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The Nerdy Book Club (PODCAST)

Choice Literacy

Franki Sibberson chats with Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, and Cindy Minnich about the power and reach of online reading communities. They also discuss the creation and evolution of "The Nerdy Book Club," a wonderful free-wheeling website for (what else?) book nerds, especially those who work with children. You can visit The Nerdy Book Club by clicking here.

If you would prefer to download a free copy of the podcast, you can access it through Choice Literacy Podcasts at the iTunes store.

A full transcript is below the player. 

Franki Sibberson: Can you tell us a little bit about the Nerdy Book Club, what it is, who the members are, and how it began?

Donalyn Miller: The Nerdy Book Club really started as kind of a joke on Twitter. Whenever we would tweet something among our little group on Twitter that we thought really showed how nerdy we were about books, we started using this hashtag that read "Nerdy Book Club" on it. 

And then one evening, I think Colby and I were talking on Twitter about how much we loved Linda Urban's book, Hound Dog True, and how we just knew no one else appreciated the book as much as we did, and that we felt like it deserved all these awards that it might not get. 

And Katherine Sokoloski, who is a member of the Nerdy Book Club said, "Why don't we make our own award?" And for some reason, because we are such nerdy readers, that idea appealed to us and it caught on. So we had talked back and forth about making our own Nerdy Book Club award. 
So we started the Nerdy Book Club blog as a way of launching that award, but it's evolved into something else entirely in just the short time that it's been live on the internet.

Franki Sibberson: So how do you become a member of the Nerdy Book Club?

Donalyn Miller: If you read, you're already a member of the Nerdy Book Club, because you get it. You get what being an avid, obsessed reader is all about. One of the major beliefs of the Nerdy Book Club is that every reader has value, every reader has a voice in that community, and in order to be a member, all you need to do is read. 

Franki Sibberson: So the Nerdy Book Club is new, and it's already really busy, like you mentioned. What plans are there for the Nerdy Book Club in the next year?

Colby Sharp: We recently did a survey with our members to come up with what they wanted to see from Nerdy Book Club, and this has been our first week. The second week of January we started with a schedule. Monday we have our reading life post, which is the bread and butter of the Nerdy Book Club. It's where a reader just talks about their life as a reader - either their life now as a reader, or some point in their life, maybe how they were a reader as a child.

Tuesday is an author post, where we get a guest author. If it works out to where their book comes out, we like to schedule them the week that their book comes out. But if not, just any author that's a Nerdy Book Club member posts on Tuesday. 

Wednesday we have a review of a new book within the last 12 months. Thursday a book review from the past, our Retro Review we call it. Friday we have Pay it Forward, where a teacher, librarian, someone involved with books posts how they're promoting reading either in their classroom or in their library or in their community. 

Saturday we have a top ten where different Nerdy Book Club members come up with a top ten - it could be the top ten books in their class, ten favorite books as a kid, any ten something centered around reading that they want to share with the club. 

And Sunday is our Surprise Sunday where if we can't find something that fits in one of those other days, we put it on Sunday, or if we have an extra post from one of those other areas that we really want to promote then we'll throw it in on Sunday.

Franki Sibberson: I love that Surprise Sunday, that's so fun. Can you talk about other online communities that you belong to that support you as a literacy educator, as a reader, and things like that?

Cindy Minnich: We've got a whole list of them that all of us are involved in in some way, shape, or form. Donalyn started her Book-a-Day Challenge to read a book every day of her vacation, and we just use the hashtag (#bookaday) when we're talking on Twitter. You start on a particular date, end on a particular date, a lot of holiday summer vacation type of challenges, which is awesome.

TitleTalk takes place the last Sunday of the month at 8:00 PM Eastern time on Twitter. We just use the hashtag #titletalk, and we talk about whatever topic gets thrown out there about teaching reading and encouraging reading. The first half of it is talking about the more instructional teacher concepts and ideas for working with young readers, student readers. The second half, we just kind of flood the stream with what are you reading, what do you like, what would you suggest for this? And there's just an incredible amount of titles. So if you're going to participate in that, you need to make sure that your credit card has money left on it. But there's a wiki that you can check out of all the chats back to the very beginning if you wanted to.

Centurions of 2011 is a Facebook group. Last year we challenged ourselves to read 111 books in 2011, and this year we're aiming for 200… er, 112, sorry. Not 212. Although some people have exceeded that. But it's just about setting goals and sharing titles and talking about what we're reading and trying to grow as readers ourselves. 

Goodreads is just a social networking site for readers. We kind of track each other's reading. We update with reviews. There's reviews of author books, there's author posts and blogs, there's giveaways, contests, book clubs, there's even a challenge there to see how much you can read in the calendar year.

And a couple of other ones that exist. ALAN has a new website, alan-ya.org, which has now got a social component to it. So if you're into young adult literature, it's a great place to check out. And the English Companion Ning is wonderful for anybody who teaches reading or writing all the way up through college level, in fact. And #engchat is an English teacher chat on Twitter that happens on Monday nights, 7:00 Eastern time.

Franki Sibberson: So why do you think online communities are important in terms of your own professional growth and learning? Why do they matter?

Donalyn Miller: Well, online reading communities with other readers provide us with a model of procreating a reading culture in our classroom and showing us what an organic, inclusive reading community looks like. I think we're better able to understand how relationships with other readers can support our students because we are involved in a reading community ourselves.

The cost of professional development these days often prevents districts and individual teachers and librarians from going to all the conferences and things that they might have done in the past that would feed them professionally. And the ease of use of the online community's, I call it, "armchair PD" - you can sit in your pajamas on a Saturday and follow the hash tags for a conference on Twitter. Or you can read blogs online and stay current on the latest literacy research. So those online communities are important because of the ease of access. People can go to it when they have the time to do it.

Online reading communities offer readers the same things that physical reading communities offer. They foster connections with other readers who can support you. They challenge you to branch out and try new books and authors and styles of writing. I learned about so many new books from my online communities, and discover new authors that I might like to read, and also that my students might like to read. 

Talking to other readers improves my enjoyment and appreciation of what I read. Often I'll read a book and then not think that I enjoyed it that much, but when I talk to people who enjoyed it more than I did, they help me see the value in the book that I didn't notice. And I know that's the same with kids, having those conversations with other readers helps them see aspects of a book they didn't know. 
It also increases how much you read. I thought I was a big reader before I joined twitter, before I got on Goodreads. I had no idea how much I was capable of reading. It raises the bar for you somehow. When everybody in your community around you is reading a lot, it ups your game as a reader to be in those communities with other people.

Franki Sibberson: That's so interesting. I thought everyone was reading that much before. 

Donalyn Miller: I learn a lot of titles. I think we all do. We pick up a lot of titles for additional reading. And I also think I read better books now than I did before I was in my online community. It was more what I could find and glean and gather off reviews and at the library and at the bookstore. But now I have those recommendations from my peers who I trust, and when they make recommendations about a book, I like it better. It seems as if our tastes are similar and what we look for in books might be similar. 

I also think that being in online reading communities encourages a mindfulness about what you read and what you share. My interest is heightened when I hear several people raving about a book and talking about how great it is and how much their students like it. It might move up my stack of books that I might like to read. 

Franki Sibberson: So how have online communities changed your teaching then?

Colby Sharp: For me, it has allowed me to take stealing good ideas from the 14 teachers in my building, to being able to steal great ideas from teachers throughout the country. It's really helped me to just find the best of the best and what the best people are doing and taking their ideas and applying them in my own classroom. And then I can ask them questions about them and collaborate with them and learn from them. It's really helped me to take my professional development in my small school in Battle Creek and just make it worldwide. 

Franki Sibberson: That's big. What do you look for in an online community? How do you decide which ones to join? What are you looking for? 

Cindy Minnich: I usually am looking for people who are active and participating in the conversation. Oftentimes it starts with just a couple of people, and you start to see who they're interacting with, and it kind of grows from there. That's how I did it. But there are also all these hashtag communities that have built up, especially within the education community, that you follow one one time and you start to see who's talking and who you'd be interested in finding out more from. So you start to follow who they're having conversations and see where that goes. It's kind of hard to explain. It's a lot of, at least at the beginning, kind of just hanging back and seeing what's going on and who you'd like to talk to.

Franki Sibberson: Listening in.

Donalyn Miller: Yeah, there's a lot of listening, especially at the beginning, to try to figure out whose voices seem to have something that resonates with you. But there are tons of people out there, people's names that you recognize, people that you don't recognize yet. But I've found that I get far more than I give to anybody. I think that just about everybody I've talked to who's on Twitter or even in some of these other communities, Nings or on Goodreads or whatever, there's so much that we absorb from everybody else that it really is the most incredible form of personal professional development. You get to find who's having the conversations that you're interested in. Whether you're just searching for a particular term or whatever, you kind of start to realize who you want to talk to and that sort of thing. And I guess that's really how you kind of start to figure out where you sit in all of that, what do you have to offer, and what can you get.

Franki Sibberson: That's smart. This all sounds, even just to me, like you realize how much you guys are doing and I follow you on a lot of those things. So for a teacher just starting to understand what online communities can offer, where might you suggest he or she start? Besides the Nerdy Book Club, of course. 

Cindy Minnich: The Nerdy Book Club, of course, that got started with Twitter. There's just about any hour of the day or night, you can find somebody on there that has something that they're adding to the conversation about reading, about writing, about teaching, about technology, about doing amazing podcasts. There's all sorts of stuff, and all you need to do is know how to throw out that question to people and see who takes advantage of that to start some conversations. That would be my first recommendation. But there are also some really excellent places to look otherwise. Once you finally find somebody who says something that makes you want to speak up and participate in the conversation, that's pretty much where it takes off from there. And it's incredible to see how that changes so fast.

Donalyn Miller: It is all about what do I want as a professional, as a human being, for my own self-actualization, and that ability to go online and create it and invite other people to it is huge.

One of our author posters early on in the Nerdy Book Club was a gentleman named C. Alexander London, who's written several middle grade novels, and he talked about the role of communities in our lives. And he said it's a fact people can survive without books. People can even have wonderful, full lives without books. But they can't long endure without community, and a community is built on stories.


Choice Literacy