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From A Classroom to A Community of Readers: The Power of Book Clubs

In my first year of teaching I initiated a book club for teachers. It was intended to bridge our personal and professional lives, and provide us with a regular opportunity to read, unwind, and have thought-provoking conversations as colleagues and friends.

Every four to six weeks I looked forward to book club. Whether the title was a hit or a flop, there was always plenty of food, animated discussion and anticipation for the next month’s selection.

A few years after my first book club, I switched to a new position and school district. For a brief period of time, I did not organize or belong to a book club. I found that without a book club I still loved reading, but something was missing. I reignited the teacher book club a few years ago, and while some of the members have changed, a few of the original teachers and our spouses still read and meet regularly.

For me, book club matters. 

When I read a title for book club it is often not a text I would self-select. When I read a book for book club I read differently. I read with the purpose of holding onto my thinking. I read with intentionality. I am more metacognitive about my reading process, especially in sections of the book I plan to share or discuss. Some of my thinking might surface in the actual discussion, but depending on the menu, the venue, and the duration of time that has passed between my reading and our book club meeting, much of my thinking about my reading stays in my head, heart, or in highlighted sections of the text itself.

Bottom line: being part of a vibrant book club has made me a better reader.

This realization inspired me to make book clubs a regular, organic and dynamic part of my reading workshop classroom. I have seen a similar shift with students. Book clubs are making my seventh graders better readers, too.

They attend to their book club text with more motivation, depth and stamina than they do with other independent reading selections. They look forward to discussion days and bring insightful observations and compelling questions to the table. They leave discussions with new and shared understandings and thinking that is co-created within the club. They read with more passion and perseverance. They hold each other accountable through the shared experience.  

From the struggling to the skilled reader, book clubs work. They shift the culture from a classroom of individual readers into a community of readers.  

Want to jump into book clubs but not sure where to start? Here are three tips to help you get started:

·      Planning – Know Your Readers & the Text(s): To launch book clubs as a class I selected a range of grade level appropriate titles that would appeal to different readers and interests. I read all five of the selections and documented my own thinking about the text. To launch the clubs I “book talked” all five titles and had each student select their top three choices. Using this information, I formed the clubs based on the needs of each reader, group dynamics, and the supports and challenges in each text.

·      Facilitation – Norms, Structures & Gradual Release: In the initial meeting with each book club, I asked the students to set norms for discussions and a reading schedule. The clubs met four times, so students divided the book into four segments that made sense with chapter breaks in order to reach a common goal and stopping place for each week’s discussion. Each book club member kept a three-column “journal” to hold their thinking in between and after book club meetings. The journal allowed me to formatively monitor the progress of readers throughout the process. In the first meeting I provided open-ended prompts and possible questions to model and support the discussion. In subsequent meetings I turned the discussion over to students and asked them to “mine” their journal for the best comments, questions, quotes, and ideas. I served as an observer and let kids do the talking and the thinking about the text after the initial meeting.

 

·      Troubleshooting – What Happens If…? What about absent students? Students who fall behind in their reading? Students who read ahead? Students who struggle to participate – either in writing or verbally – in the book club experience? There are many potential challenges and hiccups in the book club process. In my experience, however, the best way to troubleshoot book club issues – whether they are logistical, motivational, or academic – is to let the students brainstorm ways to solve the problem and support each other as readers. So far, every student has met the reading deadline in this cycle. I attribute this to setting reasonable weekly reading goals, closely monitoring the work during the first week, and “selling” book club discussion day as an opportunity not to be missed.

If you haven’t tried book clubs in your classroom (or if you’ve tried them but abandoned the practice due to time constraints, new standards, assessment pressures or any other legitimate distractions) I urge you to bring book clubs back to your readers. Create time and space for them to talk about texts with other readers. Let your readers do the work of making independent and shared interpretations. And watch students fall in love with reading (for the first time) or all over again.

 

14 Comments

Melina Bond commented on December 10, 2013 at 11:30am:

Banned Book Club

I work at a continuation high school with a population of at-risk youth.  I initiated the a Banned Book Club at the beginning of the year with the simple objective to get students to read more and to read outside of school.  Initially, I thought the idea of reading Banned Books might engage students to read content and philosophy that they might not have been exposed to in regular curriculum.  Lately, I've been discovering that our conversations and the students opinions and beliefs about life revealed through jounal writing have become a huge part of our discussions about the text in book.  I'm glad to be giving students an opportunity to discuss their ideas in an academic realm, and I'm for new ideas to engage students in the next book we are reading, a Clockwork Orange. Motivation and engagement are huge factors that affect student learning and performance at my school site, and I'm always looking for ways to engage student to value literacy and appreciate education.

mbond  

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on December 10, 2013 at 8:54pm:

Banned Book Club - Love it!

Melina,

Thank you for sharing and commenting. I love this idea and your action research around the "banned book" club :). What are the results so far? Have you seen a spike in student reading and engagement? 

I agree that a link to journal writing and "real life" can make for some in-depth conversations about books, and ultimately can make books matter more for our students. My 7th graders are wrapping up their book club discussions this week and then they will independently write a reflection on their blog (and share it with others in the club) that responds to the question - Why does this book matter?  They can look at any angle - the theme, character(s), time period/setting, conflict, etc. of the text to answer that question. I'm looking forward to learning from them why they believe any text and the text they just shared with other readers "matters." :)

Dawn Kotsko commented on December 10, 2013 at 1:12pm:

book Clubs

My students love them - - I put thme in clubs based on book interest, as oppossed to reading level.  It is the best time of the year for thema nd me.  The end product is a book trailer that they write, film and produce.  They love it.  This year I have added blogging using EDMODO - -they are so excited.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on December 10, 2013 at 9:01pm:

Book Club Love...

Dawn,

So happy to hear that your students love book clubs! :)

I too, have had great success with students choosing texts based on interest vs. levels. Students also know enough about themselves as readers after a book talk or preview to know if they are going to be able to access and persevere through the text, but I think that their voice in the process is critical. When we group students by level (or choose books for them) we take away an opportunity for them to be agentive learners. I often "nudge" readers to certain books :) but try never to choose for them or limit them by a "level" -- it's amazing what a motivated reader can do regardless of what their "level" on an assessment suggests about their reading ability. 

Marissa commented on August 7, 2014 at 2:01am:

ELA

I'm new to Edmodo.  Which app did you choose for blogging?  Thanks!

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 11, 2014 at 12:57pm:

Blogging...

Hi Marissa!

Hope you are having good success with Edmodo. I really liked it for quick formative checks (entrance/exit slips, etc.) and to give each group their own "space" to collaborate outside of face-to-face meetings.

For blogging, our school has a Google domain so we used Blogger since it was an application attached to their Google domain log-in information. It worked pretty well but this year I really want to work on connecting my student bloggers with other bloggers so that they receive/respond to comments beyond those they post on each other's blogs. Let me know if you want to partner our classes up for some sort of blogging experiment :).

Happy back-to-school (or enjoy your remaining days of summer) depending on your school calendar!

Jane Terry commented on December 10, 2013 at 8:52pm:

Book Club Journal

Thank you for sharing your ideas and experiences. I really like the idea of asking members to fill out a journal as participants will all have something to share and take away from each meeting.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on December 11, 2013 at 11:08pm:

Journals....

Thank YOU Jane for reading and commenting!

For their final reflection I'm having kids independently reflect on the question - Why does this book matter? They are choosing the angle (theme, characer, conflict, setting, etc.) for this reflection and they will post it to their individual blog, comment on each other's (other members in the club) and then determine the patterns and trends for a "final product" - book review, class book talk, book trailer, etc. 

If you try (or have tried) journaling about books with kids please share the results here! What are your "go to strategies" for spreading and sharing a passion for reading?? :)

Brianna Crowley commented on December 12, 2013 at 8:01pm:

Books: My Get-Away

When I first read your post, I was thinking about how I read my books. During the shool year, I mostly "read" by listening to books I've downloaded on my Audible account because as a fellow English teacher (HS), I am constantly reading essays, textbooks, and all other manner of text before my students. 

I "read" while cleaning my house, and I swear to you I find it realaxing :) But reading your post reminded me of the exhileration of sharing reading, not just consuming it. I may be inspired to start my own book club in the spring!

I also thought this post may be interesting to the greater public, so I posted on CTQ's GOOD.is profile. 

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on December 12, 2013 at 11:58pm:

GOOD vibrations :)

Brianna,

Your comment made my day -- I deeply love and follow all things "good"/GOOD :).Your comment reminded me of all of the ways we can "read" texts and our world :). I recently tried Audible as a way to bring grade level texts to my struggling readers. I had one book club engage with the audio version of their text and their comprehensio and discussions were incredibly insightful and complex. 

Thanks for reminding me of all of the ways we as teachers can read (or listen :) alongside all of the student readers we support.

Matt Renwick commented on December 13, 2013 at 3:53pm:

thank you

Jessica, thank you for sharing your resources. I emailed this post to my book club advisor for 4th and 5th graders. She co-facilitates our book club after school, for all students, but specifically for those in need of intervention. For older students, I have found that engagement is as strong an intervention as anything else.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on December 19, 2013 at 10:35pm:

Engagement Matters

Matt,

Thank you for sharing the post and resources with a colleague. I couldn't agree more -- I've seen readers make tremendous gains over the years across reading strands (decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc.) when they are engaged and excited by what (and how) they are reading. I'm convinced all readers benefit from reading a text with others in a book club. Book clubs give readers a real purpose for reading and a place to safely discuss and explore what they are reading with their peers. 

I'd love to hear about you and/or your book club advisor's successes with and/or strategies for implementing book clubs as well

zep commented on December 20, 2013 at 10:10am:

book clubs

I'm intrigued by the work of many, notably Steve Hargadon, to take these kinds of activities into the 21st century and beyond the limits of classrooms. Book Clubs exist on-line globally so that potentially every student could pick a different book (no longer does the teacher need to entice a single or single set of selections, this act in itself democratizes schooling) and engage in the laudable benefits of book clubs. Bravo for the starting idea which certainly makes school more enjoyable for kids, now let's take the next step.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on January 2, 2014 at 9:46pm:

Love it!

I agree that book clubs offer a great opportunity to connect with readers in both physical and virtual spaces well beyond our classroom walls! :) Platforms like Goodreads and other tools allow readers to connect and share their impressions of a text digitally. My students started blogs this year and I'm trying to leverage the social and digital aspects of book clubs in the upcoming semester. So far, however, I've found that even my most tech savvy and digital junkie students still really like (even prefer!) the real-time, face-to-face discussion time with their peers over digital platforms -- I wonder how (and if) this will shift as they progress through middle and high school? 

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