This is the seventh and final installment in a series of posts with ideas and suggestions for running effective literacy circles or book clubs with students from second grade through high school. You can read the others in this series here.
Using Book Clubs and Making Meaning
I think there are two simple ways to use book clubs within the Making Meaning program. The first is simply to take a break from Making Meaning and replace this time with book clubs. Making Meaning provides 30 weeks of instruction and four lessons per week. I would never suggest that this be a fifth-day activity, as book clubs work best when the book is completed within two to three weeks’ time. However, Day Five can always start another week of instruction, buying even more than the six extra weeks found in a typical school schedule. But six weeks is enough time to complete two if not three cycles of literacy circles throughout the year.
The second manner in which a book club can be combined is to use group novels in place of Independent Daily Reading during one of the fiction units. For instance, Unit Four in the sixth grade program is on analyzing text structure in fiction. The main Making Meaning lessons could easily be followed, but in place of IDR, students can read their book club books and meet with their groups every few days.
When I embarked on this goal of sharing all that I know about book clubs, I thought it would be a small project. It has taken me over 7,000 words to share how to run book clubs. With that said, I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no correct way in which to hold book clubs. The ideas listed in this blog series should help get you started; and as with all great instruction, students should lead the way. Let them create ideas to run their own groups. Keep yourself, as much as possible, out of these groups. Intervene in the ways suggested in this series, only when and if necessary. Jennifer Serravallo has said that the biggest goal of a book club is to arrive at new thinking. If that is true, and students are exploring new ideas in each session of a club, then our intervention is not necessary.
One parting word of caution I do want to share is to not drag these groups out. Nothing makes a book drier than taking weeks and weeks to complete it. Two to three weeks per novel is plenty. Some students will even balk at taking that long to read a novel. When this happens, I tell students they may always read ahead. The only rule about that is that they MUST continue to discuss in the group as if they have not read ahead. This is so that the book will not be ruined for those reading at the pace the group chose.
Another issue that will come up is that it will take students different amounts of time to complete the required reading each day. Therefore, I require all students to have their own personal novel with them at all times. The minute a student completes the required daily reading for book club, she is welcome to read her own novel. I do not allow students to do anything else during this time. Reading time is to be spent reading, whether in a group book or as an independent choice.
Standard 10 of the Common Core states that students should “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.” Book clubs and literacy circles are one avenue whereby students can meet this standard while hopefully falling in love with reading at the same time.
I would like to close with three scenarios or scripts from book clubs that I have observed in the past. The first two were not transposed directly, but rather remembered from the many classrooms I have worked in and summed up to share the gist of what I have seen. I will leave you, my dear readers, to choose the script you would like to hear in your classroom. I wish you much luck in getting there!
(In each script, T stands for the teacher and S for any student.)
T: Who is the main character in our novel?
T: What is the setting and why how does it affect the characters?
S: This is set before civil rights laws were passed in our country; therefore, it is accepted to treat black people in this manner.
T: Excellent answer. (And the teacher moves on to the next question and the next raised hand.)
S1: I have a great sensory image. (Student proceeds to share this beautiful image.)
S2: I made an inference. (Student two shares her brilliant inference.)
S3: My favorite paragraph was…. (Student three proceeds to tell about the paragraph she liked and why.)
The group continues with students sharing powerful reactions to the novel, but no one builds upon anyone’s ideas.
Transcript from the book Why Can’t I Fly by Ken Brown
Teacher is present or sitting outside the circle taking notes, but students are ignoring her.
S1: I think the biggest theme is teamwork.
S2: Why? Explain your thinking.
S1: Well, on the last page he only flew because the others helped him.
S3: Wait. I disagree. I think that is a theme, but I think the biggest one is persistence because the Ostrich tried over and over to fly and he finally did.
S4: Well, maybe, but could it be that it is just about being ourselves.
S1: What do you mean by that?
S4: Well, the Ostrich wanted to be like all the other birds and didn’t like how he was.
S5: Yeah…and the little Sparrow kept telling him why it was good to be an Ostrich.
S3. Uh, huh. . .like he said that his long neck would keep his head underwater and that his long legs would help him get unstuck from the tree. The Sparrow was trying to tell him it is good to be an Ostrich.
S2: Maybe there isn’t a main theme. Maybe there are many.
S5: I agree with that. What do the rest of you think?
And the thinking, discussing, and learning goes on and on….
Works Cited throughout this Series
- Center for the Collaborative Classroom, collaborativeclassroom.org.
- Daniels, Elaine and Harvey Daniels. The Best Kept Teaching Secret, Corwin 2013.
- Daniels, Harvey. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom, Heinemann 2002.
- Harvey, Stephanie and Harvey Daniels. Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, Heinemann 2009.
- Serravallo, Jennifer. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers, Heinemann 2015.
- Tovani, Cris. So What Do They Really Know: Assessment that Informs Teaching and Learning, Stenhouse 2011,
- Quate, Stevi and John McDermott. Clock Watchers, Heinemann 2009.