Reflections on Making Connections through the Global Read Aloud 2017This was our first year participating in the Global Read Aloud Project (GRA) and it was a spectacular experience for our classroom. The GRA started in 2010 and is the creation of Pernille Ripp, a 7th Grade Teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin. It officially runs for six weeks starting in October each year, but can be shifted if needed based on school schedules. The idea is that classrooms around the world at a similar grade level, read the same book, at the same time, and share their learning and questions with each other through various platforms, such as Twitter, blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, or any technology you want to use. The goal is for students to make global connections and develop an enjoyment of reading. I do a poor job of explaining it. Let's hear from Pernille about what the GRA is:
From the list of books on the GRA website, I chose A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as our book. It's about a young man who is dealing with his Mother's Cancer diagnosis and trying to come to grips with "his truth." Pernille referred to it as a "heart" book. It really was a book that everyone in the class could relate to and brought about so many great discussions on the themes within. In fact, I blogged about a really powerful discussion our class had in an earlier post.
But, you can probably do that with any great piece of literature in the classroom, can't you?
Sure you can. However, the beauty of the GRA is the Global Connections you make with other classrooms. Beyond all the great pedagogy and literature activities you do in your classroom (and you are encouraged to do whatever you like, teach the book however you like) the idea is to use technology to connect with others. You can make as many or as few connections as you like and make them in whatever way you like.
How do you make these connections? Through the GRA communities on Facebook, Google+ and Edmodo (among others), there are lists you can join where you share your contact info, or leave posts asking for a connection in certain countries, grades, etc. All these connections start by joining the GRA through the website and becoming a member of the community in the platform of your choice.
Here's how we connected:
1. Snail mail postcards. We sent out postcards (a picture of the school was on this year's card, but next year I think we will try to send out St. Thomas landmark postcards) with a letter about our community, our school and our classroom, to 40 schools. We included links to our classroom website and blogs/vlogs. We did not receive as many as we sent, but that's OK. We were still excited each time one arrived. We took a picture of each card and shared it on our classroom Twitter account (@MehargsVikings) and our class website. The students created a Google My Map and placed pins for each school we received a postcard from. They tried to get a picture of the school to attach to each pin as well. We received postcards from all over Canada and the United States. Some were student made, some were commercially made with pictures from the areas they came from. We proudly displayed all of these on our GRA bulletin board.
One of the postcards we received.
2. Digital & Video Postcards. The students each created a personal postcard using a Google Slide. We combined them to make a Slide Show of everyone's card and shared it via the teacher email addresses we had, posting it on our class website and sharing it in our Twitter feed using the #GRA17AMC. The class loves making videos, so they went out and got video of the school and local landmarks and tourist stops. They then used Google Slides and iMovie to make a video Postcard which we shared the same way as the Slide Show. If you would like to see the video, check it out on our class YouTube channel (if you are reading this blog after June 30, 2018 - those videos will have gone down due to limits on Image and Video Permissions). They loved getting videos from other schools in North America - we even had a chain of back and forth videos with a school in Connecticut. They'd answer our questions about them, where they lived, what they liked to do, or about the book with a video and then we would reciprocate. It was a great way for schools without access to Skype or Google Hangouts to make connections.
An example of a Student's personal postcard made using Google Slides.
3. Twitter #GRA17AMC. By following each book's hashtag, you could participate in a slow chat about the book your class was reading, post questions or answer questions other classes posted. This was not a huge hit in my classroom, mostly due to the time lag. My students tended to want their questions answered immediately and didn't have a lot of patience to wait for pesky things like International Time Zones, i.e. for other schools around the world to be in class and see their question. However, due to the spinning of the earth - this was often the best way to hear from classrooms that were much farther away and not in class at the same time we were, like the folks we Tweeted with in England and Australia. We also made sure we added the hashtag to any photos or videos of activities relating to the book that we posted and enjoyed following what other classes around the world posted too.
4. Blogs and Vlogs - WriteAbout & Flipgrid. As WriteAbout is a Blogging platform that was free for a year through the GRA, we used this to write about what we were reading and invited others to respond. As a sponsor of the GRA, WriteAbout had many areas where students could exchange ideas and thoughts on the book. Flipgrid allowed students who were not strong writers, or prefered a video medium to Vlog about the book. We posted video questions and comments in our own grids and responded to those posted by other classes. Often invitations to participate in a Flipgrid were shared through the #GRA17 on Twitter. Because you can set up your grid so the Teacher moderates each video before it gets posted it is a great way to keep the videos on task and weed out any that are inappropriate or just plain silly. It's also a good opportunity to talk to your class about good Digital Citizenship, their Digital Footprint and how your posts can affect others.
5. Live Connections Through Google Hangouts. Our Board does not support Skype in the classroom, but as a GAFE Board, does support Google Hangouts. These were truly magical connections. We started with a few Mystery Hangouts with a classroom in our Board (Thanks to Heidi Soloway and her class in London for participating in our first ever Mystery Hangout!), one with another Ontario classroom and one in Indiana. The class quickly adapted to using yes or no Questioning techniques to narrow down where each class was and used Google Maps to help us find them. With these three classrooms, we were able to hold at least one Google Hangout a week (and often more than one) where the students talked about their interests, their school, their daily lives, and about questions and thoughts they had about the book. Some students were more comfortable sharing live than others, but all were able to participate in their own way, at their own level. Each Monday they would eagerly ask when we would be "Hanging out" that week and would log questions they wanted to ask once we connected live. They loved discussing the different school calendar and school day with the students in Indiana. As we got closer to American Thanksgiving, there was a lot of back and forth discussion about the differences between their holiday and ours. The Christmas season and end of the official six week GRA program put these connections on hold, but we will be continuing to connect with the class in Indiana and another local Ontario school (different Board) in the new year. We won't be talking about the book anymore, but we will continue to learn about each other - what makes us the same and what makes us different.
Were there some problems with these connections? Sure there were. One day the wifi went down and we had to reschedule the hangout. Another day, the school in Indiana had a power outage - another reschedule. I had a couple days where the computer I was using would not let me connect - so I called in our Tech Co-ordinator, David Carruthers (if you are reading this, David, once again...many thanks for your help with this!), and he had us up and running in no time. I think these problems were great models of persistence and tenacity. We never let a technical issue stop us from making connections. Due to different time zones, live connections outside the Eastern and neighboring Time Zones were not really possible within the school day. But, that's where the postcards, videos, blogs, vlogs and Twitter Slow Chats filled in.
The positives? We made great connections with other students in other locations around the world. We learned that while the world is a very big place, we have a lot in common and we have so much to share with each other. We also read a pretty fantastic book. It was a great experience for every student in the room and I have already signed us up to participate in GRA'18.
Blogger's Note: As an added bonus for Teachers, The GRA communities for Teachers on the website, through Edmodo, Facebook, etc are also great and Teachers around the world openly share resources, lessons, activities as well as host discussions and forums about the program. If you would like to learn more about the Global Read Aloud or join us for GRA'18 in October (the sign up is now open) please check out GRA website, follow the GRA on Twitter, or look for them on Edmodo, or Facebook.