I haven’t done Book Clubs (also called Literature Circles) with my intermediate students for a couple of years now for a variety of reasons (size of class, off-task chatting) but I decided to try them again, with a few changes. Glad I did.
Getting back into Book Clubs was a bit of a daunting task. I have several (many!) boys in my grade 8 class this year who boast about their hatred for reading and writing. Luckily I have a few good books up my sleeve for these tough nuts!
Similar to previous years, I used smaller pieces of work to model and practice making connections, determining emerging theme, inferring and asking evaluative questions. And similar to those boys that say they hate books, their written answers looked like carcasses after the feast. A few bones, nothing meaty.
It’s during the book club discussions where the rich conversations and evidence of understanding usually pour out of many students. I saw the same phenomenon recently, during an observation of a 12U english class where students had to write, then discuss, an issue. The girls wrote and wrote, while most of the guys sat back. When it came time to discuss the work, again, many of the boys said little until they were asked by the girls in the group to contribute and clarify their answers. Then their opinions poured out. With that in mind, I decided this year to take a colleague’s advice and sit in on each meeting rather than having all 6 or 7 going at once while I circulated. I didn’t want to miss any of these conversations which I would eventually be using as a reading assessment piece.
Books were chosen by the students, and groups were formed based on those choices. I set up a small table and chairs at the back of my classroom (yes, it’s crowded). During the week 1 meetings, I was part of the discussion, prompting them to share their written, point-form answers from the Book Club prompts and asking clarifying questions. Their voices low and shy, some of them clearly did not want their buddies overhearing their responses while the rest of the class worked quietly on an independent assignment. And yes, that part took time to establish as well. But by week 2, after each student had been through one cycle of book club meetings, they realized the importance of keeping the room quiet so they could hear each other.
As we moved through weeks 2 and 3, I began to pull back from the conversation as students gained confidence in their discussion skills. On the 4th and final week, I didn’t sit in on the meeting, but I had them record the discussion using the ipad app, HT Recorder ($6.99). I had already recorded their conversations the week previously so they wouldn’t be distracted by it. HT Recorder picks up even the quietest voice, and skips sections where no one is talking, so you’re not wasting time while listening to the recording later. It’s easy to make clips and share full or partial recordings. Reading a student’s bare-bones written response while listening to their recorded conversation makes assessment much more satisfying as students prompt and question each other for richer, more detailed answers. The fact that I’m not sitting with them, obviously marking them, I think allows for a more fluid and natural, on-task conversation.
But while my kids sit in groups on a daily basis, it was clear during this book club, they need more work on asking clarifying questions and having the confidence to challenge each other’s answers. These skills are coming, and we’ll keep working on this in the next round.
While looking for a way of changing up the next book club, I recently read Mardie’s Muse Literature Circle prompts which I’m going to adapt for my students. Mardie generously describes the process, including examples and prompts her grade 7 students use.
Book Club Novels Used
Skate by Michael Harmon (great for reluctant readers)
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Lush by Natasha Friend
Four Steps to Death by John Wilson
Wounded by Eric Walters
Summer Ball by Mike Lupica
Outsiders by S. E. Hinton