Tag Archives: book

Facebook for Books

friendwheel diagram from Facebook

I’ve been using Facebook for a while, primarily as a way to share news and photos from our program with students.  We had tried doing this with a Moodle, but could never get enough momentum behind it for it to become popular enough to work.  Many, if not most, of our students are on Facebook, however, which has made it easier to build an online community.

But should we connect with our students in their space?  I have a colleague who uses Facebook in place of our institutional course management system.  This is not unprecedented.  On the other hand, the argument has been made that teachers should not invade students’ personal spaces online because they would prefer to separate their personal interactions from academic ones.  I agree to the extent that I have trouble with requiring students to use their personal Facebook accounts to interact with teachers, but I think these new technologies inherently bring interactions of all kinds together — personal, academic, professional — for better and worse.

So what else can be done with Facebook?  I like what we’re doing in our program, but I’m always looking for opportunities to try out  technologies in other ways.  I recently happened upon the perfect opportunity to deploy Facebook: The Buckeye Book Community (BBC).  Every year, first year students at Ohio State are given a book during orientation and asked to read it before they return for classes in the fall.  The book is then used first-year orientation seminar courses and across campus via different programs and activities.  This common reading experience is not unique to Ohio State (Google it to see others), but what got my attention was the opportunity to have our ESL students read the book and then interact with the native speakers in the community (by hosting a discussion between one of our classes and one of the first-year seminar classes, for example.)

no impact man book coverThis year’s book is No Impact Man by Colin Beavan in which the author, a self described guilty liberal, tries to live with self-imposed rules that reduce his environmental impact to zero.  Clearly this is not the easiest thing to do in New York City, though urban life does offer some advantages.  After reading it, I was struck by his transition (and his family’s transition) to the culture of environmentalism and, even more so, his transition back to his native culture after his experiment is finished — an experience ESL students can surely relate to when they travel to an English-speaking country to study and then return home.

So where does Facebook come in?  Well, I’ve become involved in the activities planning committee and come to the conclusion that a Facebook page would be the perfect supplement to this community.  Participants can post comments, feedback, photos, videos, etc., etc. as they read the book and participate in the programs.  If / when they participate in No Impact Week (a challenge which condenses the author’s experience into seven days) they can discuss what challenges they faced.  I’m hoping our ESL students will be able to participate in this community as well as a meaningful and engaging way to practice English.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary use of Facebook.  In fact, it was designed around facilitating these kinds of experiences.  But, I’m looking forward to being a part of this community to see how it works on a much larger, campus-wide scale, as opposed to just within our own program.  If you have thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for facilitating online communities, I’d love to hear them.


Filed under Projects

Children’s Literature for ESL

children's books

I was talking to one of the teachers in our program recently about her use of children’s literature in her classroom.  Every time I read Dr. Suess to my kids, I can’t help thinking how much fun these books are to read and how much ESL students could benefit from them.  But, many of our students are adults who would understandably feel demeaned by being asked to read kids’ books.

The solution?  Literary analysis.  Get students to analyze children’s books as a genre of literature.  In this way, students are exposed to texts that are simple and fun but are also required to do some higher order thinking.  Not only does this save face (“I’m not reading kids books, I’m analyzing children’s literature!”), but it also requires a deeper level of thinking and encourages more complex language use.

Unfortunately, the technological supplements to these books are usually lame flash games with very little learning value, particularly for adult learners.  However, the rare exceptions (useful online grammar and vocabulary games, for example) could be beneficial supplements.

Is this a gimmick to get adults to read kids books?  Perhaps.  But without a little encouragement, adult students might never be exposed to some very good (and very accessible) writing.  To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, if they’ve never read them, they should.  These books are fun and fun is good.


Filed under Projects

Write a Book, Learn English

hands on keyboard

An article in the December 26, 2009 Toldeo Blade profiled a student in Toledo who self-published a book.  At 14 years old.  In English, his second language.  Although internet technology has made publishing your own book relatively easy, this is still a remarkable accomplishment.

To me, this student sounds like many I have worked with: He started to withdraw because he was frustrated by the difficulties he had communicating in his second language.  The remarkable part is that his solution was to take on a project, writing a book, as a reason to learn the language.  And, by this account, he was pretty successful.

As a teacher, his project leaves me with a number of questions: Could this process be reproduced in a classroom, or does the fact that he came up with the idea himself make this inherently different from any teacher-directed project?  How guided should writing projects be?  How long or short?  What other considerations are there in an ESL writing class that has “publish a book” as the final (or only) project?

Clearly, this may not be an appropriate project for every student, but it is inspiring.  If you want to buy his book, you can do so through Amazon.com.

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Filed under Inspiration