NOTE: I invited Katie Toppel to write a guest post about a neat idea I heard about on Twitter:

Katie Toppel, Ed.D (@Toppel_ELD) is a K-5 English Language Development Specialist in Oregon and an adjunct professor at Portland State University.

If there remains any doubt about the impact of educational technology, let’s take a look at the power of an educators’ book club when transformed via the world of social media. What started as my simple tweet featuring a photo of a book cover and the words “Starting a new book tonight,” has evolved into a virtual book club bringing together educators from around the world who are passionate about enhancing instruction for English learners and excitedly talking about co-teaching, collaboration, and technology!

At some point early this school year, I discovered what a powerful resource Twitter is for professional development and despite feeling like an uniformed newbie in certain respects, I dove right in and started accumulating connections with other educators who are passionate about teaching English language learners. I began to notice different education hash tags including the word “chat” and was excited to discover opportunities to become part of these real-time discussions. Despite the draw of these Twitter chats, I came to realize that as a busy working mom with two young children, it was hard to remember the specific hour of the day on the specific day of the week that the various chats were to take place. And, even when I happened to remember a chat was happening, it was often during a time of day when I needed to get dinner ready or when I really needed to be present with my children rather than tweeting on my phone.

Consequently, when I tweeted about the book I was going to start and my Twitter pal, Tan, in Laos, responded by saying “Let’s read it together and start our own EAL (English as Another Language) book club” the seeds were planted for this virtual book club that we now call ELL Chat Book Club (#EllChat_BkClub). In my opinion, the greatest appeal of this book club is that we decided to make it a slow chat, meaning participants can post at any time using the group hash tag and a wonderful conversation gradually ensues. Another terrific feature is that after choosing our first book, Collaboration and Co-teaching: Strategies for English Learners, which is co-authored by Andrea Honigsfeld, @AndreaHonigsfel, and Maria Dove, @MariaGDove, we were able to get Andrea to chat along with us as we discussed her book! We could directly ask her questions or get her opinions and she was very active in responding to our #EllChat_BkClub tweets.

We structured the book club by posting a suggested reading schedule and then questions to go along with the content. The flexibility inherent in this virtual format is terrific because participants can truly read at their own pace and interact with the hash tag however they find valuable. Participants post photos of highlighted text, share related tweets such as articles, images, and info graphics, and also post photos from our own classrooms to illustrate how the book/discussion has influenced our instruction.  Participants can easily access all of the book club tweets by searching #EllChat_BkClub and are welcome to join in or just read what has been posted.

Gradually, as we continued tweeting with our newly minted hash tag, more participants joined in and we now have quite a large group reading and tweeting about our second book, ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners. It’s very valuable to interact with educators who teach in different instructional contexts as well as different districts, states, and even in different countries! I am constantly learning new ideas and broadening my perspective. Please consider checking out our #EllChat_BkClub tweets and joining in!