for an ebook sale and a new reader.

As the meaning of authorship changes, we’ve witnessed major shifts in the ways we “consume” and encounter texts. For many authors, this is frightening, but for others, it is liberating. It is also both of these things for readers. I think of a friend of mine, who loves her Kindle Fire (I rarely see her without it). This friend is not a huge fan of digital technologies in general, and probably thinks I’m a pretty big tech nerd. She doesn’t teach with digital technologies, nor does she have much interest in doing so, but when it comes to reading, she has no problem buying a book with her Kindle and reading it on the plane or between meetings. When it comes to writing, I find digital technologies liberating. When it comes to reading, she does too.

Recently, however, I have started noting a shift in my purchasing tendencies. Though I reserve curling up in front of the fire for those books that speak either directly to my heart or to my head, in search of books to help me prepare for a puppy that will be coming home with me in March, I bought an ebook and sent it to my phone for quick retrieval and reference when my future pup refuses to “sit,” “come,” or “stay.” So despite my shelves of books that will continue to grow and multiply, I can understand the value of books that I cannot fill with sticky notes, mark with pen and pencil, accidentally spill coffee on, or otherwise make look like this:


To books, in all their media.

I am a Networked Individual

I’m reading two books right now, swapping between them for an occasional change of pace:

Product DetailsPersonal Connections in the Digital Age (DMS - Digital Media and Society)

Networked: The New Social Operating System, by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, and Personal Connections in the Digital Age, by Nancy Baym.

They’re great. I’m only a couple chapters into them, but so far they’re offering interesting analyses of how personal connections operate in a hyperdigitized world. Best of all — neither of them are condemning digital media, nor are they lauding digital media. Instead, they’re providing nuanced descriptions of what it means to be a “networked individual” (Rainie and Wellman’s term) in the 21st century.

What I think I love most about reading these books at the same time is how similar their arguments are, despite the fact that their authors come from different disciplinary backgrounds. Barry Wellman is a social network researcher whose work I am coming to know well as I learn more about social network analysis. Nancy Baym comes from communication studies and the humanities, and spends her first chapter analyzing popular media artifacts in order to argue that there are multiple ways of perceiving how technology impacts us (or how we impact it, or both, etc. etc.). But they’re both arguing that today’s digital media aren’t making us better or worse people, but networked individuals. Rainie and Wellman give a description of networked individualism. Among other things, networked individualism is characterized by a world in which:

  • Many meet their social, emotional, and economic needs by tapping into sparsely knit networks of diverse associates rather than relying on tight connections to a relatively small number of core associates
  • Networked individuals have new powers to create media and project their voices to more extended audiences that become part of their social worlds
  • The lines between information, communication, and action have blurred
  • Networked individuals use the internet, mobile phones, and social networks to get information at their fingertips and act on it, empowering their claims to expertise (whether valid or not)
  • Networked individuals can fashion their own complex identities depending on their passions, beliefs, lifestyles, professional associations, work interests, hobbies, or any number of other personal characteristics
  • The organization of work is more spatially distributed
  • Home and work have become more intertwined than at any time since hordes of farmers went out into their fields

…and so on. Many of these descriptions of the networked world in which we live resonate with what I have found in my work with teachers and with what I have found in my personal life.

For example, I recently got a smartphone. For someone so interested in the role of digital technologies in teachers’ lives, it was long overdue. The smartphone has done nothing to me (what Baym would call technological determinism), and has not caused me to take on the characteristics of the technology to which I am (or am not) tethered. But it has made more obvious to me the degree to which I am a networked individual — my home, work, friend, and family networks intertwine in multiple spaces online. As Wellman and Rainie describe, my lines between information, communication, and action are quite blurry when I see an article, tweet it, talk about it on facebook, or blog about it here. I have many “sparsely knit networks of diverse associates” that cross the country and the globe, from India to Korea, from Colorado to Georgia, from my larger networked ties in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, which expand and contract with the movements of individuals from far in my past to very much present, to my familial network, which touches the Pacific and the Atlantic.

These books are giving me things to think about: both my own networked individualism and the networked worlds of my future research participants, not to mention that NCTE proposal on networks I’m piecing together with a friend right now. More on this later, I can assure you. For now, I’m taking my networked self to tutoring.