My Bookshelf

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Beginning Book Clubs

Now is the time of year when teachers often begin book clubs with their students.  There are various considerations for book selection, discussion, and management that teachers need to mull over prior to implementation.  The first being book selection. Selecting texts for book club can occur on a continuum from more teacher control to complete student choice.

Most Teacher Control
As the teacher, you decide which books would be appropropriate for your students.  You assign the texts to specific groups.
PROS:  Teacher selection ensures students are reading a book at their level.  Teacher has control over management of behaviors by ensuring that students are in a book club with other students that facilitate learning (e.g. positive behavior).
CONS:  Um, well, teacher control... need I go on? Students have no voice in the book they want to read, develop no sense of agency, and may dislike the book.  Reading is seen as a teacher directed activity.

Some Teacher Control
In this scenario, the teacher finds several titles for students to select from, gives a book talk to the class about each book. Next, the students write down their top choices and the teacher figures out book clubs based upon student choices (and/or reading level).
PROS:  Students are provided a bit more voice in their book selection.  They generally are provided texts that teachers know students will enjoy.
CONS:  Students may end up in a text they don't want to read or select a text based solely on what their friends may be reading.

Least Teacher Control
Here, the teacher allows the students to find other students to enter into a book club with.  The students select their text and create their group.
PROS:  Provides complete autonomy and purpose for students.  Students read what they want to read.
CONS:   Students may choose books that are too hard or enter into a book club based only on friends and not on the text.

Regardless of the scenario, for book clubs to be successful, they require upfront teaching so students know how to critically question and use talk as a device for comprehension.

Important Considerations
  • Students need lots of opportunities to practice discussion techniques in book clubs.  Use fishbowl strategies that allow students to observe critical discussions in action.  For example, have two teachers or a parent and teacher discuss a poem as students observe.  Or, video students in the spring of the year participating in a book club and show to the new class in the fall.
  • Remember that students need skills and strategies for how to talk in book club as this process may feel awkward for some.  Prior to beginning book clubs, focus on strategies that allow for the free flow of discussion (encourage no hand raising, teach strategies for when two people respond at the same time,  encourage students to respectfully disagree or offer alternate viewpoints about the text).  
  • Provide warm-up discussions for just 15 minutes each day and focus on prompts that will get students talking.  Pose questions to students that are controversial but allow all students (with diverse reading levels) to engage in discussion. For example, pose a group question like "Dogs are better pets than cats" and see where the discussion goes.  Did students use evidence to support their conclusions?  Were they respectful?  Did they question one another to add on and say more?  Of course, the interactive read alouds that you do daily naturally support this purpose.
  • Anchor Chart for Text Discussion
  • Create anchor charts for talk that facilitate discussion.  Encourage students to offer agreements, disagreements, challenges.  These talk moves enhance reading comprehension.
  • The use of roles during literature discussions such as "questioner" "vocabulary wizard" etc. can limit critical comprehension and roboticize discussion. Assigned roles should only be implemented temporarily, if at all.
  • Make sure students have (or create) a time table or contract for how much they are reading each day, when they are discussing the text, and when the book is to be finished.  Below is a contract I found online: 
Book Club Contract
  •  Lastly, students should embrace a mindset where they recognize that the purpose of the discussion is to deepen understanding and not just argue for the sake of arguing.  For more on this see a previous blog post about the types of talk that promote critical thinking.
In closing, book clubs are an effective instructional strategy that can promote critical interpretation of a book.  With enough practice and the proper mindset, your students will surely take off!

1 comment:

Teresa Bryant said...

This is a great way to build a love for reading in students and grow their critical thinking skills. I feel that allowing students to have more say in what is being read will encourage more to read. It will also promote it as fun and less of a task. Sharing videos of what a book club should be and demonstrating what disagreement looks like will help to outline the rules. Setting initial rules for respect and integrity will help to diffuse potential issues. Establishing these rules will create an environment of safety and respect. Students are more inclined to share and discuss openly and truthfully when they will that it is a safe platform.
In addition, setting example questions to start off can serve as a icebreaker. Sometimes students may not be sure where to start a discussion. Starting each group or book topic with a icebreaker will lead to a more in depth discussion and get opinions out there.

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