Sunday, March 29, 2015

March Post: Literature Circles

With the first big round of the testing season wrapped-up and spring break upon us, I am looking forward to a new unit that will take us through the end of the school year. It also means the return of literature circles. During the last two units, we have tackled whole class novels while diving into our independent choice books, but I miss the excitement of small groups of students getting lost in a good discussion about books. I am rethinking though the structure of literature circles this unit. There has always been a piece of me that feels that I need to help guide discussions for students to help them get to meat of their novels, and I still feel the need to give them support but maybe with less pre and post “work” attached to book club meetings. In previous units, students used an agenda to guide their discussions. This included sharing their summaries, vocab. words, visualization, and questions before ending the discussion with a written response to one question that came up for them. Their response needed direct text evidence to support their thinking. The students have always looked forward to the book club discussion, but it’s been missing the authentic factor.

When I think about grown-up book clubs, there’s always a little food and gossip, chatter about the gripping scenes or character and plenty of wine to go around. No written summaries or text evidence based responses needed. I’m afraid the latter will eventually crush their love for reading, and the love of reading is whole point! So, now I’m thinking that it’s time to mix it up.

In our next round of book clubs, I will encourage students to be on the lookout for questions or topics that would be interesting to talk about with a small-group. They can mark up the text with sticky notes or journal their discoveries. Then on the day of book club discussions, they can star on discussion point that is most compelling for them. Students will likely need a little support or modeling with slowing down the process of each person’s discussion point to see how deep they can take a topic and  going back into the story before moving on to a new discussion topic. Ultimately, I think the change will make a difference for their engagement and enjoyment of reading. We can dive into more skill-based work and writing when we practice shorter texts throughout the unit.

Refining with inquiry in mind, I also need to remember that there are naturally more questions than answers as students read and finish a book. This was the highlight of our book clubs early on this year when I catch a group of students in the hallways with their phones sharing photos and information they found the night before. At first I was ready to pounce on the no cell-phone rule, until I realized that they were sharing photos of what medi-talkers looked like and information on cerebral palsy. This was the same group of students reading Out of Mind in book club. It was one of those great teacher moments when I realized they were hooked and I loved it! If their inspired to research their curiosities outside of class, why not let that be part of the discussion time? Encouraging this type of questioning and inquiry is important during the reading process. Giving students time to research their wonderings and share their findings will definitely be a second layer of our book club meetings this go-around. The more natural and real I can make it, the better. Now the big question is…which books are going to spark the most interest and wonder? I’m always open to suggestions!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jessica,
    I enjoyed reading your post especially as I relate it to my own 5th grader and think about her reading as she enters middle school. Harper and I belong to mommy/daughter book club which we mothers have modeled much like an adult one i.e. time for food, play and chatter. There is however a bit more structure when the host child shares questions they have come up with to generate discussion. Of course, this leads to the other girls developing their own questions and points to share. Moms jump in at times to either share their thoughts or keep the discussion on topic demonstrating our girls still need guidance and focus as they read/share.

    This experience made me think about your classroom and your post. As a staff we talk a lot about "gradual release of responsibility". Based on your post, it seems your book clubs are a great example of this. Despite perhaps not feeling as authentic, book clubs early in the school year require more guidance as far as expectations and skills. Whereas towards the end of the year, because these things have been practiced, it is natural that you release responsibility to the students with the hope of gaining a more authentic experience. I agree with you that there should not be a confined structure at the cost of losing authenticity and that love for reading but I do think building the framework around expectations, skills and citing evidence is an important and necessary foundation to develop those deeper understandings.
    Great job!