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How a school's web-based forum drew hundreds of student entries

A "Webboard" set up for threaded discussions of The Revealers as part of a small, rural middle school's reading project drew over 500 posted messages, nearly all from students—in two weeks.

"We were doing the book as a read-aloud, and we knew we didn't have time for the reading plus discussion within the two-week time frame that we had," says Dale Newton, the teacher who created the Webboard at Twinfield Union School in Plainfield, Vermont. "It was my idea to have the disussion virtually, without the walls and time."

A Webboard, he explains, is an online, asynchronous threaded discussion board. It's a little more structured than a Weblog or a typical online forum. Twinfield's Weboard was managed by Dale, who set rules and monitored the entries. All students in grades 6-8 were invited to participate; they were organized by adult-led class groups on the site, which also featured several open discussion areas, an adults-only area for teachers, and an area for Q&A with the author.

In putting together a project like this, Dale says, "It's important to keep it organized. It's important to set the rules and parameters. Most important of all is to remember that this is a public place—and it still is school. It should be encouraging and challenging."

A clear advantage to discussing a subject like bullying and The Revealers through this medium was that students could respond on their own terms, and in their own time. Entries were often posted late at night. Students had the safety of using editing and spell-checking their thoughts before posting; they didn't have to worry about how they looked or were dressed.

"A lot of that stuff just melts, because it's private," says the teacher. "Our discussion was going 24/7, even during vacations, and any time day or night. We had special-needs kids who literally had never talked in school, who were talking to their classmates on this Webboard."

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