Pernille Ripp needed a change.
The West Middleton Elementary School teacher was unhappy with her teaching methods, felt she wasn’t doing her students justice and had no idea how she was going to fix it.
Then, one summer night in 2010, Ripp and her husband, Brandon, were driving down a road in Lodi listening to author Neil Gaiman speak about his One Book, One Twitter project in which people read the same book and discuss it on Twitter using the same hashtag.
“I looked at my husband and said that would be so cool to do with kids,” Ripp said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, you should do that.’”
And so she created the Global Read Aloud Program that now has 132,000 students globally and revitalized her love for teaching.
For six weeks, starting Sept. 30 and ending Nov. 8, participating classrooms across the world read a book, different for each grade grouping, aloud. For each week’s designated chapters the classroom completes a project it shares with their partner classrooms from around the world across multiple platforms including Twitter, Wiki and individual blogs.
Last week a first-grade classroom in Dublin, Ohio, for example, used Post-it notes as mock tweets to share their thoughts on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. The teacher then shared those thoughts on Twitter with a hashtag recognizable by other classrooms participating in the program.
Ripp chooses the books, but the projects are chosen by the students and have ranged from animated slideshows, videos and songs to anti-bullying campaigns.
If technology is not easily accessible, Ripp says some classes have even been snail-mail pen pals.
The program, with the slogan “One book to connect the world,” started to take form when she wrote a blog post about her idea after the conversation in the vehicle.
She tweeted her blog link, expecting maybe one classroom to join, but had an immediate response from educators saying they wanted to participate.
So Ripp created a shared online document on which people could sign up, and shortly after that 300 students on three continents were connected over “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Since 2010, the program has spread to 132,000 students on six of the seven continents and earned Ripp a nomination as Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Bammy! Awards, a national organization that honors educators and administrators.
Ripp, who did not expect the program to reach farther than her classroom walls, has been surprised by the program in every way.
“I’m just blown away that all of these people are putting their trust in some crazy idea we had in driving down the road one summer night,” Ripp said. “I think it shows the passion of educators that they see something of value in this.”
Ripp said the program creates 21st century learners and global citizens. She said it allows students to see that while the world is vast and filled with different people and experiences, many have the same questions and ideas as one another.
Allison Thomley, 10, said Global Read Aloud allows her to discuss the book with people she normally would not and that “it’s interesting to see what people think” outside of her class.
Her classmate Charles Wood, 10, agrees and pinches his thumb and index finger together, raises it up to his eyes and says with pride that they read aloud with a classroom on a “little tiny island in the middle of the ocean” that he didn’t know existed.
The program continued to grow in 2012 when students were reading “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate. Applegate reached out through Twitter to Ripp to see if she could be involved.
Ripp realized she needed to expand the program in another direction — students were connecting with other students, but now they could talk to the authors.
Geoff Herbach, author of “Stupid Fast,” a book being read by middle school and high school students, sees strong educational value in the global program, such as an increased interest in reading, expanded vocabulary and geography and ability to teach life lessons.