“Booktalk” is a phrase coined in 1985 by award-winning children’s author Aidan Chambers and identifies the concept of ”talking about reading” with reader-response contexts, or interacting with text. Nancy Keane, on her award winning website, explains several associated activities that help to expand a reader’s interest in what they read.
In 2002, Sheila English, owner and founder of Circle of Seven Productions, coined and trademarked the term book trailer. Her concept was to produce these 30 second to two minute videos to help book publishers market their books. She has since grown that brand to become the number one book trailer production company in the world.
In the fall of 2002, Dr. Robert Kenny (Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Leadership, Technology & Research at Florida Gulf Coast University), in collaboration with Ms. Ginger Klega, media specialist in Orange County School District, conceived of using video book trailers to help students visiting her media center to select books from their school’s reading lists. The term digital booktalk was coined at that time. Their idea was to produce these same short videos of the books to introduce books to reluctant and striving readers.
The members of the original design team for the legacy version of the digital booktalk (DBT) site were graduate students enrolled in spring and summer 2003 graduate courses taught by Dr. Kenny and Mr. Phil Peters, Professor in the School of Visual Arts and Design at the University of Central Florida. The initial conceptual design was developed in Prof. Peter’s graduate Media Design class and the site first went online in April of that year. These efforts were followed up during the summer and fall terms in Media Production classes taught by Dr. Kenny, after which the second iteration of the site was published. The site has since undergone many improvements. The current version represents the fourth iteration and is continually undergoing upgrades and content revisions.
The original target audience for DBT was students in the middle grades –what was believed to be a critical developmental area in need of outreach. In 2004, while gathering research to evaluate the efficacy of the idea of using DBT to help students make good reading choices, Dr. Kenny and his research partner, Dr. Glenda Gunter, (Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Educational Technology and e-Learning Certificate Programs at the University of Central Florida) discovered that the concept was very effective in reaching out to even the most reluctant of readers. The two trademarked the term “digital booktalk” and have since extensively researched and developed a vast array of supplementary instructional curricula to teach students in all grade levels and on all reading levels the basics of digital narratives.
The production curriculum of DBT focus uses instructional and digital design skills taught in the undergraduate Digital Media and graduate Educational Technology curricula. These skills include a blending of research and writing, instructional design with animation, visual storytelling, video recording and editing, audio recording, graphic design, web site development, programming, and database creation.
During our first significant site re-design production (version 3) in the spring of 2005, we were able to begin a relationship with MetaMetrics, Inc. to utilize their extensive shareware Lexile Framework Reading Database technology to retrieve updated information on the books featured on the web site. Our academic partnership was a match made in heaven as lexile.com aims to match readers with books by accurately determining their reading level. Digital Booktalk shares the same goal, but accomplishes it through video book trailers and other accessible, interactive digital dynamic media found on this site.
The current iteration of the site is version 4. This was conceived in 2013 to integrate the latest technologies and freshen the look and feel of the site. We have since added new lesson plans and contextualizers in our UB the Director section. New trailers are added each semester at the completion of video production courses at UCF and FGCU.
Many conceptualizations of video book trailers have evolved over the years. In the business world, they are conceived of as commercials for books created by book publishers or those hired by book publicists and authors to sell their books. Others are conceived of as digital ‘book reports’ that tell about a book using animations and other production techniques. While these trailers may serve well their commercial purpose, they often do not always accomplish the educational goal of creating avid readers. Our conceptualization has evolved but has remained grounded in the belief that using these pre-visualizations not only help children select books to read but also (and more importantly) creates a whole new set of book ‘completers’. Our research has demonstrated that the evolving curriculum surrounding having student create their own trailers (UB the Director) has significantly contributed to increased reading scores by those on the most basic reading levels.
Commercial conceptualizations of video book trailers are valid and have their place as they serve a valid and specific function: to sell specific books. But it is not what we envisioned ten years ago when we invented the concept and coined the term Digital Booktalk. Our vision of book trailers has always been to create opportunities for students to re-enact the main story line of books they read, using live video clips, pictures, music, voice-overs and other digital tools. The original intent was to provide a means for reluctant and striving readers who had trouble visualizing what they were being asked to read and help them make better choices with selecting books from reading lists. As opposed to a commercial book trailer produced to entice a viewer to purchase a specific book, we do not care which book a student selects, as long as he or she simply selects one, completes it, and then uses that positive experience to find another of like genre, author, style, etc. We hypothesize from our own experience and from the research we have conducted that those viewing the trailers before reading books are actually experiencing a visual boost (i.e., head start) of sorts. This pre-visualization helps these reluctant and striving readers get the gist of the book’s story line to supplement and enhance the reading experience.
Like any other popular medium, some have re-purposed the concept of digital booktalks for their own use. Some believe that digital booktalks are simply video recordings of someone reading passages from books or telling viewers what the book is about…. in other words…’talking about the book’ using digital media. While this is ok, it falls short of our original intent.Surely, any activity in which students create things adds to the learning experience. But we feel that the idea of re-enacting the plot line creates an experience not unlike the concept of Total Physical Response used in language learning.
The video book trailers posted on the main pages of this site remain consistent with our original goals. But because we have developed a user-centered community, other spin-off activities are sure to evolve. Those who become authors and editors of the Blogs will be able to create and post their extended discussion topics. We already have examples of these.
Digital Booktalk expands Chambers’ original literary booktalk model by providing children with interactive visuals of the books that they used to only read. Many children are reluctant to read and would rather watch a movie made from books. It is our belief that you can use that reality as an educational advantage. Drs. Kenny and Gunter hypothesize that, if a student experiences a 2-minute book trailer done in the style of a motion picture, they will be better able to find a book that matches their interests, and will expand their reading to an ever-widening range. Furthermore, they believe that the book trailer production process is a fun and effective literacy pedagogy for today’s technologically advanced youth.
Here is an interview with Dr. Kenny that appeared recently on WGCU a local PBS affiliate. It runs about 30 minutes and contains commentary of several trailers
A more extensive description of their work can be found in the literature. Here is a short reference list of their journal research on this topic:
- Gunter, G. A. & Kenny, R. F. (2012). UB the Director: Utilizing digital book trailers to engage gifted and twice exceptional students. Gifted Education International, 28(1), 146-160.
- Kenny, R. (2011). Beyond the Gutenberg Parenthesis: Exploring new paradigms in media and learning. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 3(1), 32-47.
- Kenny, R. F. (2008). Digital narrative as change agent to teach reading to media-centric students. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(3), 187-195.
- Kenny, R. F. & Gunter, G. A. (2006). Enhancing literacy skills through digital narrative. The Journal of Media Literacy, 53(2), 40-45.
Say hello to the production team who designed this iteration of the site: