GLST Reads: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Audience: Young Adult

Genre: Realistic Fiction; Video Games

Author: Eric Smith

Tags: video games, streamers, streaming, girl gamers, strong female lead, gender issues, discrimination

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ /5

Release Date: 01/20/2020

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


This one’s for my proud #nerds who love video games, whether playing them or watching others play. The main character Divya is a highly successful streamer known as D1V on the well-known game streaming platform Glitch. The money she makes from ads and sponsors help her single mother pay the bills for their small apartment. She catches a lot of flak from strangers on the internet for being a #girlgamer, which has led her to one important rule she sticks to- don’t read the comments. But as the threats from anonymous online group Vox Populi escalate and things turn dangerous IRL, Divya will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to keep her voice.

Meanwhile, Aaron is still busy juggling writing for an indie video game designer with a summer job as a receptionist in his mom’s private practice while trying to convince her that video game design is a career worth pursuing. It might be easier to make his case if only the guy he’s been writing for would actually pay Aaron for his work as promised. When Aaron crosses paths with infamous-but-private D1V on accident while playing his favorite video game, he can’t believe his luck. Slowly he becomes entangled in her world, which he begins to realize is closer to his than he ever thought. While navigating his own struggles, Aaron works to help Divya navigate hers and begins to learn what it really means to be a good ally.

Filled with a lush and well-rounded set of characters (even the most minor background characters have depth and personality), this is a fun, powerful, and timely read about the struggles girls and women face when they try to participate in activities or spaces traditionally thought of as “for guys only” that accurately portrays the impact of video games and streaming on the lives of those for whom it means so much. This was one of my two #bestbooksofMarch for day 3 of my #30booksofApril bookstagram challenge (@msburrowsclass93) over on Instagram. Highly recommend this book!!!

Commentary: Our Teachers Do Not Look Like Our Students

I recently saw a social media post that made me stop and think. It read, “Social Experiment: If you come across this tweet, reply with the grade you were in when you had your first Black male teacher.”

Immediately, I began scanning my memory and working on the math.

I had a high school PE teacher, a chemistry professor in between my associates and my bachelors, and one Ed Tech professor in my bachelors program.

That’s 3 teachers, and I’ve been in school almost 22 years (counting preschool to grad school), taught by over 95 different educators. To my memory, besides one online class in grad school, I have not had a black female teacher.

I grew up in a relatively large, diverse city. I went to highly diverse schools with students from around the world. And still, the vast majority of my teachers were white.

Not one classmate in my teacher preparation program was black. Only three students in my graduating class were Latinx.

No classroom teachers in my building are black. In fact, only one non-foreign language, non-English language learner classroom teacher identifies with an ethnicity other than White. None of our district office staff are black; the only high-level non-white district employee is the ELL coordinator. Here’s the district breakdown from Illinois Report Card:

And here is the ethnic breakdown of students in my district, also courtesy of IRC:

Over 50% of the students in my district will not regularly encounter or work with a staff member who looks like them. They do not see themselves reflected in our academic, educational environment. People who “do school” do not look like them, come from their background, or understand their culture. Over half our students will have this school experience.

In this regard, my district is not unusual.

In most of America, our teachers do not reflect our students. Not even close. I could explain quite a few different systemic reasons for that.

I could begin at the systemic inequities in teacher hiring practices.

But it might be more accurate to begin with the major systemic inequities in teacher preparation programs.

Or, it may further be accurate to point out the systemic inequities in college entrance and attendance and completion.

But that is predicated on the massive systemic inequities in K-12 education.

And those begin with the systemic inequities in access to quality childcare and preschool opportunities.

And even before that, deficits are created by inequitable access to nutrition, literacy, security, and basic necessities for too many families in a developed country in 2020.

But before a child even reaches that point, we must note the systemic inequities in prenatal care that allow non-white women to have far, far higher rates of miscarriage, birth issues, birth defects, etc. compared to white mothers.

Some of this inequitable care stems from a lack of resources and opportunities, and it stems from a lack of quality education.

Which takes us all the way back to college equity, K-12 equity, and the lost opportunities caused by a lack of teachers of color in our public school system.

This is a giant systemic cycle. Massive. And it’s been running nonstop for well over a century now.

The cycle must be broken if everyone is to have the same opportunities for success in life, if we are to truly call ourselves, “One nation, under god, with liberty and justice for all.” It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but working as educators to break the cycle of class, race, and gender-based systemic oppression is one of the most important things we could ever be a part of.

Public school teachers, college educators, parents and families- we have work to do. It is essential. We cannot remain passive and allow another generation of kids to be locked in this cycle, or we become willing contributors.

We must explore together the steps we can take to make a difference in the lives of our students and communities. We must be willing to have some very, very difficult conversations, complete with intensive self-reflection. We must actively encourage teacher preparation programs to seek diverse talent without sacrificing admissions standards, and we must explore the systemic practices that provide an easier path to teacher certification for people from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. We must involve stakeholders at every level in our mission to diversify our schools and provide our students with mirrors as well as windows. In providing students with diverse role models daily in schools, students not only understand that education is for everyone, but students are also exposed to a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures, creating a generation that will be more at home than ever in a diverse and welcoming society. This is the future our children deserve now. Together, we have work to do.

GLST Reads: Michigan Vs. the Boys

Author: Carrie S. Allen

Audience: Young Adult

Genre: Sports Fiction/ Realistic Fiction

Tags: sports, hockey, strong female lead, gender issues, discrimination

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ /5

Release Date: 10/01/2019


I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


“This is the separate-the-men-from-the-boys part. Lucky for me, I’m all girl.” 

Gosh, I loved this book. As an avid hockey fan and someone who really enjoys strong female leads in traditionally male settings, this book checked so many boxes for me. The story centers around Michigan, a female hockey player devastated to learn that her high school’s girls team has just been cut due to budget issues. While her teammates find various ways to move on from the blow, Michigan, who is not ready to leave her beloved sport behind, makes the bold decision to try out for the boys team instead.

Her drive to succeed and her hockey know-how quickly make Michigan the team’s top scorer and bring a positive spotlight to the program, but things in-house aren’t so hot. Team captain Daniel and several of his buddy teammates make it clear from the start that they believe Michigan has no place on the ice with them. As their antics escalate over the season, Michigan is forced to decide whether her love of the game and fear of losing it are worth continuing to be the victim of increasingly dangerous harassment.

There was much to love about this story, starting with Michigan. Throughout the book I found myself frustrated by her decisions regarding the harassment she experienced at the hands of her own teammates. “Just tell someone!” I raged. But in reflection, these repeated poor decisions are what makes Michigan such a believable character.

So many women in male-centric environments believe that they have to be independent, that harassment or aggressive behavior from male colleagues must be dealt with independently. There is a strong fear of the consequences of being seen as weak. Michigan perfectly embodies that rock and hard place in which many girls and women find themselves, and her story shows all the things that can go wrong when implicit bias and pure sexism continue to pervade.

We also get to see Michigan’s journey to recognizing a big character flaw, over-independence and a refusal to rely on others, which nearly costs her literally all the things she cares about. This includes her relationship with swim team hottie Jack, a character with just enough depth to be enjoyable. Sometimes he just feels like the generic boyfriend character- that is, until later parts of the story, when Michigan (and the reader) is forced to remember that Jack is his own person with very real feelings and opinions.

This book had an enjoyable cast of characters. Even the minor C-List characters, mainly Mich’s old hockey teammates, all manage to feel like unique and interesting people in the brief moments we see them. Mich’s family also felt pretty real. I was also very pleased with how everything was wrapped up in the end.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that provided a nice treatment of some serious themes of gender bias and discrimination. I really recommend this book to anyone who likes sports stories, strong female characters, and realistic issues in young adult fiction.

GLST Reads: Music From Another World

Author: Robin Talley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Tags: LGBTQ+, coming of age, punk rock, religious issues, family issues, growing up, romance

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Release Date: 03/31/2020


I received Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


An enjoyable romp through 1970s LGBTQ+ San Francisco, Music From Another World is a historical fiction story told through the eyes (and letters) of two young girls deciding how far they’re willing to go to be themselves. The characters, settings, and ESPECIALLY the music in this book took me right back to the cool punk my 15-year-old self desperately wanted to be. Seriously, the soundtrack to this book is 🔥🔥🔥.

The story itself is told through a mix of letters and diary entries from two alternating perspectives. Tammy is a heavily-closeted lesbian trying to survive in Orange County with her evangelical gay-bashing family, while Sharon in San Francisco is coming to terms with the recent knowledge that her older brother is gay. The girls cross paths as pen pals through a school assignment, and their shared fascination with punk music turns a project into a true friendship at a time when both of them just might need it.

There were several things that worked well in this story, and a few things that didn’t. I expected the format of letters and diary entries to grow stale quickly, but for the most part I found I didn’t mind it. Sometimes the letters came across a bit stilted or awkward, especially when Sharon was recounting entire scenes with dialogue to Tammy. I also feel like the initial friendship between Tammy and Sharon lacked development. The pen pal program felt a bit like a convenient plot device to bring these characters together, and the development of the friendship felt a bit rushed and forced. I really liked Peter, and thought his character was the most developed and well-written. The adults in the story largely felt superfluous and, in some cases, cartoonishly stereotypical; something to be generally feared, and of no use to our teen heroines. I adored the scenes at the bookstore, marches, and punk concerts, though I could’ve used more vivid setting descriptions- especially as this book is geared toward an audience who definitely won’t have experienced 70s San Francisco.

I would also feel remiss if I didn’t point out that there are multiple instances of forced outing of multiple characters in this story, as well as negative reaction to some characters coming out. While there is obviously a historical context, I know these things can be triggering to some folks.

Overall, there was a lot of nostalgia in this book, and the story drew some clear modern parallels as many young LGBTQ+ people can relate to the difficulty of being accepted for who you are. A fun romp for the 15-year-old punk in all of us.

16 Easy, Low-Key Activities for End-of-the-Year ELA that Aren’t Movies

The end of the year is upon us, and it can be a slow, slow crawl to the finish line. Grades are due and kids are checked out and admin has sent out yet another ‘friendly reminder’ about keeping kids learning until the last day. Fortunately, there are plenty of engaging, low-key, low-prep activities to do with your ELA students in the last days of the school year. Not only will they keep your kids productive, you’ll even get a head start for next year! Great, right?

You can do some of these activities as stations, create a hyperdoc for students to move at their own pace, or just have the whole class work through one at a time.

1. Tech Transfer

Take some time to have students transfer files that they may wish to keep from the school year to a personal email with cloud storage, such as Gmail. This is especially important if your students are in 8th or 12th grade, or if they won’t be returning the following school year. If you use EduBlogs, you can follow their handy directions to transfer ownership of your class’ blogs to students or their parents, and some other platforms you use might offer similar transfer options.

Save those files! Image Source

2. Book Reviews

Hopefully, by this point in the year each of your students has read at least one book. Hopefully. Turn that reading experience into motivation for next year’s readers by asking each of your students to review their favorite book of the year. You can use bookmark book reviews and have students leave them sticking out of the reviewed book, or do half-sheet or quarter-sheet reviews an use them to create a bulletin board display for next year. Here are some ready-to-go templates!

3. Author Advice

In a similar vain to book reviews, create a ready-to-go bulletin board display for next year by having your students fill out an index card or one of the templates below with their best piece of writing advice. Remind your students that they’ve learned a lot this year, and this is a chance for them to share some of the ideas that were most helpful to them with future students. Get a ready-to-go kit over at my co-store, Two Bs in a Pod! (And, check out our end-of-the-year writing activity bundle!)

4. Portfolio & Reflection

Have students put together a writing portfolio or general ELA portfolio with their top three or four pieces of work from the whole school year. Then, use Flipgrid or video recording software to have students reflect on why each of these pieces represent their best work, or why they are most proud of these pieces. Encourage students to consider picking pieces that show their growth over time. Students can put together their portfolios digitally using Google Slides, Google Sites, EduBlogs, or any presentation or website software. Ask students to share their portfolios with parents or family members at home! This activity is great because students can put as much or as little work as they want into their portfolios and reflections depending on the time available and your expectations. Below are tons of great options listed with grade level, price, and paper or digital format (as of this post).

5. Author Share

Don’t have the time (or energy!) for students to put together a whole portfolio? Ask students to pick their very best piece of writing from the year (or an excerpt, if it’s a long piece), and do an author share celebration. Each student shares their piece orally with the class (or in small groups), and you could bring in some cheap cookies and juice pouches to make it feel like a real party. Between students selecting, polishing, and rehearsing pieces before they present, this could easily take you 2-3 class periods.

6. Year in Review

Doing some year-in-review activities can be a great way to get students reflecting on all the positive and interesting things that happened during the school year. Here are some ready-to-go templates for one-page reflections and memory books.

7. Summer Bucket List

Have students make a summer bucket list of all the things they want to do over the break. They can create their lists either digitally (consider Canva or another graphic design software) or paper-pencil. Either way, encourage students to get creative and use color! You can get 3 free summer bucket list templates included with Two Bs’ end-of-the-year writing activity bundle (link below)! Here’s some inspiration and some additional templates.

8. End-of-the-Year Survey

Give your students an anonymous end-of-the-year survey about their experience in your class. It can be nerve-wrackingly vulnerable to open yourself up to this sort of feedback from students, but as teachers we know that feedback is essential to improvement for us as well as our students. Here is a copy of my end-of-year Google Forms survey to get feedback from my 8th-graders about their ELA experience, and some other pre-made surveys for elementary, middle, and high school.

9. Thank-You Cards

Have students spend some time writing thank you cards to teachers, staff, and parents who have had a positive impact on them this school year. It may be useful to do a quick mini-lesson with a mentor text or two on how to write a great thank-you card, which is an important life skill students of any age can take with them when they leave your class. After the mini-lesson, set out some construction paper or cardstock, markers and coloring utensils, any other crafty materials you’re itching to get rid of at the end of the year, and set students loose. Here are links to some ideas and mentor texts for an easy lesson, as well as some printable thank-you cards if your students aren’t feeling particularly artsy.

10. Buddy Reading

Find some picture books (you can check a bunch out from your local library for a few days!), poetry books, or high-interest non-fiction expository texts such as fact or world record books. Have students find a partner and a comfy place to sit and enjoy some buddy reading. Students can take turns reading aloud to each other and discussing the text. You might think older secondary students would find this a bit childish, but it’s so rare that they get the opportunity to enjoy picture books or read with a friend. Pick some high-interest titles (suggestions below!) and your kids will have a blast. For added fun, encourage students to try doing character voices as they read!

11. Summer Reading Lists

Speaking of books, have your students make some summer reading lists! Students over 13 can use Goodreads to create a Want-to-Read list of interesting books they might like to enjoy over the summer, or you can have students use any of the neat reading list templates below to record titles of interest. Where will they find these possible beach reads, you ask? Have students chat as they work and recommend books to each other, but give your students access to some lists of great books for their age group by perusing some book blogs. Below are links to book blog posts about great summer reads for every age group! Bonus points- spend a few minutes making sure students know how to access and use their local library, including how to sign up for a library card.

12. Listening Station

Because sometimes, we just need a break from hearing our students talk, consider giving a listening station a try. This works best as a center rotation and definitely isn’t something I’d recommend trying for a whole class period, but if you pick some shorter, high-interest listening materials and include a short graphic organizer or doodle activity, students can learn that podcasts and videos can be fun and engaging! Below are listening options for every grade level and sheets for students to doodle or color as they listen.


Listening Sheets

13. Six-Word Stories, Memoirs, Summaries

Have your students play around with flash-fiction and write some six-word pieces. Students who are over 13 and okay to view potentially YA material can publish six-word memoirs at, or you can create a gallery walk of students’ work. You can have students give six-word stories a try as well; I like to prompt students by giving them a genre to write in (fantasy) or a word they have to include (balloon). You can also have students do six-word summaries of popular books or movies; students love to write these and then have peers guess what the book or movie is. No matter which option you choose, flash pieces are a great way to get students thinking about (and having fun with) word choice and tone. You’ll want to make sure students have access to a thesaurus, and my best piece of writing advice is to write long and then revise short, and remember the power of punctuation. Students who finish early can illustrate their pieces and rewrite their work in larger letters with their best handwriting.

14. Virtual Magnetic Poetry or Picture Books with Beautiful Artwork

Have your students create some virtual magnetic poetry on Storybird! With thousands of gorgeous pieces of artwork to serve as inspiration, Storybird is accessible for every student from about second grade onward. If your students have not used Storybird before, you will want to build in an extra 10-15 minutes for them to explore and get familiar with the site, but it is not a hard one to pick up. Choose the “Poetry” option to create magnetic poetry. You can also have students turn their short fiction into picture books using the “Picture Books” option. There are also various writing challenges your students can participate in. If your students are burnt out on writing, they can read other students’ work both in the class and the larger community. Storybird is super school-friendly and protects students’ privacy, only publishing work with first names.

15. Bring Your Own Book Game

This game is super fun and I never get tired of playing with students. Bring Your Own Book is a free print-and-play game that requires players to, as the title says, bring a book to play with. Best described as Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity for readers, the way it works is students in small groups take turns being the judge and reading a prompt to the rest of the group such as “The title of a murder mystery novel” or “Famous last words,” and the rest of the group has two minutes (or less, or as much time as they want- your choice!) to find a line in their book that fits the prompt. When time is up, readers share the lines they found, and the judge awards the best or funniest answer the winner. You can keep score or just play for fun- it’s engaging enough that students are fine either way. The game is best for 6th-12th grade students, and you’ll want to give a friendly reminder beforehand about school-appropriate responses. You do need to provide an email to access the printable game and instructions, but you’ll get access to four additional game sets that are a little more nerdy in nature if you have students who might appreciate that sort of thing! You can easily take up most of a class period with this game!

16. Kahoot, Gimkit, or Quizlet Live!

Finally, review some ELA terms (and maybe even some fun trivia) with Kahoot, Gimkit, or Quizlet Live. There are tons of pre-made questions or study sets- all you have to do is sign up for a free teacher account and search for the topic you want. All three are free for teachers and students, and if you have a candy or prize box you’re trying to get rid of before the last day, this will definitely help! Some possible suggestions to search for include Disney movies/ characters, general trivia, summer trivia, sports, clean popular music (Kahoot will have music quizzes with actual video), American history trivia, etc. You can also look for more academic topics such as figurative language reviews, vocabulary quizzes, parts of speech or other grammar topics, quizzes on specific novels your class has read this year, etc. Plenty of options to choose from, easy to set up and run!

Happy almost-summer! Hang in there, everyone!

How to Get Students Reading on Day One of Class

The last few days I’ve talked a lot about building a classroom library from scratch. If you don’t have a classroom library, get one! The benefit to your students as readers is simply unparalleled. But how can you start the year off right to maximize student use and enjoyment of your library and get all of your kids reading? Let’s talk about a variety of ways to hook students on reading right off the bat.

It starts on Day One.

Back-to-School is always a whirlwind of get-to-know-yous, sharing expectations, and creating classroom culture. Getting kids reading and using your library should be included on your very first day of class to make reading a clear part of your classroom culture! On Day One of class…

Get a book in every kid’s hands.

Image Source

If not on day one, then definitely by day two, every student in your room should have a reading book from your library. Getting books in kids’ hands right away immediately builds a culture and expectation of reading in your classroom. Reading is important, and it’s what we do here, so we’re diving into it right away. No need to wait for your class’ first checkout in the school library- you’ve got books all ready to go, because reading is just that important.

Bonus points if you give students 10 or 15 minutes of class to read it- this doubles as casual observation time for you to start identifying kids who might be struggling readers or “fake” readers.

But how do you hook kids right away with books they’ll love? Let’s explore how you get each of your new students connected with right-fit books from your classroom library.

Interest Inventories: Learn your students’ interests.

Donalynn Miller talks in The Book Whisperer about giving a reading interest inventory on the first day of school to every student. She then uses the inventory to stay after on that first day and individually select a book that each and every student might like, based on their inventory. Not only is each student immediately connected with a book they might click with, it shows right away that she cares about her students and their reading lives enough to take the time for each of them. Powerful stuff!

If Miller’s method isn’t a viable option for you, it is still more than worthwhile to give your students an interest inventory, for several reasons. One, it gets kids thinking about themselves as readers, what interests they have, and what they know about their own reading preferences. Two, you can use the data you collect to shore up areas of your class library that students may be more into this year. (For my group of kids this year, it was horror and thrillers- not something last year’s group read a ton of.) Three, an inventory gets students talking to each other about their preferences and reading lives- circulate and eavesdrop while they’re working, and you can learn a lot about your students right off the bat. I would have students complete the inventory before you introduce them to your classroom library so they’ve already activated their thinking about reading preferences.

There are hundreds of pre-made reading interest inventories out there for all grade levels, so this is one less first-day activity you’ll need to sweat. Here are a few great (free!) options for every grade:

Pass the (Book) Basket.

Once students have started thinking through their reading preferences, introduce them to some high-interest options from your classroom library with a basket pass. Even if you don’t use book baskets in your library, if you can get your hands on enough book-holding containers to have one for each group, you’re all set for this activity! Students can start their “Books I Want to Read” list for the year with some high-interest titles straight from your library shelves.

You need:

  • Enough baskets to have at least one per group
  • High interest books from a variety of genres in your classroom library (6-7 per basket, at least)
  • A timer (if you want; you can also just play it by ear)

Students need:

  • A place to record their “Books I Want to Read” list (using a reader’s notebook? Put it there!)
  • A writing utensil


  1. Distribute the books so that there’s a handful in each basket. Give one basket to each group.
  2. Give students about 5-8 minutes to peruse the books in the basket; enough time to read the back and maybe skim the first page of each book in the basket and record titles of interest on their “Books to Read” list.
  3. After students finish perusing or time runs out, have students pass the book baskets in a circular direction and repeat step 2. Do this until all the groups have viewed each basket.

Or, speed date with a book!

A similar activity to the basket pass is book “speed-dating,” where you start with one book per student and the students (or the books!) rotate once every two minutes or so! You can set this up all sorts of ways and get fun and creative with it; an idea is to require students to read each book for the whole two minutes, which forces them to really try it out and see if it’s a good fit! Again, students should record titles of interest on a “Books I Want to Read” list.

Make browsing a game with Bring Your Own Book!

I’ll go more into detail about this super-fun bookish game in the future, but you can easily get setup with the free game kit from the makers of Bring Your Own Book to play with students on the first few days of class (Note: An email is required to access). Best described as “Apples to Apples” or “Cards Against Humanity” meets reading, students are given a prompt (“Find a line that could be straight from a teenager’s diary”) and have to find a line in the book they’re holding that fits that description. There’s a rotating judge for each round just like CoH and A-to-A who picks the best or funniest answer as the winner. You can keep points if you like, but this one is fun enough that students don’t tend to get too concerned with winning or losing. I like to combine this with the Basket Pass activity- they get a few minutes to peruse the basket, play a round or two of BYOB, then pass the basket and repeat. A super engaging way to get middle and high school students skimming possible reads- be sure to remind students to keep their answers school-appropriate, though!

Advertise your wares with a great display!

Use bulletin board or wall space near your library to advertise some of the high-interest texts on offer to students. Pinterest is full of fantastic ideas here, and you can even include students from the year before by having them leave their recommendations behind for future students. Early in the year I like to advertise first books of series, books with Netflix adaptations they may have watched over the summer, and books from a variety of genres. You can even make the books part of the display with specialty-crafted bookmarks that advertise your favorites or popular titles.

Check out this neat bookmark option from Miss West Best on TPT! Print on colored paper for extra pop, and have students fill these out for books they loved!

Set library expectations, then allow time to browse.

Image Source

Once you’ve done some work in getting students thinking about their reading interest and maybe perusing some selections from your collection, it’s almost time to set them loose in your library. First, though, it is key to clearly state your expectations for library use, including procedures for check out and check in of books, when students can browse, how to re-shelve books, whether books can be taken home, and how books are to be treated. I am upfront with my students about the fact that I bought all of these books with my own money. They are always stunned, given the size of my library, but this creates another great opportunity to explain to students how much I value reading and their lives as readers, and how much I love books myself. To that end, I also make clear that I made this investment because I want every student to have a rich reading life, and that means I need their help in making sure that books stay present and accounted for and in good shape so we can all benefit from this library.

Then, once my spiel about rules and procedures is done, I let small groups of students browse a few at a time, with the expectation that everyone is required to check out something. This is the first day of class, so it could be anywhere from 3-5 more days until we’ll hit the school library for the first time. Some students could have finished a whole book in that time! Start early, read often! I make myself available to recommend books to students and record initial book checkouts on my checkout log.

The stronger you start, the easier you can maintain.

Setting your expectations and creating a culture of reading from Day One of the school year can go a long way in keeping your students reading for the whole school year. The sooner you put books in your kids’ hands, the more you communicate the message that reading is what we do here, and the more you’ll get students to buy into reading. Next week I’ll explore some ways to keep students hooked on reading all year long, to make sure students are challenging themselves, and to avoid fake reading and book burnout. Stay tuned!

#TechTuesday: Engage Students with e-Chat on Backchannel

Don’t you just love it when your students really get engaged in a discussion? The ideas are bouncing off each other, students are respectfully disagreeing or asking follow-up questions, and the collaborative learning is just lighting up all over the place! If whole-class discussions are your jam, this Backchannel Chat #TechTuesday feature is for you!

What is Backchannel Chat?

Backchannel is an online chat room platform designed specifically for classroom use. The site delights in its simplicity and user-friendly design, and is easy enough to use that students of any age who can type their thoughts are good candidates for a Backchannel discussion. Students do not need to create an account to use Backchannel Chat- teachers simply post a link to the chat for students to access or give them the class code, then students enter their name and join the discussion. Adding a comment is as simple as typing into the box and hitting “Enter,” no more complicated than sending a text message or Snapchat. You can also download the Backchannel Chat mobile app for discussion on-the-go, perfect if your school uses tablets!

Backchannel Chat doesn’t require student accounts, meaning no pesky data issues! Just type in your name and go!

The teacher features, also easy to use and intuitive, are everything a teacher could ask for in facilitating discussion with students. Teachers have complete control over posts and can delete student comments with the click of a button, in case the built-in profanity filter still doesn’t catch an inappropriate student comment. Teachers can use the Chat Stats option to view the number of times individual students have participated in the discussion. The option to download a full transcript of the discussion makes it easy to search for key words or student names to evaluate student participation, and to keep a permanent record of the chat. Further exciting features for the $15 purchase price include the ability to embed Tweets, add student polls, have a private one-on-one chat with students, and add files to the chat for student viewing/ usage.

Why use Backchannel Chat?

Everyone can participate…

Backchannel is perfect for flipped or blended classroom instruction, but any teacher can find great advantage to using Backchannel with their students. Backchannel adds an element to student discussions that just can’t be matched with whole-class discussion in a face-to-face environment. For starters, every student is participating, either adding their own thoughts or responding to peers. Additionally, students can formulate responses at their own pace- there’s no time pressure and no being put on the spot. And speaking of being put on the spot, your quiet, introverted students will shine when they get to add their thinking to the discussion without the fear of having to speak up in front of peers.

Students can participate in the chat at any time & see who else is logged on.

…at their own pace.

Another great benefit to Backchannel is that it’s an on-demand chat space. This means that your students can participate at their leisure, and don’t all have to be present in the chat at once in order for good discussion to take place. This can make Backchannel a great option for homework- students login and participate in a discussion with peers whenever it’s convenient for them. I usually start Backchannel chats on Mondays, and ask students to participate between 5-7 times by Friday. Part of my rubric is that students cannot post all five comments at once, and that three of their five posts should be responses to peers. This ensures not only that students are actually discussing rather than responding, but it also ensures that they read the posts of their classmates and evaluate whether they agree or disagree with the points that were raised. The post-when-you-want format also really benefits learners with diverse needs, because they can take as long as they need to review texts or materials before contributing to a discussion. And students who are sick or absent? They can read back through the transcript to see what they missed while they were out. No more missed experiences!

Mobile app = discussion on the go!

Work on written responses and practice citing text evidence collaboratively.

Backchannel discussions also really encourage students to practice citing text evidence, as students simply need to copy and paste quotes from a text into their discussion posts. I’ve found the depth of discussion I get from my students on Backchannel actually vastly exceeded the quality of their verbal discussions in the past. Students were so much more engaged in responding to articles than they would have been if I had asked them to write a written response, even though they were practicing the exact same skills in addition to practicing good discussion.

Try out digital book clubs, writing circles, and multi-grade collaboration!

You can create small groups of students with a different Backchannel chat room for each group, which would be perfect for book club discussions or writer’s workshop! You would still be able to see and moderate student posts, but students would be responsible for running the show, creating a collaborative and student-centered learning environment. Backchannel could also serve as a collaborative workspace for students working on group projects, especially if you wanted to create groups of students from different class periods or grade levels- a 6th- and 8th-grade class could work together on a Project-Based Learning unit and collaborate via Backchannel even if their classes don’t meet at the same time!

Try it out!

Backchannel Chat is free to use for teachers with the basic features intact, but the features available to premium users (multiple chat rooms at the same time, for instance) make it well worth the $15 one-time price if you regularly have students collaborate and discuss in your classroom. My students and I have loved the Backchannel Chat experience, and it has really elevated the level of discussion in my classroom!