Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein
I’ve thought about this quote a lot as I have reflected upon my first experience participating in the wonderfully engaging, collaborative project, Global Read Aloud (GRA). If you haven’t already heard of this incredible project, the concept is relatively simple yet incredibly rewarding for all involved … you choose a book from a pre-selected list, read it aloud to your class over a six-week period and connect with other classes around the world.
The reason this quote popped into my mind is because, in the current education world, such strong emphasis is placed on assessment and data collection. We, as educators, are continually being asked to collect, analyse and report on data and about student progress. Don’t get me wrong, data collection and accountability (both for educators and students) is an incredibly important part of what we do. But, as Einstein points out, not everything that matters can be measured. And so was the case with my first GRA experience. Participating in the GRA helped me to ‘tick off’ only one of the outcomes on students’ Semester Two reports, but it rewarded both myself and the students in my class with so much more than tickboxes on a report. Rewards that can’t necessarily (and you wouldn’t want to) be measured. As I talked enthusiastically to my colleagues about the GRA , I found it difficult to explain the impact I was noticing in my classroom. Most of the time, I simply said, “Pop in some time and see the energy in the room.” And that’s what it was … a beautiful energy in the room as students listened to the story; drew their visualisations; shared their predictions, inferences and questions; discussed big questions and wrote blog posts with their reflections. And that’s just the reading side of the project!
The most powerful part of the GRA occurs when you connect with classes on the other side of the world. This was a new experience for me and at first, I was a little unsure about how it would all unfold, which only added to the excitement of the adventure. Twitter proved to (yet again) be a fantastic way to connect with others and I was fortunate to connect with a couple of teachers in the USA, one (big shout out to you, Sarah Guy!) with whom my class made (and will hopefully continue) a beautiful connection. You maybe wondering, what kind of ideas did we share and how did we share them? Well, the collaboration seemed to evolve naturally over time, with new ideas for learning experiences and connection ideas normally arising through Twitter or email conversations along the lines of, ‘Hey, I thought we could use this thinking routine in chapter X. What do you think?’ Here are just some of the collaborations we made:
- Students wrote blog posts in response to questions and commented on other people’s posts.
- Students explored various concepts in the novel using different thinking routines. I wrote about that here.
- Students responded to discussion questions using a Padlet on our class blog.
- Students explored our buddy class’ home town and school using Google Earth.
- Students asked and answered questions about life in another country.
- Students tweeted (via my account) their predictions, questions and thoughts on the story.
- We (the teachers) filmed ourselves reading several chapters so that our students could hear part of the book read by another teacher (with a different accent!)
- My class thought that it would be fun to send our buddy class some Australian items, which launched the ‘Culture Box’ project. We sent off a box filled with Australian goodies such as Tim Tams, a football, a favourite picture storybook and Australian flags and in return, we received a box filled with American goodies such as Halloween candy, a picture storybook and some sporting memorabilia.
The book that I chose to read for our first GRA experience was the incredible story, ‘Fish in a Tree’ by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. The story boasted a powerful storyline (girl with learning difficulties develops strong friendships and a stronger belief in herself) as well as realistic characters to whom students could relate easily. The story was a perfect fit for my Year 4 classroom, where we place a high emphasis on growth mindset, persistence and friendship. At the end of the book, I asked students to rate the book out of five stars. The overwhelming consensus was 4.5 stars. The reason it didn’t get 5 stars? They wanted the book to be longer! The students (and teachers) loved the book so much that we have decided to kick the 2016 school year with ‘Fish in a Tree’. It’s the perfect book for setting the tone for the beginning of the school year.
If you haven’t ever participated in the GRA, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is an incredible way to add greater engagement, dialogue and global collaboration to your reading program. Also, since the GRA occurs in Term 4, it’s the perfect way to finish the year on a high.
What is something you do in your classroom that counts but can’t necessarily be counted?