Read Locally, Think Globally

Students Share One Book with Thousands of Readers

Seventh-graders Natalie Walsh, left, and Krysta Rance discuss the novel “Pax” as part of Global Read Aloud

Reading aloud is a time-honored tradition for enriching the appreciation of literature. How much richer would it be, then, to share the experience with people all over the world?

Plenty, says Cora Blatchford. She is one of 30 seventh-graders at Crossroads Middle School who have been reading “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker, at the same time as other students in New Jersey, Toronto, even Australia. They share their responses to the book over the Internet.

“It’s really cool, because we get to hear what other students think about the same book we’re reading,” said Cora, who was dressed as the Cat in the Hat for Halloween day at school. “It’s like we’re all making one giant connection.”

Teacher Kathy Vogel reads aloud the novel “Pax” for her seventh-graders
Teacher Kathy Vogel reads aloud the novel “Pax” for her seventh-graders

The connection comes thanks to the Global Read Aloud, a project that brings together teachers and students worldwide to read the same books for six weeks each fall. Founded in 2010 by Pernille Ripp, a seventh-grade teacher in Wisconsin, it has enabled more than 1 million students to connect with other classrooms through Skype, Twitter and other technology tools.

Crossroads language arts teacher Kathy Vogel started the project this year after hearing Ripp at a seminar. She found her students like hearing books read to them even in middle school.

“Sadly, we don’t have enough time to read aloud to kids this age,” Vogel said. “They really seem to enjoy being read aloud to still in seventh and eighth grade. This accomplishes that piece of it.”

Cora Blatchford, in Halloween garb, says the project brings students into “one giant connection”
Cora Blatchford, in Halloween garb, says the project brings students into “one giant connection”

Different Perspectives, like Creepy or Brave  

Vogel links her students to contributions from other classes, such as book covers made by students in Toronto, and has them post their own thoughts about the book so other students can respond. Recently she had her students talk with seventh-graders from New Jersey on Google Hangout.

The back-and-forth, she says, helps students see “how are we alike, but how can we also get different perspectives? The kids have been really excited about this. They like interacting with kids and meeting new people.”

That includes Biancah Dells, who loves to read and talk about books. She told of describing a character in “Pax” in six words, then reading what students in Canada thought of the same character.

“Half of our class thinks, ‘I don’t like her, she’s creepy,’” Biancah said thoughtfully. “While I see in Canada they’re like, ‘Wow, she’s very brave.’ And I’m like, ‘Well how is she brave?’

“I just add a bunch of questions in my mind about what other people are thinking to get a deeper thought of the book.”

CONNECT

Global Read Aloud

“Pax,” by Sara Pennypacker

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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