As an English teacher I have always run book clubs as a way of encouraging reading for pleasure. Some kids loved it, some hated it, and the logistics were always messy and complicated. Kids would forget to bring in a book on the right day, and it never really had the effect I wanted – getting kids to read more. A few days ago I had a bit of a brain wave – why not create an online book club? After a bit of research I decided to use Goodreads. You can set up a free user account, and can even add an app to your phone which allows you to scan the ISBN number to call up all the details of a book. Users can rate books on a five-star system, add reviews and share recommendations. The site also allows you to set up private groups so it is perfect for a school.
Better still you can generate a widget which you can post on your blog, website or moodle page which pulls through books being recommended by group members – keeping the book club visible at all times. You can also run discussions, events and polls within the group. I have only just set up the group, but already I can see that its potential far outstrips the once a term bring in a book to share approach I had been using before.
What sites,and apps like Goodreads does so successfully is bring together the real and digital worlds in a seamless manner. I have no doubt that the students I teach will do a great deal of reading online, but I do not believe that print books will die, and research seems to indicate that the cognitive benefits of print reading are enormous. Print supports sequential reading, the development of a coherent argument. On screen reading can be sequential and narrative, as in reading a novel on your kindle, but print seems to encourage a sense of knowing where you are in the logical train of thought. Screen reading also supports hypertextual readings which allow people to rapidly assimilate a wide range of inputs and get a sense of a field. The future will be one in which both types of reading, sequential narrative reading largely done on paper, and hypertext readings largely done on-screen, both have a role to play. Reading for depth, and reading to synthesise large amounts of information are both important cognitively and are supported by different delivery systems.
What I think an online book club adds to the mix is a commitment to valorizing both page and screen and making reading accessible to the ways in which we share our ideas via social media, and how this can be connected to the classroom.