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Category Archives: Readers Workshop

The Upside Down of SparkNotes

My ninth period class sometimes feels like the Upside Down, you know, the terrifying parallel universe kids get sucked into in the Netflix series Stranger Things. They seem to keepcalm_shutupfunction in perpetual chaos. Every day I whack-a-mole them into their current book, notebook work, mentor text, draft, or just away from their phones.

In another teaching universe, I might anticipate 9th period with fear and loathing. But I don’t. Despite the daily ruckus, there is no malice in their behavior. In the universe of RWW, we can muddle through these chaotic moments together, (mostly) with humor and (mostly) without the rank-pulling that commands student compliance. And sometimes, these moments even provide a portal to the universe of important conversations.

This class has a number of self-proclaimed non-readers. Luke considers reading a “hobby” that some people enjoy and others don’t (and shouldn’t have to do). Lani regularly describes herself as “not much of a reader.” Miles’s stance is more ambivalent. He wants to know stuff, but sees reading as inefficient for doing so. I ask, “What ruined reading for you?” He answers without hesitation: “SparkNotes.” He elaborates, “It’s just a faster way to get the information.” Classmates nod their heads in agreement.

INFORMATION?!? I recoil.

By “information,” they mean what they will be held accountable, by quiz or discussion. When I remind them that we don’t do that in RWW, they explain — gently, mercifully — that now it’s just a habit. They look genuinely sorry for me, as if they just told me there is no Santa Claus. Or that SparkNotes is Santa Claus. Which maybe it is: the Santa Claus of the Upside Down, that parallel universe where reading resides for many of our students.

In their practice-revolutionizing book Disrupting ThinkingKylene Beers and Robert Probst distinguish between “aesthetic” and “efferent” reading. The former is about how a text affects our thoughts and emotions and the latter about the information we can extract from it. In classrooms where the efferent is favored over the aesthetic, SparkNotes is a useful substitute. Miles and his classmates have learned to reside here, to the extent that efferent reading is their natural stance in their English classrooms.

Beers and Probst do not discount efferent reading out of hand. It certainly has its place when information or efficiency is the goal. SparkNotes is a means to this kind of extrinsic end that drives so much of how we measure “success.” Can we blame our students for using a resource to reach that end more efficiently?

Aesthetic reading doesn’t lend itself to extrinsic reward, making it incompatible as a means to the end of racking up points toward the reward of an A. But here is the very reason why we must stand by its importance: the aesthetic stance is what invites the emotion and empathy that brings qualitative value to students’ reading experience, that honors the power and the beauty of the written word, that opens a window into the lives of others. And, which encourages the “compassionate thinking” that Beers and Probst define as so critical to our students’ reading lives.

My 10th-grade RWW students were given the option of book circles. In planning for rolling out their choices, I tried constructing elaborate lessons to reveal the beauty of a text so that students would have to admit to its aesthetic power. What I should have realized sooner is that a lesson like this was beside the point.

SparkNotes_F451_screenshotThat day, the SparkNotes summary of the first chapter of Fahrenheit 451° (one book circle choice) was their writing prompt. There was some confusion: Were they supposed to write about whether they were going to choose that book? Or to predict what the book might be about? This prompt is like any other daily writing, I told them. Just write what it brings to mind.

I’m not creative enough to make a lesson into a mystery. When students finished writing to this (rather uninspiring) prompt, I told them straight up: Now, here’s the source text for this SparkNotes summary. Please, just listen.

And I read aloud the beginning of Fahrenheit 451°. 

It was a pleasure to burn. 

By the time I reached the description of Guy Montag as a “conductor” of the symphony of flames that silenced the voices of the books he burns, there was also silence in the room. More students than I expected opted for the book circle, reading Fahrenheit 451°. I don’t know whether these choices resulted from an aesthetic reading of the book’s opening, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

Kathleen Maguire teaches Sophomore English, Senior Advanced Writing, and AP Language & Composition in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago. When she’s not grading papers or reading books to recommend to students, she tries to keep up with her yoga and her 10-year-old son, Jude (not in that order). She tweets at @maguireteach.

 

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Creating Conversations That Move

In my work as a literacy coach, I have the privilege of working with teachers as they implement elements of reading and writing workshop into their classrooms. Right now I’m working with a team of 7th grade ELA teachers in book clubs centered around social issues.

You know that feeling you have when you unleash your students into the world of small group discussions? You’re excited because you know they’re smart and they’ve actually been reading the book. But you’re nervous because, well, they’re kids. And you’re not in control and that’s always a little nerve-wracking.

That’s how we felt on the first day of book club discussions last week. Students were engaged in their book club texts, reading with vigor. As a class, they had discussed the ways how books can be windows, mirrors and doors. Students had learned about point of view and perspective. On this day, they were to talk in small groups about what they’d read so far.

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We provided students with a stack of questions from the Table Topics cards I learned about in a tweet from Tricia Ebarvia and we stepped back to watch the magic. Soon we noticed that, well, there wasn’t a lot of magic.

To be fair, it was magic-ish. Students were eager to share. With some nudging from teachers, students used the vocabulary from the perspective mini-lesson. But these normally talkative kids just didn’t have much to say beyond “I really like this” or “It’s interesting.” Before we resorted back to teacher-driven “discussion,” we took a deep breath and went back to our roots, to the core of what we know works in a workshop classroom: Choice. Time. Explicit teaching.

We were on the right track: Students made choices about the texts they were reading. We had carved out time for their reading to “float on a sea of talk” (Britton, 1983) . But, we’d forgotten about the teaching! Sometimes we teachers get so busy setting up the conditions for success, we forget the key to it.Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.31.07 AM

Armed with this realization, we developed a plan. We needed to explicitly teach students the art of conversation. So this week when we get back (after snow days and sick days!), we’re going to try a new approach.

Models: We know that when students are learning something new, they need a model to begin to envision how success might look. We are going to watch a video of 4th grade students having a book club discussion. Together we’ll create an anchor chart in our reading notebooks titled What We Notice About Good Book Club Discussions. I know, though, that having this list of traits isn’t going to be enough for the thinking to transfer to action.

Naming the Moves: We know from Katie Wood Ray that naming things gives them power and makes the moves accessible. So as students think about the kinds of moves they notice the students from the video making, we will go back and name them. Inspired by the moves Joseph Harris outlines in his book Rewriting: How to Do Things With Text, we decided we want students to be able to:

  • Agree & Explain
  • Connect & Explain
  • Counter & Explain
  • Ask Clarifying Questions

The first three are moves we’d like to introduce in the next writing unit when we focus on using evidence in their own writing (modeled after the super smart work happening in the National Writing Project C3 Writers Program). We decided to bring these moves into the discussions as a way to front-load. As students discuss what they notice, we’ll be intentional about using this language to name those noticings. 

Nurturing: We know that as students first try out these moves, they’ll need support. We don’t want to develop an over-reliance on thinking stems, but we want to help bridge theory into action. We will invite students to paste the sentence stems handout into their Writer’s Notebooks and to keep it handy as they talk. We are reminded that when you first learn something, it’s okay to feel a little clumsy, but the only way to get better is to keep practicing.

I’m excited to spend time talking with students tomorrow, to dig into texts, and to teach them how to uncover their thinking.

Angela Faulhaber works as a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH, area. She loves connecting with other educators, including on Twitter @angelafaulhaber. Her perfect day includes snuggling with her three kids, talking about school with her math teacher husband, and eating nachos with her girlfriends. 

 

 

Who Else Have I Been Failing?

Among the countless ideas borrowed from the inimitable Penny Kittle are quarterly reading reflections (although by the time I got around to it with my sophomores, they wrote quarter(ish) reading reflections). I offered students a collection of reflective questions, generated from Penny’s work:

  • What has worked well for you so far in your independent reading?
  • What was challenging for you?
  • What might be helpful to overcome those challenges?
  • What reading goals will you set for next quarter/semester?

I love this work for the way it asks students to focus on themselves as readers, not just as students earning a grade. It also informs my plans, especially for students who are still meandering through workshop: fake readers and serial abandoners and the like. Much of what I found was unsurprising:

Students can be hard on themselves …

At home I read fairly inconsistently and met the goal of 2 hours a week infrequently. Looking back at this that is pretty pathetic; I did the math and figured out that reading that reasonable amount every week for me is the same as if I were to read just one minute for every waking hour.   — Robert P.

… and on their authors.

I have to say that Big Little Man was the most challenging because its story was quite confusing to me  … I had to piece events in order and figure out if it was a flashback or not. This confusing puzzle kept me up nights. I understand that he is adapting to the American life as a Filipino Man, but please explain it in order from Day 1.   — Dylan L.

Learning happened …

Even though I read only 2 books this quarter I feel that my habits are disappearing and that I’m becoming a better reader with each book. I feel that I am reading a lot faster and not stumbling on lines as much as I did all my life.  — Jacob V.

… and choice is emphatically good …

I’M NOT READING THE BOOK BECAUSE I HAVE TO. I’M READING THE BOOK BECAUSE I ENJOY IT AND WANT TO. [emphasis NOT added]        — Maluboo D.

… except when it’s not. 

Because I no longer have a criteria for choosing books, I no longer feel the desire to choose a book.   — Darielle W.

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Growing up in Delaware, Darielle had always chosen books by authors of color, “not because of their past, but because of their color, sadly. Although my past relates a lot more to an author of Caucasian, and privileged descent.” When she moved to Chicago seven years ago, her experience — and her understanding of her own identity — became more complicated. Reading books by African American authors became a way for her to “learn to be more like the people who looked like me … to appear more black, to fit in with them so that I could rid myself of the title ‘the whitest black girl I know.’ To understand how I am really seen by others.” Darielle’s book choices became even more fraught when she developed a relationship with a white boy.

I began to feel as if I was no longer black enough to read about these things. I’d suddenly felt guilty and unworthy of reading anything that had to do with the African American experience … which is very unfortunate because [these] books are all I’ve read or wanted to read since I moved here 7 years ago.

For all her reading life, Darielle had been trying to find a mirror. Amy Rasmussen deconstructs this reading metaphor in this post. Don’t we all search for mirrors in books, especially as young readers? What we read is about who we are. What others observe us reading tells them about who we are.

I thought about my past conversations with Darielle and realized how I had been failing her. Every time I asked her if she was still reading How It Went Down. Every time I asked her why it was hard for her to remember to bring her independent reading to class. Every time I playfully called her “the book sampler.”

Who else have I been failing? What is really behind the avoidance behavior of my other “fake readers” and “serial abandoners”? The answer, I see now, is far more complicated than finding the right book for them. The answer is about who they are, how they see themselves, and how they fear others will see them. 

In our RWW classrooms, students “get to” choose what they read. Shana examines the complexity of choice in this post. For some (read: many?) students, this freedom is heavy. What we choose to read sends a message about who we (think we) are. And what we choose not to read, or what we cannot decide to read, sends another message loud and clear. And now I’m listening. 

 

Kathleen Maguire teaches Sophomore English, Senior Advanced Writing, and AP Language & Composition in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago. When she’s not grading papers or reading books to recommend to students, she tries to keep up with her yoga and her 10-year-old son, Jude (not in that order). She tweets at @maguireteach.

Promoting Community in the Workshop Classroom–and Out!

IMG_6878-COLLAGEThere were about two weeks of school when we came back that I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  It seemed like I had WAY too much time on my hands, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was just forgetting about responsibilities, and therefore shirking them in some way, or if I actually was managing my time better.

(Scoffs) Of course, it wasn’t the latter.  I simply FORGOT that I was in grad school.  This past week, as grad school classes started up again, I thought, “Ohhhh yeahhhh, that’s what was missing.”

I have questioned my life choices many times throughout this graduate student plus full-time (and then some) teacher season.  However, it is increasingly amazing to me the fact that teaching is more a study in behavioral psychology than it really is in any content.  The questions we ask ourselves are never just, What should I teach next?  Rather, they are loaded questions like, What can I teach next that will engage students, help them reach their potential, and provide a learning experience that will last beyond my classroom?

For this reason, my current class–focusing on social and emotional components of learning–is rocking my world.  The ore I read, the more I realize that it is my job not only to encourage healthy social and emotional characteristics in individual students, but also with each other.

So as my students are gain their reading strides this year, I’m pushing them to talk to each other about it more than ever before.  Here are some way I’m promoting community in my classroom, even among different class periods.

The Reader Hall of Fame:  This was my colleague’s idea, so I cannot take credit at all.  She started taking pictures of her students with their first finished book, and then she adds a small strip of paper with each new title they finish.  It looks AWESOME, and it really allows a constant brag-on-the-students feel to the classroom.  Students love coming in and seeing the new developments of their friends, the titles they’re reading, and the PAGE COUNT.  Yes.  They compare page counts like nobody’s business.

Book Clubs: This semester I am doing my first round of book clubs with my AP group.  Last semester, the students begged for book clubs.  They wanted to be able to read with their friends, which I think is a totally worthy desire that I do not mind milking for all it’s worth.  My goal is to come up with discussion questions along with the students that will promote discussion about life and the world, as well as education (our thematic topic for this unit).

Whole Class Reading Challenge:  Daniel Pink is haunting me in my sleep for this one–re: extrinsic motivation is not sustainable.  I know. However, when it comes to high school seniors, you sometimes have to pull out all the stops.  I follow Brian Kelley on Twitter (@briank) and he so graciously shared this reading challenge bingo with me.  I told my seniors each time they complete seven squares as a class–each square completed by a new student–they could bring to class.  When we complete three cycles, they can have a movie day.  I’m a sucker.  Feel free to troll me on Twitter.

Red Thread Notebooks, Technology Style:  This semester, my colleague and I are trying to get our seniors communicating across class periods, and even between our two classes.  In order to do this, we are going to take Shana’s Red Thread Notebooks, and take them to FlipGrid and possible Canvas discussion boards.  I hope to have different boards for big topics like LOVE, DEATH, FAITH, FREEDOM, on FlipGrid and allow time in class for students to respond to those boards and each other, referencing their current reading.

#bookstagram:  I love this hashtag on Instagram, and it provides a great way to connect to students in their own world.  I want to show a few photos from the hashtag to students in support of my book talks, and then offer an opportunity for students to #bookstagram their own book, or search the hashtag for their next read.

“Why I Read” Wall:  I’m a sentimental freak when it comes to second semester seniors.  They roll their eyes constantly as I say, “Do you REMEMBER when you said you would never read?!  Look at you now!”  Last week, tears streamed down my face–single ones, thank you–as I told them I believed in them and I’m so glad they’re here.  Beyond the sentimentality simply being my personality, it is also a teaching tactic that requires teenagers to reflect.  This is a skill I never thought would be so difficult to teach, but it is!  I want students to think of reasons why they read, and create a little notecard to hang in the hallway.  We could even steal their pictures from the Reader Hall of Fame and put them out there.  This would provide an amazing message for all the students who come into my classroom’s corner of the world that reading is more than just assignment.

And that’s the dream right there, folks.

So how do you promote community across classrooms through reading?


Jessica Paxson teaches English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX.  She runs on coffee and exaggeration, a deadly combination at 7 in the morning. Her students frequently describe her as “an annoyingly cheerful person who thinks all her students can change the world.”  Yep, pretty much. 

Creating a Culture: the workshop journey begins

“Mrs. Turner, I’m mad at you…”

This was the voice that greeted me the other morning before the first bell to begin school had even rung. I was surprised. Garrett is one of our seniors–a kid who I had taught for two years and who often called me Mom (and sometimes Dad, just to be funny). We are close, and I didn’t know why he’d be mad.

“I finished that book and now I don’t have anything to read and I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Winger and I’m mad at you.”

Ah…now I get it. You see, this young man was an avowed non-reader three years ago. He was almost proud of it–he wore it like a badge. Garrett was not alone. My classroom seemed to be filled with young men and young women who had lots of “better” things to do than to pick up a book. Many (almost proudly) said that they hadn’t read a book since they stopped AR testing in elementary school. Frustrated with lower reading scores than I thought appropriate and encouraged by industry greats like Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, I was determined to change my kids into readers, one kid at a time.

I set out to fill my classroom with books. I bought used books, I bought books from Goodwill, I took donations from friends and family members–there were books everywhere!

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Then I took a bigger leap and decided to give up 12 minutes of my instructional time every day. We’re in 53 min classes 4 days a week with 39 minute classes on Fridays–251 min of instructional time; 12 minutes a day 5 days a week is roughly 20% of my instructional time. I believed the literature, though, and, more than that, I believed in the power of books. I’ve been a lifelong avid reader, and as the kid who took a book everywhere (and always had a spare book in the car), I’ve always used books as an escape but also as a way to help me work through whatever issue I was facing.

So back to my grand experiment. Through trial and error, lots of book talks, and lots of reading conferences, we started to see a change. All of a sudden (though actually after quite a lot of intentional hard work), I had 90% of my students reading and excited about it. There were several days a week when even my toughest audience would request more time to read. Garrett, for example, tore through Gym Candy by Carl Deucker, then Runner, then Payback Time, then Swagger. Swagger had the biggest impact, I think. Now it wasn’t just about the sports narrative–he was getting to something with meat and weight. He was also getting a little obsessed with Carl Deucker. After some encouragement and more than a little coercion, he tried Kevin Waltman’s High School Hoops series–Next, Pull, Slump, and Quick. It was somewhere in the middle of Slump when he admitted that maybe he didn’t just like to read Carl Deucker books–maybe he actually liked to read. (For ideas about using great sports writing as a hook for your students, click over to Shana’s mini-lesson.)

Now Garrett’s a senior, and he’s in my room about once every two weeks looking for something new to read. He’s not alone, either. It seems that there’s a constant stream of kids in and out of my room looking for a new book. I get comments in the hall about something new that someone is reading, or a former student stops me at lunch to recommend the book that he just finished. Another student might stop by in tutorials to ask if I’ve read anything about a particular topic that she’s struggling with. I’m not alone, either. My other colleagues in the English department are experimenting with different ways to institute independent reading time in their classes. It doesn’t look the same in any of our classes, but the bottom line is that our kids are getting time to read, and in that time, they’re getting time to think. It’s moving into other departments as well–one of the History teachers is toying with the idea of incorporating some reading time into his class as well. The funny thing is that we’re starting to see results on test scores, too. The Reading component average for ACT scores at my school is slowly moving up–progress! We are creating a community of readers at my school, and, in the process, creating a community of thinkers.

If you are looking for some books that are sure to jump-start even the most reluctant reader, check out this post from Jackie! Charles Moore also has a great list of books and an inspiring story of his own journey here.


Do you have a story of a reading workshop success? I’d love to hear it! I’m also always looking for books that grab your most reluctant readers so that I can be ready with ammunition!

Sinead Turner has been trying to find a balance between reading ALL of the books and reading/grading essays–reading is just more fun! She teaches English 11 and AP English Language & Composition in Alabama at a small Catholic school and has three beautiful girls, a saint of a husband, and a menagerie of animals. She’s also sticking her toe into the proverbial Twitter water at @SineadWTurner.

3 Ways to Utilize Audio and Visual Recording with our Readers and Writers

There is much debate regarding the use of digital technology in the classroom. For teachers, cell phones and other technology are both frustrating helpful when it comes to student use. They have the potential to be distracting and disruptive, as we all know, but tech is useful when it comes to some classroom activities, such as keeping a next reads list, or looking up word gaps. I love the idea of using them for the powers of good, so recently, I tried asking my students to use their mobile phones just for the purpose of recording, and to try to ignore the notifications that might come across as they used them.

I’m always looking for new strategies to help the readers and writers in my classroom, and in the past few weeks I’ve tried a couple of different applications. Using cell phones and iPads is simple, and it meets one of the simple rules I am trying to follow when it comes to working with students: meet them where they are.

Recently, while my grade nine students were in the thick of drafting informational essays, I asked them to read their essays aloud, and listen to the flow, the choppiness, the parts that sound great, and the parts that “just don’t sound right.” While I’ve asked students to read their own work aloud before, this time I asked them to record themselves, and then after, to listen to their voices while reading, keeping a pencil in their hands, pausing the audio and editing and revising as they go.

My students were reluctant at first, but once they got over the initial awkwardness of listening to their own voices, they indicated that it was a simple and useful strategy for revision. It’s one that can be used in other classes, and doesn’t require any other tools or even other people for help.

Another strategy we employed using recording technology was focused on the use of video recording. Before my students had started writing informational essays, we studied informational texts, using the Nonfiction Notice and Note signposts, along with the Book Head Heart strategy found in the works of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

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When students learn reading strategies and skills, it’s important to be able to see just where they are in the learning process, but it takes time to thoroughly check in with each and every one of them. So with this unit, our ninth grade English teacher team decided that it would be great if students could demonstrate their learning through a think-aloud. Doing this in class would take a lot of one-on-one time, so we asked students to demonstrate their thinking and reading skills on their own, and to use the video recording capabilities on their iPads and cell phones.

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A screen shot from a video-think-aloud

Because we, as teachers, had modeled the think-aloud strategy in our classes many times, students knew exactly what we meant, and were able to demonstrate their understanding of the strategies and skills necessary when reading magazine articles. They annotated, exposed their initial confusion, shared their process of finding understanding, and demonstrated a multi-draft reading of the articles they had chosen. It was a successful method of assessment, and I plan to utilize it again. Students had a chance to showcase their thinking and understanding, and it wasn’t a one-off opportunity. They had the chance to try multiple takes with their recordings, so the pressure was off and they could easily share their thinking.

Our most current rationale for the utilization of video in class is with our new short novel unit, in which we formed book clubs. We are squeezing in a shared text at the beginning of second semester with Of Mice and Men. While all of my students are reading the same text, they are split up into groups of three and four so they can form their book clubs. One of the summative assessments with this unit is a small group discussion that they will record. They will need to demonstrate some academic, sustained, literary discussion in their videos, and are practicing in class, leading up to the recorded discussion. I’ll be able to have five small-group discussions going on at the same time in my class, which means precious class time isn’t frittered away with transition times between discussions, for example. Students will be thinking, reading, and discussing, and I’ll be able to watch the video later, when the pressure is off, and I can truly assess the conversation. I’ll try to remove the guess-work because I can slow down the speaking and listening assessment portion of it all.

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One student has heavily annotated in preparation for the recorded small group discussion.

These are just a few ways to allow students to use the simple technology that is available to them. Kids know how to make movies and to splice audio, so there is little need to instruct regarding the technical details. They can use the audio and video to showcase their skills.

It’s also a timesaver as far as the classroom goes, and it takes some of the stress off of students who have test anxiety or who struggle when it comes to on-demand assessments.

While it’s not a student-recording, I will share one last recent use of video in class. I played the video in this NPR article about a murmuration of starlings as an inspiration for a quick write this week. I played it without sound, and hit replay several times. My students were fascinated and wrote some fun responses. One was even moved to write music: img_5972.jpg

I love how my students are constantly surprising and impressing me. They are unexpected and wonderful.

I’d love to hear more about how teachers and students are using laptops and cell phones for the power of good in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/

What’s the right way to book club?

I belong to a lot of book clubs.  Probably too many, if I’m being perfectly honest.  This book club habit, though, allows me view a range of activities that can be considered “book club” and has opened up the way I teach book clubs in my classroom.

Book clubs are valuable experiences in and of themselves and there is no one right way to “book club.”   Book clubs enrich the lives of readers and allow students to see a thought about a book go somewhere new with a friend.

We’ve all had those moments where we think, “Sure, I could run this unit as a book club, but how do I know the students are really reading?”  As much as it pains me to write … we know the students aren’t reading regularly and consistently anyway.  Penny Kittle’s Book Love gives a detailed account of the various deceptions and misdirections that high school students regularly go through when they “fake read” assigned classics for English class.  The concern is most certainly worth raising, but we also shouldn’t assume we already have a perfect solution.

And book clubs are not a perfect solution, either.  They are messy, they take time, and sometimes the teaching we do in a book club unit is more the teaching of life and human relationships than of actual content and reading strategies.  But to hear students arguing the role of fate in one’s life?  To see a gaggle of girls attempt to stymie me with a version of The Trolley Problem that they developed based on a book club conversation?  To see students become obsessed with the Berlin Wall because of a book club?  To listen in on how students work out interpersonal conflicts when they think an adult isn’t listening?

I’m telling you, it’s all worth it.

While there are no right ways to book club, here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Give generous choice in partner selection.  I maintain final say over groups, but I encourage students to indicate the classmates they want to work with on a survey.  A colleague encouraged me to add a space for students to include a student that they haven’t worked with yet but would like to work with in order to encourage students to branch away from just indicating friends.  If students look forward to talking to their conversation partners, I find they are more likely to read and more likely to have better conversations about the book.
  • Steer students towards books they might not otherwise pick up.  One of the hidden beauties of book clubs is that I can steer groups towards books they might not otherwise pick up.  Groups of students are more likely to branch out of genre or try an author they hadn’t heard of before if they have a group to do it with.  I use this opportunity to introduce racially diverse authors and authors whose works are set in other countries.  It delights me to overhear students discuss the role of Choctaw culture in the magical realist tale How I Became a Ghost or mull over the levels of privilege in Piecing Me Together.
  • Provide activities to get conversation going and flowing.  One of my favorite activities from this past unit was having each student write down five significant events from the story, one event on each index card.  Then, in book club groups, students sorted their cards into piles and labeled their piles.  If you look at this picture, you’ll see that some of the piles from this student group are about setting (“orphanage”), others are about themes (“bravery,” “hope,” and “family”) and another is an observation about craft. This activity allows students to notice their noticings and realize they are not alone in their thoughts.
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Once by Morris Gleitzman is the first of an incredible series. Bonus to a book club choice!

If your school has a traditional canon-based curriculum in place, there are areas where I would see book clubs falling flat.  I would not assign Hamlet or Macbeth in book clubs.  (I might, however, think about assigning excerpts to small groups after some whole class teaching.)  I might instead start book clubs in a lower-stakes medium.  Maybe your book club reads poetry.  Maybe your club members are obsessed with the Dallas Cowboys and each member finds an article on the Cowboys to bring to the meeting.  Or maybe your book club loves superhero comics, and you read the new Superman comics together.

Wherever you are and whatever grade you teach, I encourage you to give book clubs a go.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite book club rules and routines? Or what are your book club roadblocks?

 

Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher in New York and is a halfway decent trivia team member.  She collects her book and graphic novel reviews at teachingtransition.wordpress.com

 

 

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