A group of Grade 5/6 students at École Red Bluff Lhtako Elementary have been reading an award-winning novel that shares the story of a young immigrant girl and her family who live in a hotel, and learning about racism and class.
While making their way through the book, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, they’ve also been able to talk about what they’re reading and learning with other Grade 5/6 students in places as far as New Zealand this fall, as part of the Global Read Aloud (GRA).
The GRA connects students around the world in a variety of ways and using a variety of technology, including Mystery Skype; postcards; a shared Google Document that is closed for three classes to share opinions, ask questions and give feedback; Google Hangouts; and Padlet, an application for creating online bulletin boards.
The GRA started in 2010 with 150 students participating, and had grown to more than one million students in 2016.
The project addresses several reading goals, including visualization; connections, deep thinking questions and inferences; and discussion about how our background knowledge and experiences affect our perspective and how we can learn from others.
This year, students in Kelsey Lowndes’ and Kendra Gauthier’s Grade 5/6 class at École Red Bluff Lhtako Elementary are reading the novel Front Desk. The book centers around 10-year-old Mia Tang and her Chinese immigrant parents, who live and work at the Calivista Hotel under mean motel owner Mr. Yao.
Grade 6 students Keenen Bueckert, Cheyanne Wards, Ehlana Williams and Makayla Chmilar participated in GRA last year too, and they’ve been enjoying getting to connect with other students who are reading the same book.
This year in their class, they’ve done Mystery Skype, where they have to guess where the class they are speaking to is from, and they’ve connected with other classes through Google Docs and Google Hangouts. As well, they’ve sent and received postcards, and sometimes, they do four-quadrant sheets with different images, thoughts and feelings.
This year, they did a metaphor for the main character, and Williams won, while Bueckert, Wards and Chmilar were the runners-up.
The Grade 6 students just finished writing postcards to classes around the world, which feature a drawing about the book and a question related to the book.
Chmilar says the students can go onto a map and see who is reading the book and where they are.
“There are millions of people reading the book,” said Bueckert.
“What’s also cool is no grade has the same book,” added Williams.
Chmilar says when they are talking to other classrooms, the students talk about their favourite part of the book, their favourite scenes, the characters or different themes or ideas in the book.
“We get to basically share our opinions with kids around the world,” she said. “I think it’s cool how we can talk to kids who are reading the same book.”
Wards says it’s been exciting to connect with other students through GRA, while Bueckert and Williams admit it can be a bit overwhelming.
“It’s very overwhelming because it’s you basically Facetiming with a completely different class,” said Bueckert.
The students say they generally talk to the others classes for half an hour to an hour.
Chmilar has found that speaking with other students and hearing what they think when they read the book can help you see things in a different way.
“Because we get to read what their replies are, it changes your mind,” she said. “I think that’s a big part of why we do these discussions.”
The students are currently about halfway through the book, and they’re learning a lot about how immigrants can struggle when they come to a new country.
“People are being racist, and [Mia’s] mom has been beat up,” said Wards.
“Their boss is really rude to them and uses them,” said Chmilar. “They’re struggling because life is harder.”
The Grade 6 students say they have been learning a lot as they read this book.
“It’s a very deep book,” said Bueckert. “It’s more meaningful.”
“I think they chose it because they want us to understand more,” agreed Chmilar.
Wards says even when they want to stop reading during a hard part of the book, they have to keep going, which also teaches them a lot.
“One thing about this book is sometimes there are a lot of things we laugh at, and other times, we’re like, ‘That’s really offensive,’” said Williams.
Chmilar agrees the book brings up a lot of different emotions.
“Some parts are funny, some are sad, and some, you get kind of a weird feeling sometimes,” she said. “You get confused.”
“It helps you understand,” said Williams. “We all know about racism, but it actually helps you understand their struggles, knowing what actually happens to these people.”
Front Desk is loosely based on the author’s own experiences growing up as an immigrant in America, and the students say knowing this book is based on real life also makes it more meaningful.