As a teacher-librarian in a large junior high school, it’s a daunting task keeping the “cool” in I Love to Read Month. With such great teaching and activities happening in elementary schools, it’s difficult to keep things “fresh.” It’s also difficult to counter the often mistaken belief that many students and staff hold that I Love to Read celebrations are just for younger students. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whereas it’s obviously vital to hook students into reading at a young age, it’s equally important to pump up the love for reading at the junior high level where reading for pleasure often takes a nose dive.

This year, my I Love to Read preparations took on a distinctly Web 2.0 flavour. I decided to take a fairly traditional activity that I had done a few years ago and infuse it with four Literacy with ICT activities that the students absolutely loved.

Working under the guise that students are far more apt to read books recommended by their peers, in the past, I had my students create an advertisement for other students about their favorite books. Their job was to “sell” their books so that other students would consider reading them. All the advertisements were then kept in two large binders in the library so that any student in the school could find out what other students were recommending.

Although this activity proved to be successful and the binders are still used by students two years later, getting them to create their advertisements took some encouragement. This year, by introducing four free Web 2.0 tools – Glogster, Animoto, Weebly and Skype – I had little trouble getting the students involved in recommending their favorite books to others and pumping up reading. (A sampling of all these tools and how my students used them to promote I Love to Read can be found on my library wiki)

Glogster is an online poster making tool that my grade 7 students just can’t get enough of. It is a tool that requires very little instruction but the possibilities are endless and so cool. In addition to text, students can download pictures and videos onto their pages, add animations and links to specific websites. Once the posters are created they can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis or be printed. We used glogs to create posters of their favorite books. I managed all two hundred glogs created by my students by having individual classroom teachers create their own accounts who then requested accounts for their students. In doing so, the teachers were able to monitor all the glogs and comments and the students were able to view each other’s glogs and book suggestions.

Every one of my seven grade 8 classes created their own Animoto featuring their favorite books. As an educator, I signed up for an All Access Pass Animoto account.   This pass allows my students to create feature length animated slideshows that include text, pictures and videos. For their I Love to Read projects, students were asked to choose their favorite books to promote, download the covers onto a PowerPoint slide, add adjectives to describe them and then save the files as jpegs. Then I uploaded all their slides to Animoto, choose the type of music they wanted and Animoto did the rest with spectacular results. I then embedded the slideshows to my wiki for all to enjoy.

Weebly is an online tool that allows students to create simple websites. Again, I managed all eight grade 9 classes by having their teachers sign up for their own accounts.  Before the students arrived, I created a page for each of the students on the website that they could use to promote their favorite reading material. All 25 or so students were able to work on the website at the same time. To see what other students in their class were recommending, they simply had to click on their classmates’ pages. I then linked all the websites to my wiki for all students to see.

An added bonus of introducing these Web 2.0 tools to students and staff is that they can be used in any class in any subject. Every aspect of the LwICT Continuum can be reported on using these tools. In the Cognitive Domain, students can plan, gather and make sense, produce and communicate to show understanding and when using the commenting function, they can reflect on their own work and the work of others.

Since a social networking component is built into each tool, teachers are able to comment on the Affective Domain, as well. Using these tools, which can be kept private or made public, as desired, students have the opportunity to work collaboratively online with each other and thereby demonstrate their ability to use online tools ethically and responsibly. It’s also been my experience that the more students work with online applications such as these, the more their motivation and confidence to use technology in an educational setting increases.

As fun and educational using these tools was, by far the “coolest” Web 2.0 activity that I arranged for our students was to have a Skype video conference with an author from the West Coast of Canada (to protect her privacy, I’ve chosen not to share her name although I will say that she is an author nominated for the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award in 2010). Through the power of technology, my students were able to ask the author questions about being a writer and the process of writing. By coincidence, we interviewed her during the Olympics so the students were able to get a firsthand account of someone who was fortunate enough to attend a few Olympic events. Skype is a free download.  To see and hear who you are talking to, you need a web cam or a computer with a built in video recorder and microphone and a digital projector.

Contacting an author in a video conference was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher-librarian and my students were equally impressed. Using video conferencing is something that I will definitely not be waiting for the next I Love to Read Month to come around again. This is one cool tool that I’m convinced will change the face of education in the library and in the classroom forever.