iPads (or other devices) and Literature Circles – co-starring Edmodo.

Literature Circles Projects
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chowd/488098373/ CC Licensed

Literature Circles have been around forever. Done well, the strategy is an effective way of engaging children in reading, while teaching them specific skills and behaviours we use when immersing ourselves in a text. With clear foci during the instructional part of the Literature Circle session, teachers can direct children to use these strategies to improve their comprehension and how they respond to text.

One of my main concerns ( and the concerns of many I have worked with in implementing Literature Circles) is monitoring the independent reading and meetings as well as the work done by children in between sessions. Technology can play a big part in this and can also be used to enhance, simply and streamline the whole process. This is where the iPad comes in. ( I’ve been neglecting the star of Mr G Online for a while as I’ve been reflecting on education overall). With its ability to act as the actual book ( or text in general), its connectivity and collaborative capabilities and the tools and apps that it can add to the mix, the iPad can be the all-in-one Literature Circle Experience. Using Technology as the tool for creating the preparation for the discussion means there are opportunities for the teacher to check in on the potential online discussions that may occur and have access to the prep work the students have done for the discussion. Read on to find out how the iPad can be used in each of the roles in Literature Circles. Of course, this can mostly be done using laptops or desktop computers as well but the “iPad as book and personal immersive device” makes for a better experience in my humble opinion. With no iPad access, though, you can still do it almost as effectively.

The Organisation
Traditionally, from my experience, students have a quick meeting to decide how much of the book they will read before the discussion meeting and what role/s each member will prepare for during the discussion. Also from my experience, this is sometimes rushed and individuals forget what was organised. Last year, I began organising Literature Circles via Edmodo. During the meeting, group members would post their roles in the Edmodo group environment and record what their reading goal was. No one had excuses and if a group member was absent, he/she could access Edmodo to find out what to do, how much and when by.

Now that Edmodo’s iPad app has been updated with access to GoogleDocs and the iPad’s camera roll, posting documents on the site is now quite easy. Having access to other group members’ contributions to the Literature Circle discussions means more opportunities to prepare for the meeting. This kind of collaborative environment also means the students can contribute to all roles rather than just doing theirs. I think this is better in the long run.

In terms of accessing the books, Kindle books and iPad books are often similar in price to physical books and especially in Kindle’s case, often cheaper. I’m not going to discuss how many copies to buy vs how many iPads. That’s up to your conscience and understanding of Purchasing Agreements. However, if I buy 8 books to share amongst 100 students in rotation, I should be able to do the same with ebooks. Consideration might also be made for using audiobooks for readers who need support. There are a lot of interactive read along books on iTunes as well for iPads which could be good choices for struggling readers.

The Reading Experience
iBooks and Kindle for iPad are the two big players here. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Kindle has a greater range of books and is generally cheaper; iBooks is more integrated with the iPad system so is easier to import other texts into the app for reading and to actually download the text from within the app. Both have great highlighting and note making tools and built in dictionaries. There are two camps when it comes to reading;the “I love turning real pages and holding a real book” people and the “ebooks are so much easier to use” group. You can make that call yourself but for the purpose of this post, I am in the “ebook” camp. By having the text on the iPad, students can easily bookmark multiple sections to refer back to instantly rather than dog-earing every second page of a borrowed book. Any highlighted text can also be saved and accessed, shared via Twitter ( for those with access) for others to access. Words can be looked up and marked via the built in dictionaries. Information or specific text  can be searched for within the text or outside the text via Wikipedia or the internet in general. This allows for quick access to resources that can enhance the comprehension of the text. Multiple shorter texts like PDF files can be accessed through Dropbox or GoogleDocs for all readers quickly instead of wasting photocopying and readers still have annotation tools available through dedicated PDF reading apps like GoodReader or Notability (my personal choices).

Discussion Director
Students can access key instructions on the role of the Discussion Director from attached files either within iBooks/Kindle/GoodReader or via

Coveritlive chapter discussion embedded in Edmodo

Edmodo. This access eliminates the excuse I have often received that the student wasn’t sure way to do. Discussion questions can be posted on Edmodo for teachers and other group members to access before the meeting. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the questions rather than going in cold without knowing what to consider. It also provides the chance for teachers to support the Discussion Director in framing the questions for quality discussion prior to meeting to help ensure there is opportunity for real thinking rather than the students getting hit with yes/no questions.

Alternatively to Edmodo, students could use the iPad’s VoiceThread App to set up the questions for discussion. This gives options for video or audio responses for those who prefer that kind of response. The Coveritlive app  is another opportunity for multimedia discussion opportunities. Both of these options allow for participation by students who may be absent on the day of the discussion meeting. Of course, absent children could also participate in the meeting via Skype on the iPad. All of these options are of course available through other devices but the simplicity of access to them via the iPad makes it more conducive for the discussion to flow successfully.

Vocabulary Enricher (Word Wizard)
After highlighting the words or phrases in the text, the Vocab Enricher can use either the inbuilt dictionaries in the iBooks/Kindle text or any downloaded dictionary app on the iPad if he wants to copy/paste the information to present to the group. The student could take screenshots of the relevant highlighted pages and upload these to Edmodo for the others to see. This allows the students in the group to be prepared for the discussion by knowing which words will be referred to and will be able to highlight them in their own text beforehand. It means they can also read the words in the context on the page rather than just getting a list of words to think about. You would need to stress that they don’t rely on the dictionary as the purpose is to read in context first.

Cunning Connector
Using VoiceThread, Coveritlive, a shared Popplet or a GoogleDoc, the Connector could pre post the connections she made to a specific part of the text or provide a range of text sections the other students could connect to. Other students could add pictures or video/audio/text comments for a richer experience.By doing this collaboratively, the other group members could contribute to this role and build more connections than the initial Connector made. For me, this is where I would like Literature Circles to go – rather than individuals being assigned a role, everyone takes on multiple roles which then just become reading behaviours to use when reading any text at any time. All of the connections presented in the collaborative document would then be presented at the discussion meeting to be talked about further. At this point I’ll say that some could see this process of online participation is eliminating the need for the Literature Circle meeting. I don’t agree with that. From my experience last year, when I trialled this type of approached with a group on Edmodo, the collaboration online encouraged the children to be more prepared and at the meeting they were more tuned in because of the preparations beforehand. They had more to talk about rather than less. The connections were built upon through feedback which then made them make deeper connections. It allowed me as the teacher to participate and encourage the deeper thinking through making my own connections and asking the students questions.

Creative options for more engaging summarising of the text could include Comic strip apps like Strip Designer and Comic Life, both of which can export to Camera Roll for easy importing to Edmodo. The Book Trailer option in iMovie could be a fun and inventive way to share a summary of a chapter. Of course, simple text based options through a basic posting on Edmodo ( others could add replies to improve the summary) or previously mentioned options like Voicethread and Popplet could again be used to summarise.

Having the digital text available at the reading stage also allows for highlighting key ideas as the Summariser reads. He can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of his ideas together in a sequential order, thus making it a simpler task to summarise the text.

Literary Luminary
Like the Summariser, having the digital text available at the reading stage  allows for highlighting potential  sections of text as the Literary Luminary reads. She  can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of her ideas and then select the one that stands out the most. The presentation of the idea can use the same options previously discussed.

courtesy of Evernote support page

Awesome Illustrator
Using any of the painting/drawing apps on the iPad, the illustrator can come up with a creative presentation here. Exporting the picture to Camera Roll and then to Skitch provides an opportunity for the Illustrator to add annotations like questions or highlighted components  to his artwork. This can be posted to Edmodo for the other group members to analyse in preparation for the discussion.

Travel Tracer
The Travel Tracer could organise the path of the story through a Popplet (or other mind mapping app)  or  a comic strip to present a more visual itinerary. If the book is related to actual locations, the tracer could plot the journey out on a GoogleMap using the MyMaps app. This app makes using Google Maps editing tools easier to use on the iPad than using the Internet version. The tracer can add pictures and text to the map explaining the journey taken during the story. If the map is shared with others, they can also make their own edits through the app.

Final Thoughts

Literature Circles don’t NEED iPads or other computers in order to be successful. I’m not arguing that. This is about enhancing the experience and appealing to the desire for children to engage in more creative ways to share their knowledge. For me, it addresses my concern that sometimes Literature Circle meetings have occurred without a lot of depth in preparation and discussion. Using Edmodo as the collaborative conduit between group members and teacher makes sense to me. It worked effectively last year as well. Adding the iPad as the one all-encompassing tool streamlines the process for me, despite the fact that nearly every suggestion I’ve made can be done successfully with alternatives (often cheaper). So what do you think? Good idea or overkill? Look forward to feedback.