Building Global Connections Through Reading
“Students will be able to discuss the readings with each other, learn technical skills in writing and comprehension, gain feedback from teachers, and participate in a small, supportive community where they will feel comfortable to share and challenge each other’s opinions.”
On May 8th, 2020, Dr. Lee Chen, President of Global Talent Link (GTL), gave an online info session to introduce the organization that facilitates connected learning and collaborative thinking. He introduced the inaugural project, GTL Online Book Clubs (OBCs), which aims to make reading and writing a collaborative experience, effectively bringing the “human” back into the humanities. Several master teachers who would lead these clubs, as well as a dozen interested parents, teachers, and administrators joined the session via Zoom.
Dr. Chen stressed that common approaches to reading in our education system have significant gaps, such as the lack of collaboration and the segregation of reading and writing, two intimately related skills. “If we only ask students to write at the end of a book,” Dr. Chen says, “a lot of thinking will be missed or forgotten.” In addition, a lot of students, especially international readers, could not reap the full benefits of reading a good book due to the lack of in-depth guidance from experienced teachers.
GTL’s Online Book Clubs seek to close these educational gaps by fostering a flourishing community of ideas and collaborative learning. With these goals in mind, GTL employs the International Perspectives, Ability, Benevolence, and Courage (iABC) Curriculum. This educational program focuses on helping individuals grow and gain more cultural awareness, stronger communication and writing skills, abilities to self-reflect and empathize with others, and the passion to challenge oneself and find meaning in the world around us.
The OBCs are set up in a way to give students autonomy and flexibility in their educational experiences. They are able to choose an acclaimed novel out of a variety of selections based on grade levels. They will then meet with students in video call sessions that can accommodate between 4 and 15 participants, along with a master teacher, once or twice a week. Students will be able to discuss the readings with each other, learn technical skills in writing and comprehension, gain feedback from teachers, and participate in a small, supportive community where they will feel comfortable to share and challenge each other’s opinions. There are even outside opportunities throughout the week such as online platform chat discussions, weekly writing assignments, and one-on-one mentoring from teachers.
All of the presenting master teachers that facilitate the clubs hold multiple degrees and have specializations in a wide variety of areas. Below is an introductory list of our current faculty partners, along with the books they are most excited to teach and discuss with students!
- Ms. Kristen Flannery emphasized her experience with social-emotional teaching strategies, saying that it helps students, “to not only be successful academically, but to grow and be strong and be able to have grit and persevere through difficult times.” Her book choice: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, a story of a 14-year old boy named Ponyboy and the conflicts he experiences between two rival gangs separated by their socioeconomic status.
- Mr. Brian Flannery is a certified middle-high school educator with over 10 years of teaching experience and a wide variety of disciplines in fields such as STEAM and business. “I absolutely love to read,” Mr. Flannery says. “My favorite is nonfiction, primarily about history and autobiographies.” His passion for nonfiction texts spurred him to select the book The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, an internationally acclaimed book of writings from the diary kept by Anne Frank, a pre-teen Jewish girl who spent two years in hiding while the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.
- Ms. Amy Ritchie is another master teacher with a unique background, as she earned her Master of Business Administration and worked in Human Resources and Marketing prior to teaching. She is a certified high school English teacher currently working as an English Language Arts tutor. Ms. Ritchie says, “I think that literature is one of the best ways to relate to humanity and the world at large.” The book she has selected to teach is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which has been dubbed The Great American Novel as it follows a self-made millionaire and his drive to get the woman he loved as a young man during the Roaring 20’s.
- Dr. Maureen Manning is an international instructor and presenter whose expertise lies in global education, teaching English to speakers of other languages, international competence, and study abroad programs. Dr. Manning says of her travel experiences, “One of the best things about traveling the world is that you learn about different people, different customs, and certainly about different perspectives, and I find that reading is very similar in that way.” This experience prompted her to select the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a novel is set in Alabama in the 1930’s and centers around a 6-year-old girl named Scout witnessing her father defend an innocent black man in a trial rife with racial inequality.
Although the long-term goal of GTL is to incorporate students from numerous countries into the Online Book clubs, the clubs are currently targeted toward Chinese students. Each club also includes at least one American student to participate in discussions and add another perspective to a diverse collection of backgrounds and approaches.
Ms. Fang Jia is a particularly strong liaison for these students, as she’s a Chinese language arts teacher who received her Master of Education degree at Boston College and has since taught literature in both the United States and China. “I have always wanted to use something I’ve learned in the US to help students in China, to help them learn in new ways, more creative ways, and more reflective ways,” Ms. Jia says. Her role is to help foster better communication between the book club community, especially for the Chinese international participants.
In an utterly disconnected time, GTL’s Online Book Clubs offer students a unique opportunity to profoundly connect with great literature, peers from a wide range of backgrounds, and highly qualified educators. GTL’s master teachers have expressed that their book selections are highly acclaimed novels with themes that extend far beyond the page. GTL’s goal to forge connections comes alive in these clubs, which brings together small groups of students to create an environment where discussions are fruitful, and writing is collaborative and open.
edited by Yelena Nicolle Salvador