Back in March, Doug Noon wrote about his free and voluntary classroom reading program. After trying to get my own literature circle program up and running late last year and still unsure of the best approach with this current bunch of students, his post painted a picture that I want for my classroom.
This year, everyone in the class reads what they want to read, and they read without interruption for 30-40 minutes each day. They tell me about their books when I go around the room asking how it’s going. I write down what we talk about. They read short passages quietly to me. They write in journals about their books. They meet with partners or in small groups, and they give oral “book reports” written on sticky notes. They make book recommendations to each other. They read at home and before school without being told to, and they tell me they love to read. I even saw one of my students reading a book walking down the hall the other day. It’s going viral.
I emailed the link to our teacher-librarian and she agreed that this had all the qualities of a switched on reading program. This week, Doug put the icing on the cake with feedback from his kids about their reading and writing program. Being able to reflect on one's own learning is the mark of a successful learner who values what they are doing and the kids' comments certainly do that well. It's a skill that my teaching partners and I want our own students to have as well.
But what I struggled with was the connection with Doug's switched on atmosphere and the much touted literature circles approach. I'm certainly not the only edublogger out there trying to get it right. So, a whole stack of teachers at my school headed off to an after school workshop on "Literature Circles" to get our heads around this concept. The facilitators talked a bit about lit circles but soon switched focus, talking about their modified approach which stripped some of the formalities away but kept the basic premise of a group of kids reading a common text and coming together to discuss the text through making connections and exploring questions. They called this approach "Book Clubs" and it had many of the things that Doug identified as being desirable outcomes for students when reading - engagement, increased appetite for more books, improved comprehension. This approach is one I think I can handle and while I wouldn't adopt everything mentioned by the facilitators (snacking and guzzling while book clubbing is another time for feeding some of our kids don't need, and carrot and celery treats are not that appealing to many kids), I reckon that I can see this being a successful way of re-engaging middle school readers. Perhaps the major problem will be having enough quality texts in bundles of five or six to form the groups. I really liked the suggested way to form groups - you pass the book bundles around the classroom and everyone views them and then ranks the choices from first until last, then the groups form around who has chosen what book. When a group fills, students then drop to their second choice and so on. I'm feeling enthusiastic about getting the Book Club approach which combines the goals and shared experiences of the literature circle approach with Doug's less formal and peer-enthusing approach.