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

Want to ignite (or reignite) the love of reading in your classroom? Select compelling titles, read them with your students, and implement weekly book club discussions. Watch your classroom transform into a vibrant community of readers. 

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.

 

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