When a teacher added online discussion,
her literature circles thrived.
igital Natives. Millennials. The Net
Generation. People have been calling my
students a lot of names lately. Label them how
you please, few seem to deny that today’s teens,
who can’t remember a time before the Internet and cell
phones, are different—and in danger of experiencing
their education as irrelevant to their wired lives. In Born Digital (2008), Palfrey
and Gasser write that teachers can either embrace the power of new technology or
react with fear and suspicion, leaving our students to navigate these waters on their
own. They also dare us “not to use technology in the curriculum more, but to use it more
effectively” (p. 247).
I recently took up that challenge in my own classroom in Arlington, Massachusetts, a
suburban community just northwest of Boston. Together, my students and I embarked
on a yearlong experiment using social-networking technology to enhance small-group
literature discussions. Could these tools make our work more meaningful?
I had used a class blog for several years to announce assignments and commu-
nicate with parents, and occasionally for students to share short responses
to homework prompts. What I had not done was use a blog as a virtual
meeting space for small groups. This is what I attempted in my
11th and 12th grade English classes, using literature circles
as our proving ground.