One of the core beliefs of my interdisciplinary team is that our sixth grade students need to see ALL of their teachers — not just the language arts teacher — as readers.

As a result, we’ve decided that (1). silent reading will happen once a week in every classroom, giving every teacher the chance to talk about books with kids and (2). every teacher will take students to the library for media circulation during the course of the year.

That’s given me a bunch of time to get to know our school’s new media specialist, Pete Caggia.

What I love about Pete — outside of his quirky sense of humor and deep knowledge of books that middle schoolers might completely dig — is that he’s AT LEAST as knowledgeable and passionate about using technology with students as I am.

That shared interest got us talking about Goodreads — the popular social site that allows users to network with one another around the books that they are reading — the other day.

What makes Goodreads so powerful is that it enables readers to discover high-interest titles — either by following the public bookshelves of like-minded peers, by making recommendations to their friends, or by checking the suggestions offered by Goodreads — that they may never have stumbled across.

Heck, Goodreads’ slogan says it all:  Meet Your Next Favorite Book.

That process of discovering new texts — of stumbling across topics and titles that have a real chance of capturing attention — comes naturally for accomplished readers who almost NEVER walk into the library without SOME idea of what they’re interested in reading next.

But spend some time watching struggling readers browsing for books and you’ll quickly recognize that sifting and sorting through shelves can be a haphazard process that rarely pays off for a BUNCH of our kids.  Finding favorite books just doesn’t happen NEARLY enough.

And that’s frightening because every poorly chosen title reinforces negative messages: “Reading is NEVER fun; There’s NOTHING I like to read; The library is a place that I don’t fit in.”

That got Pete and I thinking.  If we could get our students networking with each other in a social space like Goodreads, would struggling readers be more purposeful — and more successful — when browsing for books?

So Pete created logins for every one of my kids on Destiny Quest — a Goodreads-ish social service for students that is aligned with our district’s library management program.

In the course of one 45-minute class period, every student had signed in, filled their digital bookshelves with books they HAVE read, ARE reading and WANT to read.

They’d also followed a handful of friends on our team — peers that share similar interests whose bookshelves they want to explore — learned how to find recommendations from Destiny Quest, and figured out how to write reviews and give star ratings to the books that they were reading.

Since then, traffic on the site has been nothing short of incredible. There hasn’t been a day — including long holiday weekends — where students haven’t been signing in, adding titles to their bookshelves, and making recommendations to their friends.

The simple truth is that Destiny Quest has made sharing titles with friends easier — a key to engaging middle grades readers who ALREADY get most of their book recommendations from peers. 

As one of students on my team explained:

I think the Destiny Quest program is really useful because I get most of my book recommendations from friends already so now instead of having to ask them what books they really liked I can just see what books they are reading on Destiny Quest and get a good idea.

I think Pete and I are on to something here.  I’ll keep you posted as the year goes on.

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