Book Talks Through Computer Screens

Struggling to read a book has been a “not-so-fond” pastime of students during the summer. Whether it’s a book they are required to read for class or a mandatory book for an independent reading project, students have struggled to read during the summer. However, in hopes to help students be more enthusiastic about reading, Summer Reading Book Talks were created to coax students into group conversations about their assigned reading materials.

Book talks are a secondary option instead of an independent reading project. Many students have taken advantage of this opportunity to choose which book they would like to read. There are many different genres-nonfiction and fiction included-creating a diverse selection of books. This selection allows students to enjoy a book they chose instead of a mandatory reading assignment. 

Students then converse with others about the books that they chose to read over the summer with the guidance of an advising teacher. This year however, the intrusion of COVID-19 caused book talks to be virtual.

“Mrs. Papa and I started planning this year’s book talk last year,” said Jodie D’Alexander, Woodland’s Head Librarian and book enthusiast. “Although, as Mr. Geary took over and became the new head of the English department, he kindly stepped in to help plan the new virtual meets.”

D’Alexander and Paul Geary, English Department Head, collaborated to organize book titles and set up a website to help navigate the virtual Google Meet schedule for this year’s book talk. 

The book talks themselves took place on Wednesday, September 30. The website, provided by D’Alexander, gave all book titles and links to each teacher’s Google Meet so that the participants could talk about the books they read over the summer. 

Each teacher held their Google Meet during what would have been advisory on the half day Wednesday. This half day has become the “long distance learning day” for all students attending Woodland. On this day all students are to stay home and virtually attend four of their classes-depending on whether it’s an A day or B day-with advisory in the middle. This advisory time was transformed into time for book talk participants to discuss the books they had read.

“As with anything virtual, the energy feels different, and there are those ‘pauses’ or unintentional interruptions because of Wi-Fi delay, or the time it takes to unmute, etc,” said Meghan Geary, Woodland English teacher. “I just told all of mine [my students] to unmute and speak freely. Overall, it was great and I loved hearing from the students.” 

Meghan Geary was not alone with these issues. Brandon Moore, current Math teacher and book talk host, said, “when you’re talking on a Google Meet and somebody talks over you, the sound gets canceled out and you don’t know who’s saying what.”

Technological difficulties outlined by Meghan Geary and Moore are common within all Google Meets, even though they are minor inconveniences to otherwise successful meetings. The only other downside given to these virtual Google Meets was that teachers wanted a better way to structure the conversation with their students.

“It would be great if we could adjust the “requirements” to have students come to the talks with a passage they want to share,” said Meghan Geary. “A moment from the book that made them think, and a question they’d like to ask me or the group.”

Meghan Geary wanted to have an outline given to students that would give them an idea of what to bring to the book talk instead of taking the more unorganized approach to generally talking about anything within the book. This method could help the teacher guide discussion through their questions, and in turn, students could be more prepared to answer questions.

“Reading the book on my own gave me downtime to myself and when you focused on the story everything around you goes away,” said Moore, who read the book Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart. “I enjoyed getting to see a lot of former students that I’ve seen in the past and meeting new students that I wasn’t able to teach before. It’s good to see a new group of students that I don’t normally see together.”

 

D’Alexander read the book Pumpkin Heads, by Rainbow Rowell. “It’s cute and is about two high school seniors that work in a pumpkin patch. It talks about how they feel going into their senior year,” she said. “It also matches the October fall themes and I had said that I felt like if the book were scented, it would smell like pumpkin spice.”

 

 

Meghan Geary read the book Slay, by Britney Morris. “My favorite moment was at the end when a student brought up an outside connection. Our book was largely about Black culture, it explored Black life in the world of gaming and high school, and so his comment helped lead us to a “final thought” about how important and beneficial it can be to read books written by and about people who don’t look like us,” she said. “I was also so happy to have some young men in my group even though the book had a female protagonist and the cover was mostly pink. Seriously, that seems like a little thing, but it’s not.”

Even though there are a few adjustments that could have been made and struggles with internet connections. According to the teachers that ran them, the book talks over Google Meets were very successful overall.