About five years ago, Pernille Ripp, an English teacher in Wisconsin’s Oregon school district, had an ambitious idea: Why not choose a single book for students in classrooms worldwide to read and connect about online?
She sent out a tweet about doing a massive read aloud with an accompanying wiki, and it garnered some interest. “At the beginning, I was just fumbling my way through,” she told a few dozen educators at the International Literacy Association conference on Saturday. “I wanted to connect my then-4th graders to the world and this was a way to do it.”
She created a blog, chose a Twitter hashtag, and signed up for Edmodo, a Facebook-type website for teachers. That first year, 60 different classrooms read The Little Prince.
The Global Read Aloud project has come a long way since then. This year, teachers will choose from four books (and a group of picture books), and more than 270,000 students are expected to participate. Four of the authors will join in on the online conversations, which will happen on Skype, Twitter, Google Apps, Kidblog, and other applications over a six-week period.
It’s OK if classrooms fall behind in the chapters over the weeks, but Ripp asks that they don’t read ahead to avoid spoilers during the chat sessions.
Students of all ages are welcome to join in, and the entire operation is free (and will always be, according to Ripp). Participants have chipped in by helping promote the effort, create new social-media groups, write guest blogs on the website, etc. They’ve also recommended and voted for books, though Ripp continues to have final say over what’s chosen.
The conversations take place in English, but most of the books are available in a variety of languages.
“With global collaboration, you just have to have an idea and enough courage to follow the idea,” Ripp said at the conference. “You don’t have to have all the answers. ... Everyone else can start adding their ideas.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.