Authentic Learning ~ Making a Story Come to Life

I recently read a NewsGator Daily article written by Leland Rucker on how the internet has the possibilities of making reading more fun. In the article "Using the Web to Make Reading more Fun" Rucker relates how he had used Google Earth and Google Images to go to all of the places referenced in Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner." He was so intrigued by the book that he felt the need to see Kabul and the locations Hosseini so vividly portrayed. The detail that Rucker uses in his article from moving through the city streets to switching to Google Images to see actual buildings and storefronts captivated me in the different way.

To be sure, the Internet is changing the way we interact with words and music… -Leland Rucker

We are teaching literature and reading for information in our schools and classes. Asking (or requiring) that students read books to do everything from create a sense of appreciate for classics to challenge their self concepts of morals. However, often students are not engaged in the material or are outright bored and we know it. Walk by a classroom and you can look in and tell from just their body language that some material is just not getting to them… There are teachers will have students in a computer lab researching authors, time periods, location, or other source or reference material… just as often those pieces of reseach are just for gaining background material or researching facts… not for true engagement… hey, it is better than lecturing. I have to say that after reading Rucker's article, I began to undergo a paradigm shift looking at how students can use the web to truly experience a novel.
Think of some of the possibilities: challenge their intellect across the curriculum… Look at geography with locations, people, climate, morals and mores by researching the individuals they are reading about and using Google Earth to see the areas and Google to pull factual information. Use math to determine is the characters in the story can actually get from one place to the other in the timeframe express in the novel. Track the Orient Express. Experience "A Tale of Two Cities" moving through a modern world…
I'll let you in on a pet project of mine… what about having the students come into a lab a couple of weeks before a teacher assigns a book and set up a del.icio.us and NewsGator accounts. Now, using technorati and other news sources, push feeds and sources into those tools about topics, places, themes, related to the novel… Now, have them start reading the Novel and schedule another lab date 2-3 weeks into the book. Now you can use Google Earth to "see" the area, and then have them begin "grazing" through all of the feeds … what a richer experience that student has just had. Top it off by having them analyze the sources of the material, relevancy, and impact of information they have gathered… Now we are talking learning!
The possibilities continue to intrigue me. After reading Rucker's article, I simply had to interrupt my wife's grading of her student's research papers (politely of course) and presented the thoughts that were bubbling in my head. You see she is an English teacher in a sister building in my District. I knew that she had read "The Kite Runner" but we had never discussed it before. I was stunned when she related feeling similar urges as Rucker when she finished "The Kite Runner," however, she did not follow through to get online and "see" the world Hosseini beautifully portrayed.
As we started to discuss the possibilities, she became more and more intrigued as well, and began looking at lesson planning for "A Tale of Two Cities" (which she will be teaching next semester) in a whole new way.

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