A crash course in literature circles (1)

Part 1

Last winter, given the task of planning for a new semester of English Reading and Writing, I did nothing. In the past, hours spent planning for unknown group of students led only to frustration – so this semester I waited. I waited some more, and a few days before the start of the semester I noticed that I would be teaching a high-level group (determined by placement tests). Excited at the thought of teaching reading/writing to a group of students who were not traditional dance majors, I scoured the web for information on literature circles. Literature circles had been sort of a buzz word on the 4th floor, but I was on the outside looking in as I hadn’t had the chance to try them out. First I had to figure out what they were. A cursory google search yields something like this – plenty of information to get started, right? Back to what they are…

Defining Literature Circles

1. Students choose their own reading materials

2. Small temporary groups are formed, based upon book choice

3. Different groups read different books

4. Groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule to discuss their reading

5. Kids use written or drawn notes to guide both their reading and discussion

6. Discussion topics come from the students

7. Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digressions, and open-ended questions are welcome

8. In newly-forming groups, students may play a rotating assortment of task roles

9. The teacher serves as a facilitator, not a group member or instructor.

10. Evaluation is by teacher observation and student self-evaluation.

11. A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.

12. When books are finished, readers share with their classmates, and then new groups form around new reading choices.

(from http://www.literaturecircles.com)

Now that we know what they are, what’s next? Well, the above #1 says students should choose their own material. I pre-selected several books that the students could choose from. Since I teach freshman reading/writing at a women’s university, and I am not Father Tiresias (thank you Genesis!), I searched for popular young adult fiction. Students settled on Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. With 15 students in the class, one group read Asher and the other two read Bach. Each member of each group had their own role each week. To make sure the students actually did the reading, I had them post a summary of their role on the class blog as comments to my original post where roles were assigned.

So, to sum up, before the first day of actual discussion I had:

a. assigned groups and books

b. posted page numbers and roles on the class blog

c. briefly described the structure of ‘discussion’ days

I will describe the first day in my next post. In a word, it was… mind-blowing.

5 thoughts on “A crash course in literature circles (1)

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