A crash course in literature circles (2)

Part 2

So… In my last post, which you can find here, I described my haphazard attempt at setting up a literature circle in the days leading up to the first day of class. In this post, I will let you  know what happened on the first day of discussion. In a later post, I will share student reactions to the circles.

Overall the first day was a success. The only major wrinkle in the first hour was the students who were unprepared because they never received the blog invitation. Though it’s time consuming, taking students through the necessary sign-up steps is a must. Students who signed up successfully posted a summary, list, or picture (depending on their role, like this…

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The discussions began with the summarizer sharing the summary they’ve prepared for class. From there, the questioner leads the discussion until all participants have contributed something specific to their role. Prior to the class, I worried about timing – would 40 minutes be too much time, or not enough? Turns out that 40-50 minutes is just about right for the amount of reading they had. Once the discussions started, they continued naturally until the end of class. The connector, I believe, plays a central role. Connecting the text to events in their lives really adds life to the text and discussion. I was pleasantly surprised at this.

Writing classes are leveled, and my group is the highest level group, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant gap in proficiency levels among students. On the first day, when I asked who traveled the farthest to get here, I heard “Chicago” and “Toronto.” So basically, the class is a mix of intermediate-mid/high students whose English education has been solely in Korea, and several students who have studied/lived abroad for a considerable amount of time.

This mixed high-level class really highlights the positive aspects of the literature circle framework. Students talked, mostly in English, about all aspects of what they had read. Everything, from main ideas to vocabulary items or cultural references that were confusing, was shared. When they didn’t understand each, they explained, they provided examples for each other. They connected events from the text to their own lives. The weaker reader and writers, though quiet in class, weren’t as quite. They had a week to read and prepare something for one specific role and they did it.

So, to wrap up what happened, students discussed main ideas, specific information, and specific language related to the text; all students participated in English; and they all left with a much better understanding of what they read.

Now only if my profs had considered academic reading circles when I was doing my coursework…

In the next post I’ll share some student feedback. Thanks for reading!!

 

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.