Earlier this month, I shared the “glows” and “grows” of our first 12th ELA student book club meeting. Building on the glows and grows of that meeting, I wanted to share some learning tools and structures I incorporated into the second book club meeting to help support student talk.
Support/Scaffold Structure 1: Kickoff Quotes
To give students a tangible starting point for conversation, each student was asked to prepare a passage for discussion along with questions or talking points they wanted to share with the group.
For students who came prepared, this was an easy task to complete to get ready for the meeting of the day. Those who did not hastily selected passages that did not provide the richness or depth of text to discuss as did the passages that had been selected with forethought.
Support/Scaffold Structure 2: A Working Conversation Structure
I provided a loose conversation frame for all groups, but it was especially designed for two of my four groups that were struggling to sustain a meaningful conversation during the first meeting. When I reviewed the conversation structure with the students, I told them they had flexibility with the framework, but it was there to help them make sure they were hitting all the conversation elements we were aiming for in our talk. This tool, along with some better preparation by more students from week 1, was very successful as nearly every group had sustained and rich conversation in meeting 2 for nearly 40 minutes. I didn’t see it being quite as successful for our third meeting this past Friday, March 16 as at least two groups (one that has struggled each week and one that had previously been very strong) simply read their passages and didn’t have much of any discussion about the how/why they chose the passage or why it was meaningful; fellow members didn’t speak up to ask questions or respond. Right now I don’t know if the fact prom was 24 hours away was a factor, or if perhaps these two groups had just hit a little bit of a rough patch in their efforts.
Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 3: Hard Copies of Conversation Stems and Conversation Ideas on Neon Paper
Though students had received a copy of the conversation stems and ideas for discussion on Monday, March 5, I printed up new copies on neon paper for the third meeting this past Friday (March 16). Everyone received a copy to use for reference as needed during the meeting.
Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 4: Modifying the Visual Notetaking Medium
Though the visual notes were richer in meeting 2 compared to meeting 1 (see the exemplars below) I still found that there was uneven participation and contributions to the visual notetaking on butcher paper from group to another. As you can see below, some groups had rich contributions from nearly every group member.
I wondered if perhaps modifying the visual notetaking medium might invite more active participation on this front from every student. For the third meeting, I provided personalized “notetaking placemats” with the student name and his/her role for the week. I included a placeholder for their “kickoff quote” and then plenty of space on the front and back for notetaking and drawing. Like previous weeks, each group received a supply caddy full of various Sharpies and markers.
Ironically, though some students did show more active participation with the visual notetaking and mindmapping of the group discussion, the majority of the student work fell flat with very few visual or written notes. Again, I don’t know whether to attribute this unexpected outcome to the fact prom was less than 24 hours away, the fact that the same one who have come unprepared to every minute and not fully participated were the very same ones who struggled again in meeting 3, a combination of both factors, or perhaps some other variable I’m not aware of at this time. I’m deciding right now if we should take a second pass with this medium or return to the butcher paper for the final meeting. I wanted to use the visual notes as a visual record of meeting ideas for each group and put them on display, but this learning task is an area of struggle for most of my seniors even after showing them models prior to the first meeting and models from their classmates after the first meeting. This aspect of book club meeting will be something for me to consider with more thought over the summer as to how to get more student engagement on this front and to help them better understand the purpose of the visual notes. I’ve seen other students of a younger age do amazing work with visual notes of book club meetings in the moment, so I know what is possible, but I also must consider that this kind of learning task is new for most of these students.
One immediate intervention I WILL do this week prior to our last meeting: I’m going to ask my exemplar group to talk to the class about how they go about their work and talk the class through their work—I think it will be powerful for students to hear tips from their peers in their own words, and I’m interested to see if this student led modeling/mini-lesson makes a difference whether we are doing visual notes and mindmapping the meeting ideas on butcher paper or individually.
One final thing I did differently for the third book club meeting was to change up the format of the self-assessment. Instead of a series of numbered questions, I presented the self-reflections in this format:
Interestingly enough, some students shared they found this format less “intimidating”, and some had more concrete talking points with this format.
Final Reflections and Next Steps
I felt most students really stepped up in terms of preparation and participation for the second book club meeting. As I mentioned earlier, the energy levels were up across the board and I could see more engagement from a larger number of students in the second meetings.
I was a little disappointed that some students seemed to take a step backward, though, for our third meeting this past Friday. While students were participating, many were not as prepared as the previous week or two, and the energy level seemed lower compared to the last meeting. I honestly think the impending prom was a factor, so I am hoping we will make our final and fourth book club meeting this Friday, March 23, our best yet. I’m going to give students some extra prep time in class on Wednesday and forego our day of work with argumentative writing. I also have some library time scheduled for students to do a little research on their book author and their social media presence to see if that adds to their understanding of the writer’s purpose with the book and any material to add to the conversation since one student had explored this angle and shared it with her group this past Friday.
What kinds of scaffolding or supports do you provide students to help them grow their student book club conversations? What strategies do you like to help students grow their conversation and interaction skills with each other?