Sunday, May 8, 2011

Goodreads Makes Great Readers

 This is a guest post by Jennifer Roberts @jenroberts1
So if you are here you read blogs, but do you read books too? Do your students? Mine didn’t. Not much anyway. Then about a month ago I read a book for teachers called The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It reawakened the book lust I lived with as a middle school teacher which had languished when I moved to teaching at a high school (and had my second child) five years ago. The Book Whisperer encouraged me to make independent reading books a purposeful and deliberate part of my teaching agenda again. But, have I mentioned, I teach high school?

Then I remembered I’ve used it sporadically with a few adult friends since last August. Goodreads is a social network site designed around books.  Users add books to their “shelves” and get to post updates about the books they are reading. Users can rate books they’ve read, add reviews, and my favorite feature, recommend books to their “friends” on Goodreads. The site also has an app for iOS devices, complete with a book bar-code scanner.

I asked all my students to join Goodreads on a day when they were each going to meet with their counselors separately, I had them independently join Goodreads. I thought of this as a challenge to see if they could negotiate the UI and set up their own accounts. Later I found out that they could login to Goodreads using their Google account and the process was incredibly simple. Each student sent me a friend request. I approved them and we were off.

They began to friend each other and I worried that too many friendships might stifle their willingness to express themselves about their reading.  But mostly their friendships are limited to between 4-6 peers who they respect and listen to. Often I see students who are light readers friending students who are heavy readers. One student, who has read three books this week and has rated 88 books, is friends with five peers who have rated just three to 15 books each. She is recommending book to them and they are picking them up.

Through Goodreads students can let me know what page they are on in their book, review books when they finish them and add books to their to-read shelf.  Students are suddenly reading more and asking for books more often. They are excited and focused to go to the library to find more books.

This is a two way street, though. Many of the same principles of teaching through independent reading still apply. Modeling is a big one. I realized I had to read more too because my students were watching my updates. Several students recommended, Rain of Gold to me on Goodreads. I started reading it to show them I was listening, but in the end I couldn’t put it down.

It’s not easy to quantify Goodreads activity into a grade. Mostly I run through my friends list and see what they are reading. Goodreads will sort them in a number of ways, books added, last status, last review. Students who show up at the top of these lists are using the site the most and get the most extra points, but I haven’t used lack of activity on the site to lower a grade. I try to stress to my students that I am adding points to their grade because they are READING, not because they are using Goodreads. The site is just a great tool to help them communicate about their reading to me and their other friends.

One more bonus is the daily digest e-mail of their activity. Even if I don’t check the site I get that e-mail to let me know what activity my students have been posting.

The best part of Goodreads however, is the way it has helped me build relationships with my students. Many of them are much more excited about reading. They are picking up things I recommend to them and recommending books to each other. Previously reluctant readers are seeking out books at the public library. A tough (and very at-risk) student noticed that I had Shadow Speaker on my to-read list. He approached me shyly one day after class and told me he had a copy at home he could loan to me. He doesn’t turn in homework very often, but he brought me that book. I better go read it.

"I think Goodreads is awesome. It has helped me find new books that help me become a better reader.” -Michele
Read 59 more quotes from my students about Goodreads, their real opinions.

This post is dedicated to my mother for showing me how to love reading and teaching. 

Jennifer Roberts teaches English to students at Point Loma High in San Diego. She has had 1:1 laptops in her classroom for three and a half years now. She also supports her colleagues with technology integration, teaches as adjunct faculty to pre-service teachers at The University of San Diego and reads. She blogs intermittently for teachers at for her American Literature students daily at and can also be found on twitter @jenroberts1.