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Getting "Real" in Virtual Talk about Text


Middle School Journal Volume 40, Number 4, ISSN 0094-0771


For the middle school students in a Virtual Reading Group (VRG), it was easy to see their virtual discussion peers and their virtual teacher; all participants appeared simultaneously on a screen, with a separate box for each participating site. In this article, the authors offer an account of how the "realness" of virtual others was constructed by participants in a sixth grade text discussion group conducted via videoconference. They are not, of course, implying that students somehow thought on-screen others were imaginary. Their "realness" refers to another quality, developed to extend Nystrand and Gamoran's (1991) definition of substantive engagement: "a sustained personal commitment to understanding the world of a story or poem as well as literary or other issues raised by the work itself". However, they primarily consider engagement an intellectual endeavor, a relationship with content. They find this concept valuable for many reasons, but in their take on realness, they emphasize a different angle. The authors argue that seeing the other as real is characterized by a sustained individual commitment to establishing a personal and/or intellectual relationship with that other. This shifts the emphasis from the cleanly academic into a murkier social realm. Middle school students (like adults) may be more invested in securing response from certain people than from others. Of course, they are not trying to idealize the relationships children strive toward; these are often fraught with ambiguity or even hostility. A literature discussion group, thus, depends not just on how students respond to the text, but on how they come to see various others as real human beings with whom it is worth engaging. (Contains 1 figure.)


Aukerman, M. & Walsh, H.W. (2009). Getting "Real" in Virtual Talk about Text. Middle School Journal, 40(4), 53-61. Retrieved November 20, 2019 from .

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