They talked about their favorite foods and singers, their hobbies and their fears about going to middle school. Mostly though, they talked about books.
A group of Furman education majors have been working with elementary school students in the Carolinas as a unique new part of their EDU 331 course, which introduces methods of teaching reading and writing to second- to sixth-graders.
The conversation began between Upstate teacher Dr. Lindsay Yearta and Dr. Katie Stover, an assistant professor in Furman’s Education Department, as they discussed ways to help Yearta’s students who were struggling with reading and writing.
They came up with the idea to pair the elementary schoolers with Furman students as they read the book, A Long Walk to Water, a poignant story of a former Lost Boy and a young girl in South Sudan whose daily job is to find clean water for her family.
Together, Furman students and elementary school students read chapters of the book and corresponded for eight weeks through a secure forum called KidBlog.
With encouragement from their college buddies, discussions became more detailed week after week. Furman students encouraged their digital pen pals to share their favorite parts of the story, to discuss how certain passages affected them, and to predict what would happen next in the coming chapters.
“I love how the author described everything. It painted a picture in my head,” said Greg*, one of Yearta’s students.
“I like how Salva never gave up,” said another student named Daniel*. “Some people probably told him ‘no’ or ‘just give up.” But he never gave up; he still had hope in his heart.”
Yearta was thrilled with the reactions from her students. “They looked forward to the responses from their buddies all week,” said Yearta. “Knowing that a college student was reading and responding to their posts inspired my students to do their best work, which I think helped them grow as readers and writers.”
At the end of the program, they got a chance to chat via Skype. “All my students talked about for a solid week, was getting to Skype with their college buddies,” Yearta said. “Most of them said it was their favorite part of the project.”
In addition to boosting their confidence and improving their reading and writing skills, it also gave both groups a chance to share in “rousing discussions about a current global issue,” Yearta said.
“One of the things I emphasize with my students at Furman and the teachers I work with in public schools is the need for diverse children’s literature,” Stover said.
The book not only included characters from diverse races and cultures but exposed students to life and struggles in another part of the world.
The class brainstormed ways to help others, including establishing a charity, eliciting donations, participating in a Water for Sudan fund-raiser or even sending people out in the community to help. “I also think [the book] did not just inspire you and I, but a lot of other people that read it,” said Charlie.*
Since they had multiple pen pals in the class, Furman students were able to learn ways to adapt their teaching methods for each child and develop appreciation for the use of technology in education.
“This blogging project greatly benefited me as a future teacher. We were stretched in new ways and were able to practice some of the teaching techniques we had learned,” said Amber*, a Furman student who participated. “Since my interaction with my pen pals was only through the blog, I was challenged to think of ways to help and communicate with them.”
Rachel Sease of Waynesville, N.C., ’14, worked over the summer with Dr. Stover and the Furman Advantage program to collect data from the blogging project which she will present as part of Furman ENGAGED! next spring.
By analyzing the findings of fellow Furman students, “I was able to learn what they learned,” said Sease. “I better understand how to incorporate holistic literacy experiences, integrate technology and address themes of global awareness.”
The findings of the project will also be presented at the South Carolina State Council of the International Reading Association conference in February 2014.
* Names have been changed.