Students in Jessie Green’s class at George Washington School have a new resource as part of their literacy work. Peruse their classroom bookshelf, and you’ll find several books with a QR code inside. When scanned, the code brings the reader to a YouTube video of the book being read. Students can then follow along to improve their reading skills.

Patrick Gaffney, a senior in Heather Silvernail’s Questar III class at the Rensselaer City School District, took on the project to accrue required community service hours for his government class. His original idea was to volunteer at a local animal shelter, but when that didn’t pan out, he began looking for other ideas. Silvernail says Gaffney seemed interested in helping those who need it, considering his past volunteer work and attitude and caring nature in the classroom.

Students at GW talk with Patrick over a Google Hangout

Gaffney has so far recorded seven books for Green’s students – work that he wasn’t sure he’d continue after reaching the 10 hours required for the class. After meeting Green’s class through a Google Hangout March 31 however, he plans to continue recording books to share with the students as much as he is able.

“Being an introvert, this project was socially difficult for me, as children are a very difficult audience to appease. I know this because as an elementary schooler, I was incredibly picky and specific about what I enjoyed,” Gaffney says.

He admits the project was difficult work, but says he is grateful for the opportunity to do something for others. He hopes that while his work might entertain a class, students watching the videos will learn something too.

“There are children with dyslexia or other reading disabilities that prefer to have stories read to them, and this is a convenient way for them to learn new words.”

During the video chat, Green’s students introduced themselves and told Gaffney a little about them. He told them his favorite book to record was “The Book with No Pictures” by BJ Novak. Gaffney thought giving kids a book with no pictures could be intimidating for such young readers, so he illustrated the first few pages of the book to give the students something to visualize as he eased them away from pictures on every page. While all the students had different favorite books, they all agreed they loved Gaffney’s illustrations.

Going beyond simply recording a few videos required collaboration between classrooms, teachers, and administrators across (and outside) Questar III. Beginning with an assignment for a Rensselaer City mainstream class, Silvernail and Gaffney worked with Green, GWS Principal Chris Martel, and literacy specialist Courtney Galuski to bring the experience full circle both for Gaffney and his audience.

A bonus for Gaffney was when he was recognized by Martel, his former principal for all his hard work to bring this project to George Washington.

“This was a really well-supported project from the top down. The best part is that students have access to resources not confined by classroom walls,” Silvernail says.

“I like to entertain people. It’s an excellent way to make connections and improve one’s social life,” says Gaffney.


Watch Patrick’s reading of “The Book With No Pictures” below:

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