Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January was book club month

Teacher bloggers are probably morally obligated to post on snow days, especially people who don't post often, like me. So I might as well post the SECOND time today something related to TEACHING. As in, directly related.

When I started teaching in 2003, literature circles were a leap of faith for me and my peer colleagues. We were fairly committed to teaching classroom novel units, unlike our more experienced colleagues who were equally committed to teaching from literature anthology textbooks. Literature circles were complicated to arrange, involved surveying student interest and juggling 120 student preferences (times 3, if I gave them "top 3" choices) and several different book titles. (I used 6 different books the first time. That was very stupid, but I was very young.) During the day or two that I used to do the math in my head, I enjoyed the student pleas for books: "PLEASE I want THIS book!" Music to my ears, until I issued the book assignment, then pleas turned into complaints. (I could write a book about how innate is the ability to complain.)

That was just logistics. THEN comes the leap of faith. How do you know what the students are reading or learning or discussing??? Oh the status checks, discussion role sheets, self-assessments, group assessments! Regardless, students enjoyed the social interaction, I enjoyed watching them discuss books, most of them read most of their books, and I was happy.

I've probably written already in this blog about my transition from classroom novel units to independent reading all-the-time (or reading workshop), so I won't rehash here. (Quick references: Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone.) This is my second year teaching reading workshop, and by December I was tired of the fakers.

My friend and fellow English teacher CS taught me the term "labor faker", and I knew most of my students were reader fakers. We all worked hard in November to write novels for NaNoWriMo, and so we may have let their reading slide that month. December was ... December. (My 8th graders read A Christmas Carol in preparation for watching a 3 person "trunk show" production by local group Alleyway Theatre. My 7th graders read teleplay "Brian's Song" in the literature anthology, then watched the movie. Everyone wrote theme essays before winter break. Just in case you thought we slacked off haha!)

In January I told students I knew most of them were reader fakers (a few acted shocked at this idea, most gave me poker face), and I started Book Club. Here were the title choices:

8th grade - Maus I & II, Dairy Queen, Avalon High, Flush, Chains
7th grade - American Born Chinese, Dairy Queen, Avalon High, Flush, Chains

Hm, 6 titles just like my first ever Literature Circle unit. Well, this time

- I had only 36 students involved (my remedial/AIS classes did not do book club - January was editorial month for them!) instead of 120,
- I chose better books (many thanks to my English teacher colleagues and former principal who allowed us to use textbook money to order GOBS of young adult literature the past two years!!!) so students could and would truly read independently and discuss with peers, and
- I gave us those literature circle role sheets (questioner, summarizer, visualizer, etc.). Instead, I taught specific literary elements via mini-lessons, assigned the groups to identify the literary elements in their novels, reviewed their group answers, gave them feedback, then tested them individually on that exact same topic (sometimes different questions). They wrote their individual answers in Book Club Journals, which I graded.
- I used RAFT projects as culminating assessment. I'm pretty sure I used RAFT in previous literature circles.

It was really fun! I loved watching them read silently and independently in class - I told them quiet reading time is a GIFT from the universe. Usually I was grading papers (yeah, they generated a lot of journal responses to grade, and I wanted a fast turnover, but I used an easy 10 point rubric and didn't sweat it) during their reading time *GASP* but sometimes I joined them. In those quiet moments, I truly believed that silent sustained reading could lead to world peace.

I miss Book Club already. I considered doing it again NOW, but gathering just enough novels right before winter break really pushed all my teacher powers and luck to the edge. So while I regain my strength and resources, I'm teaching the editorial unit (might as well reuse my lessons! I found some cool resources - hopefully will share here another time) and recommitted to reading workshop. (Have I ever mentioned how I use our school library books in my classroom for Book Walks, many thanks to our awesome Library Media Specialist?) Silent sustained reading will save us all.


Miss Teacher said...

that sounds like such a great unit! i'm glad it was so successful. i especially like that you focused on literary elements. i'm sure it was much more beneficial to the kids than some of the traditional lit circle roles. way to go! :)

roller coaster teacher said...

Thanks!!! The literary elements we studied this unit: characterization, setting, conflict, symbolism.

Kathryn from Schoolmarm Style said...

I still do literature circles incorporated into reader's workshop, much like this unit. I have, however, given up on the specific jobs for book groups. Too many of my kids don't do their homework to make any group dependent on that. Instead I started asking specific journaling prompts and for students to ask questions of the text and their peers. That way the ones who read but didn't write only really hurt themselves.

I'd say I have 5 or 6 fakers per class (about 20/101 overall). I wish I could figure out how to get those fakers without diminishing the success of the majority who do read honestly.