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Booktalk DJs at LME gives students the chance to share and inspire love for reading

LME Principal Gabe Hackett films his part of Booktalk DJs with students Preston, Ashlyn, and Jayden posing in the background Exciting educational opportunities litter the landscape at each and every building across ISD 882, but there are few that get students fired up like the Booktalk DJs videos at Little Mountain Elementary.

Booktalk DJs, a joint production with Greenwood Elementary in Wayzata, is filmed every couple of weeks and uploaded to YouTube, before being shared school wide. It offers students the chance to share their favorite book with their classmates while taking on a DJ name and personality. The green screen in Little Mountain’s makeshift AV room adds a DJ background to the film, and tends to blow the students away.

During a recent filming with second-grader Preston (DJ PJ), fourth-grader Ashlyn (DJ Ash), and fifth-grader Jayden (DJ JJ), the students were transfixed by how the green screen behind them turned into a vibrant night club (sans people) on the screen in front of them.

The students get equally excited about donning the DJ headphones, creating a fake name, and, in the most recent video, performing a dramatic mic drop at the end of their bit.

But the substance of the production sustains it, and generates a ton of interest from the students too. The student body looks forward to tuning into the videos to find new book recommendations. Each of the students filming in early January said they’d found at least one book they loved through the Booktalk DJs videos. In at least one instance, a whole class at LME read a book after a student shared it with the school. And the students love the opportunity to share something they’re passionate or excited about.

“It’s really cool,” said Jayden. “You get to actually tell people what you’re reading and why you liked it.”

The idea for Booktalk DJs originated from a simple conversation between LME Principal Gabe Hackett and Greenwood Elementary Principal Dr. Brad Gustafson. The two were sitting together at the airport following a national principal convention when they came up with the idea.

Parts of the production are high-tech, while other aspects add more charm.

Mr. Hackett points around the studio, and notes one of the more impressive features.

“This is our very sophisticated tripod,” he says, noting the device holding the tablet that films the production. “We just can’t touch the table while recording, or otherwise the tripod shakes.”

Ashlyn gives her principal a look, before smiling and injecting a dose of reality.

“That’s because it’s a box,” she says.

Indeed, it is a cardboard box standing on one end. One thing Mr. Hackett has learned is that it’s OK for parts of the production to be imperfect, and that kids don’t need all professional equipment. All they need is a space to be creative, have fun, and shape their own learning experience.

“I used to try to control what was going to happen, now I’ve learned that it’s so much better when I just give the kids [a framework],” said Hackett. “What they come up with is way better than anything that would come out of my mind.”

The LME Principal noted that the collaborative aspect of the project has been another highlight.

“One of the best things about our Booktalk DJs podcast collaboration with Greenwood is that it allows our students to see and interact with students from outside Monticello,” said Hackett. “Giving our students from both schools the opportunity to use technology while sharing their love of literacy has truly amplified our love and excitement for reading. Best of all, we're having an absolute blast!”

The students don’t lose track of the important stuff, either. Earlier this month, Mr. Hackett was explaining the process of getting the video uploaded to YouTube, when DJ PJ chimes in.

“How many hits are we going to have?” he asks.

No one knows the for sure answer, but they know this at LME - if each podcast inspires just a couple of students to pick up a new book, it will be well worth it.

Watch the latest production of Booktalk DJs here: Booktalk DJs Episode Nine