Some computer work (Day 101/365)

Today, still basking in the glow of our having retaken Congress, I began to think ahead to the future of the 100 Book Club.

Let me back up a bit. While anyone of any seriousness was working hard to restore progressive sanity to our government, I’ve been trying to establish an alternative to the Accelerated Reader™ program.

A little background: a nice mother developed a way to intrigue her children into reading books by offering them quicky quizzes on the kitchen computer, way back in the 1970s (or 80s… I’m fuzzy on our provenance here). Soon the neighborhood children were clamoring to take these cute little tests, and presto! Before you could say “how many points is this book worth?”, Renaisssance Learning is a multi-gazillion-dollar bohemoth doing its damndest to take over your school’s instructional program.

Accelerated Reader™, or AR™ as we say in the biz, is not a bad thing per se. It’s great for beginning readers or children who are behind. It provides immediate feedback on simple comprehension skills through quick, multiple-choice quizzes on huge numbers of books.

However.

Despite its name, Accelerated Reader™ is not appropriate for children who are reading above grade level. These kids are deft at reading, and even more deft at manipulating whatever system you’ve got in place to keep track of those damned points. So my management of the AR™ program at Newnan Crossing has been three-pronged: downplay all rewards other than the very simplest; get students who need the reinforcement (and their teachers) to focus on a metacognitive awareness of the feedback the program provides; wean good readers from the program altogether.

At the first goal, I’ve been very successful. Newnan Crossing is very laidback in its approach to AR™. The second, I’ve been fairly successful. I would like to see a more rigorous use of the program to support some students’ attempts at reading. The third prong of my attack has been least successful. Until now.

Now I have the 100 Book Club. The basic idea is simplicity itself: students who read above grade level are challenged to read 100 books from a list of 700+ award-winning titles. If they do, they get a t-shirt. See how easy that is? We enrich the process by asking students to blog about their reading on their very own personal reading journal, a mockup of which you can see here. The actual blog will be part of an online reading community, with commenting and arguing and all kinds of intellectual enrichment. That’s the theory, and I’m sticking to it.

So anyway, today I realize that the technology guys are getting very close to getting the multiuser blog community to work, and that I need to get some goods on the counter.

Part of the problem of having fabulous amounts of technology at your disposal is that you sometimes forget all the tools you have. For example, the other day I downloaded a free piece of software called djay [free and Mac only, of course] which will allow me to take a sound file and alter its tempo without changing its pitch, or vice versa. As soon as I installed it, I realized that I would forget that I had it when I really needed it.

So today I was thinking I needed to provide an online explanation of this gargantuan 100 Book Club project for parents who had questions, and I luckily remembered TiddlyWiki, a fabulous variant of wiki software that’s perfect for providing small chunks of information to users through separate, linked, clickable “tiddlers.”

My creativity today? I began putting together my 100 Book Club wiki. Also, I did a cool poster for the hall that looks like a newspaper, including photos, of today’s Book Swap, the point of which is to publicize the fact to students that they will never be invited to the Book Swap if their teacher does not actually set AR™ point goals for them in the database.

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