Last Wednesday evening I did an interactive videoconference with Marc Aronson’s Ebook and App class of graduate students at Rutgers. It was a terrific opportunity for me use a technology medium to elaborate on what the Authors on Call group of Ink Think Tank is doing in its pilot project with Bogert Elementary School. (Some of the results are starting to come in and if you want to watch them unfold, you can go to the project’s wiki.) Since Marc is a vocal advocate for nonfiction literature in his SLJ blog, I was somewhat surprised to find that so many of his students seemed unaware of the struggle to get schools to use nonfiction literature in classrooms as the primary reading material and to use its authors in a timely and productive way to enhance the learning of both teachers and students. We, readers of this blog, who are committed to nonfiction literature as authors and educators, are all inhabitants of a “bubble” where the use of nonfiction literature is prevalent. And, since we mainly talk to each other, we can delude ourselves into thinking that it is more widespread than it actually is.
This month, I’ve also been travelling—first to Doha, Qatar where I attended the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) as I did last year, and then, a week later to Israel with a delegation of school superintendents. (50 hours in the air, don’t ask!) At WISE I attended a workshop where a study was presented to see how the delivery systems of reading material—i.e. print vs digital—affected literacy. Conducted by www.educationimpact.net, the results, it seems, are equivocal. In some countries kids learned more from books and in others they learned more from a screen. I finally raised my hand and asked, “What were these kids reading?” No one seemed to know. I then made the point that not all books are equal and not all digital materials are equal. I gave them an example of how to write to engage readers. At the end of the session a number of people asked for my card.
I was at WISE wearing my journalist’s hat, covering the conference for Education Update. I did a video interview of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He was extremely interested in what iNK (not a typo, we’re getting new logos, thank you Steve Jenkins) is doing in its pilot project. His organization is tackling some major issues world wide—like poverty, disease, ignorance and global warming. I asked him, “What can be done to accelerate change?” In a nutshell, Sachs said that networking is very important but, in addition, you must act—do something to prove that it works and acts as a model for others to follow. (You can see my three minute interview here.)
In Israel, we visited schools that are making breakthroughs in serving minority and impoverished children and in technology in the classroom. But, again, nowhere did I see evidence that there is attention paid to the quality of classroom instructional material. The lessons I observed seemed very pedantic and traditional. It’s almost as if no one is taking a hard look at instructional material.
At the end of my session with Marc’s class a student asked me, “How can I help?” I see very clearly that a movement for change needs organization. This blog is a start, but not if the only people who read it are already converts. The iNK database is a tool— to let people know about our books how the fit into their curricula and meet Core Education Standards. And when we start getting results from iNK’s pilot project, they will be newsworthy. Today, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is doing the very first videoconference with the kids who are studying her book Shaping the Earth. (The book was chosen by the fifth grade teachers because it fit into their scope and sequence.) Dorothy is connecting from Hawaii to the school in New Jersey. A local NJ reporter will be present to cover the event. To be continued—and we’re counting on you to help spread the word.