Website Review: Goodreads

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next 

Our 5th graders start every school day with 1 hour of ‘independent reading.’ Each student chooses the book she wants to read, then reads it either on her Kindle or with the paperback version if we own it. We did the same thing last year when they were 4th graders, which I blogged about it here.

Here’s a problem we’ve had since day 1: helping kids choose the books to read. Especially books they’ll wind up loving. It’s sort of like dealing with picky eaters. A few kids will eat whatever you give them, some are cautious but willing to try new things, and others stick to what they know and absolutely refuse to change. We have tutors serve as ‘personal librarians’, but they themselves aren’t experts in what’s out there.

When our students were 4th graders, we used to do this on our walls to help our students find books:

At first, they loved it. Anytime a student finished a book, we’d print a copy of the book’s cover and tape it to the wall. If the student liked it, she’d tape a ‘thumbs up’ picture underneath and write her name. When the thumb was there, everyone could see it, and know that their friend read and liked that particular book. Like many things we try, though, the actual payoff started to fade. It worked okay early on because kids were into seeing what their friends were reading. But it was a lot of extra work for us to maintain, and as different kids read so many different books, we weren’t as tight on managing. When this happened, kids got bored and stopped checking the wall. When they got bored and stopped checking, it stopped working. So now, it’s gone. 

We’re trying something new with some of our 5th graders this year. Several of our tutors have been testing a solution for this book-selection problem. It’s a website they found that helps curate a list of books that a student may like based on their reading histories and recommendations from others. The website is called ‘Goodreads.’  

So what is Goodreads? 

It’s a website that people use to find book recommendations. People can track the books they’ve read, rate and review those books, follow friends, see the friends’ ratings/reviews, and recommend books directly to others. 

We’d give it a 7 out of 10. Our tutors who use it say it’s been a solid tool for helping them figure out what books to recommend to kids. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than having tutors and students shooting in the dark to help the kid find an independent reading book. 

The best part of Goodreads is the social aspect of the program. It’s basically Facebook for books. Kids can keep track of what they’ve been reading, see what types of books their friends are reading, and give/receive book recommendations for those friends. The Netflix-esque algorithm it uses to recommend books isn’t bad, but the real win is having students get excited about books together. Instead of finding a book for each individual student, getting one student the right book could mean getting an entire group of students excited. 

How Goodreads Works:

Each user has his or her own set of ‘bookshelves.’ A person starts with 3 shelves: 
1. “Read”
2. “Currently-reading”
3. “To-read”

Students can add bookshelves if they’d like, and label these shelves whatever they want (like the genre of books they’ve read, or maybe a shelf of ‘junk’ books so they can remember to avoid those books). 

Students add books to their shelves. They just search for the book on Goodreads’ database, then add the book. Goodreads is linked to Amazon, so it has just about every book our students have read. Whenever a student finishes a book, they can do a couple things. 
a. rate it (out of 5 stars)
b. review it
c. recommend it to others

From a student’s book shelf, you can see the titles, student rating for each book, comments, and the date the book was read. Here’s an example of one of our student’s ‘read’ bookshelf (i.e. the books she’s already read): 

Book Recommendations

The more books students rate, the better Goodreads is able to ‘suggest’ the right books for users. So far, the books Goodreads has suggested have been pretty good, especially if students tend to like books of a particular genre. Our tutors say this tool has been helpful in finding the right book for a student, and that students have mostly liked the books they read as a result of a Goodreads’ recommendation.

Here’s what the  ‘recommendations’ page looks like for one of our kids: 

Students can also send/receive book recommendations from other people. This gets to the social media aspect to Goodreads. Users can follow other users, see what’s in their bookshelves, and even directly recommend a book to a friend. We love this because in general, students like reading what their friends are reading. Here’s an example of some of the recommendations one of our students gave another student: 

So how do our kids actually use Goodreads during Independent Reading?

1. When the Independent Reading period starts in the morning, students sign into their Goodreads account and mark where they currently are in their reading.This helps their tutors track their progress more easily. 
2. When a student finishes a book, they mark it as ‘read.’ Then they rate/review it, take a quiz on Accelerated Reader, and dig through their book recommendations and ‘to read’ list to see what to read next. They can also explore their friends’ lists or write longer reviews.
3. At the end of the period, they update how far they’ve read. 

The good

It’s an easy, free way to organize all the books our students have read and want to read. The ‘reviews’ and ‘ratings’ are helpful in gauging how much students have been enjoying the books they’ve read. The tracking feature is also a good tool for both us and the students to get a general sense of how fast they read books. 

The thing we love the most is the social aspect of the program. By being able to directly recommend books and explore other students ratings/reviews. kids have been able to see what their friend are reading and have read in the past. It’s been a good tool for both getting kids to start having conversations about books, and generating hype over a specific book or series. Some students even refer directly to other students’ lists because their interests are so similar. 

The bad: 

Book selections aren’t perfect. Sometimes they’re totally off base. It takes some work to sift through these. 

Also, because Goodreads is basically a social media site, it comes with a lot of the same social media problems. We’ve had to be really careful about making sure our students aren’t using it inappropriately, like sending each other off-task messages. It’s strictly a tool for book reviews, tracking reading progress, and recommending books. 

It also has some technical limitations. We’d like for each one of our students to be able to receive book recommendations from just our existing Kindle Library. Although we can link our Amazon Kindle Library to Goodreads, Goodreads is unable to accommodate each of our students individually. So, we’re having our students use their own accounts. 

As we tinker with Goodreads, I’ll blog about any updates and improvements. Stay tuned. 

if you’d like to talk shop: