Sunday, May 15, 2011

Literature Circles

As adults, many of us are a part of different book clubs, whether formally or informally.  We meet together to discuss what we've read, how we felt, and what we think.  Instilling this love of reading in our students, all the while allowing them to connect, dissect, discuss and analyze, is all a part of the magical process during literature circles.

Over the last few years, the process of literature circles has undergone much debate as we struggle to find a happy medium between allowing the process of reading and discussing to unfold naturally all the while holding students accountable for their reading.  Many teachers use role sheets, first introduced by Harvey Daniels in his professional book, Literature Circles, but recent discourse and debate has led many to abandon them as they limit the natural discussion process for students and lock them into "presenting" their role, rather than allowing the discussion to flow.  

In Mike's class, he is moving away from using the traditional role sheets and moving into allowing students to document their thinking on sticky notes.  As they read, they are to note whatever comes to mind, not focusing on one comprehension strategy, but on what they are actually thinking about while reading.  From these notes, students come together in their groups to discuss the part read, and share their thoughts and ideas together.  

To ensure that group discussions are focused and meaningful, Mike has spent some time defining, together with his class, how to have a "solid" conversation.  After each meeting, students reflect and think about their group discussion, how they contributed to it and what they learned from the discussion and their peers.

In order to prepare and set-up for the circles, Mike has spent quite a bit of time thinking about what texts to use and how to organize his groups.  He has decided to create his groups according to the reading level of his students while also thinking about their reading interests and attitudes.  Carefully choosing texts that will interest many of his students is very important to Mike so that they feel excited about what they are reading.  Here are the seven books Mike is using in his class:
Student books are filled with notes documenting their thinking:
Co-constructing the expectations about how to have a meaningful discussion is an integral part of the process so students understand what is expected and they take responsibility for their learning:
Students are engaged and interested in sharing their ideas with one another during their discussion:
Some self-reflection afterwards helps students think about their thinking - what did they learn, how did they contribute, how well was the discussion?
Here are the two books that look at Literature Circles and their use in the classroom.  The second one, Inquiry Circles in Action, moves away from role sheets and looks at how we can embed more inquiry into literature circles, by having students research themes/topics present in their books.  This allows for students to expand their learning from the particulars of a text and look at the big ideas and enduring understandings inherent within it.  

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