This winter, while stationed in Amman, Jordan, I’ve had the opportunity to share a few read-alouds that did not have the typical story-time set up. They were virtual read-alouds done over the internet using my Elluminate vroom provided by LearnCentral. I was able to connect with classes in Ontario, Canada, Washington, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina. It worked like a charm…well, almost!
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[/kml_flashembed]For both World Read Aloud Day and Read With Me, there were calls put out on twitter looking for read-aloud classroom hook-ups. I don’t have a classroom right now but being keen to participate, I answered! Most of the people I connected wanted to use skype but since I wanted to show the book images while I read the story, I felt Elluminate was a better option. (At the time, I hadn’t used the desktop sharing function of Skype – hopefully, I’ll get to test this option out soon!). Like a real real-aloud, I also wanted to stop on certain pages and talk about the image or what’s going on in the story. The whiteboard tools provided great support in circling, pointing and highlighting… actually, I thought it was kind of neat that I could write on the book and not worry about defacing it for ever! I prepared the slides and then all that was needed was the classroom connections on the read-aloud days (for WRAD, I provided a sign-up sheet ahead of time on google docs: http://bit.ly/f7DZuw ).
The book I decided to read was “The Sandwich Swap” . I chose this book for several reasons. For one, I was already quite familiar it with it since we had used it in the Lunchbox Project http://lunchboxproject.wikispaces.com/ . Secondly, it was written by Queen Rania of Jordan and Kelly Dipuccio so there was a strong connection to Jordan, I could talk about. Thirdly, the images in the book are absolutely beautifully drawn by Tricia Tusa! Lastly, the story line involves being tolerant about other cultures. Don’t you think it’s a perfect fit for a Global Read-Aloud?
[kml_flashembed publishmethod="static" fversion="8.0.0" movie="wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Sandwichswap_WRADRWM.swf" width="397" height="298" targetclass="flashmovie" align="left" play="true" loop="true" menu="false" allowfullscreen="false"] [/kml_flashembed]Here are the slides (with a bit of commentary) for both read-alouds…they just changed a bit depending upon who the audience was. Although I showed full images of the book pages during the read aloud, from a copy-right standpoint, I don’t feel I should share them here – but I do want to provide some background on the set up so I came up with the compromise, you see to the left.
Most of the people I connected with were relatively new to Elluminate being used this way. Some of the teachers had been involved in webinars so they at least had seen the interface before. At the very beginning of the session, I turned on the camera so that the students could see there was a real, live, breathing, waving person at the other end of the connection. I also got some live-video back of the group I was about to read to.
I had a lot of fun reading through the book but I liked most of all connecting with the students. In one class, they had many questions for me –about the Islamic community in which I am currently living, being Canadian and also working in a foreign place. It was great at the end of the read-aloud to field so many questions!
The only part that was a little difficult was not being able to keep ‘an open microphone’ on the audience. I believe all the classrooms were using the on-board microphone and not a head set so if I left their microphone on while I read, I got really bad feed back and could hear a delay of myself reading. It was really confusing for me! I think this is one definite advantage to using skype for these read-alouds. The way the skype audio is engineered, does not have such awful feedback and echo when both sides have their audio, open. So, in the Elluminate set up, with the classroom’s mic turned off, I felt more alone as I was reading and especially when I asked a question – I couldn’t hear the spontaneous replies from the students. Luckily, the teachers got very used to relaying the answers to me in ‘walkie-talkie’ fashion.
The read-alouds lasted no longer than 30 minutes. One group from Florida, had a fire alarm practice in the middle of their session, so I think they only got 15 minutes or so! I had two groups signed up in one session which was pretty neat too – one class from the state of Washington and the other from Iowa.
Recently, I sent out an email asking for feedback from the teachers who had participated in my read-alouds. I wondered what they thought of the Elluminate platform vs. using skype, Did they have any suggestions re: technique for me? Etc. Here is a quote from each email:
We had a great time listening and participating as best as possible through your reading. Our students came away with a smaller understanding of the world and truly enjoyed the book. Our teachers had them do a reflective writing after hearing the story where students wrote about the beginning, middle and end of the story. They even drew pictures of their favorite part of the book. 2 of the 3 teachers went out and bought the book (the other one already had it). All in all it was an amazing experience for the students and teachers.
As I think about the advantages and disadvantages of Skype and Elluminate I find myself thinking about purpose. Our school participated in a couple other read alouds that day through Skype. From my perspective, the purpose of the Skype sessions were more about the sharing of a book and being able to see each other. It did provide for more of a free flow conversation and students got the opportunity to see each other in their classes. From my perspective the purpose of the Elluminate session was to have a rich learning experience. Elluminate allowed the opportunity for students to interact with the text as you shared the book through the slide show. Students had the opportunity to (with my help) to draw on the screen etc. They also had the opportunity to learn about Jordan through the photos you shared.
Scott Friedman, Principal, Nine Mile School, Washington (Twitter: @irishscott)
The funny thing that happened with Scott’s group is that I usually do a little talk about the only dark page in the book, the principal’s office. At the time, I didn’t realize Scott was the principal of Nine Mile School!
The Read With Me project had two main goals: 1) to expose students to students/ people in other areas; 2) to tie in to Read Across America Day. The northeastern corner of NC is beautiful, but very rural. We’re at least an hour and a half from a medium-sized city in any direction. Before and after the session, we show the students where the caller is from. We “fly” into the area to take a look or walk around their location using Google Maps. After the call we talk about similarities and differences of their location, accent, etc. – trying to build global awareness.
As for the tool that was used, Skype has become a more “popular” tool for educators to use in recent years. It’s simple to use and requires little to no training. That’s the main reason I chose it. The recent education section that Skype has added was of benefit as well. To be honest, it had never crossed my mind to take advantage of Elluminate’s free Vroom.
Elluminate did a much better job of allowing the listeners to see the text that was being read as well as watch the presenter. We were able to interact a bit more with the text using Elluminate. The main thing the students really did enjoy about Skype was seeing the readers appear larger than life on the screen. We did have an issue with your room not being able to go through our Internet filter. I’m not sure why, since we’ve participated in Elluminate sessions before. But some school districts block Skype for security reasons, so I guess it’s a “whatever works” type of situation.
We did have a few issues with Skype. Low quality cameras, incorrect microphone settings and poor internet connections also plagued some of our calls. I’m not sure if it would have been any better with Elluminate – especially those that had poor connectivity on the other end.
Cindy Phstic, Instructional Technologist, Edenton-Chowan Schools, North Carolina
I think anytime, you can get a classroom connecting with others around the world, good things will happen. When I think about the students I connected with on both the read-aloud days, they had probably only heard about Jordan on the news, in stories that talked negative issues. Reading a book together, across so many miles, gave us an opportunity to learn a little bit more about normal life in a distant land.
I want to thank both Scott Friedman and Cindy Phthisic for the information they supplied in their emails. I’d also like to thank again, all the classes that have allowed me to come into their schools from Jordan. I hope to be doing more virtual classroom connections in the future.