conversations

Supporting Young Readers: Developing Reading Club Conversation Skills

In my last blog post, I outlined the prep work we did leading up to our “birds of feather” topics reading club meetings to help students dig more deeply into their readings and to come prepared for the reading club discussion.

Prior to our club meetings, students brainstormed meeting etiquette and expectations:

We also incorporated these qualities into a self-assessment tool students completed the day after the reading clubs met.

I learned last spring with my juniors and seniors that some structure to meetings is helpful for students, especially those with little to no reading or book club experience.  I planned for four rounds of discussion even though I expected we would probably only have time for three; I like to overplan just in case!

You can flip through the slideshow below to see how I helped “step” students through bursts of conversation that lasted about 10-12 minutes each.  I would review the discussion frame for each round and then keep time with my phone while walking around and making notes on ideas I heard in conversation while noting with a check each time I heard or saw a student participating (or not) in the club meeting.  I use a a blank roster spreadsheet from my gradebook in Infinite Campus and then use the columns to make notes and checks or minuses to help me remember what I’m seeing or hearing.  Last but not least, I recorded videos as I walked around so I could go back and watch/listen when evaluating students participation, listening, and interaction in the reading club meetings.

One other recommendation I have, especially for middle school or inexperienced reading club learners, is to appoint a “conversation round” leader.  This simply means you appoint someone from each club or group to lead each round of conversation; doing this prevents awkward pauses or lapses in getting a new round of discussion started.

One other new tool I used with the reading club was the conversation emoji talk stems from Ashley Bible.  These were super helpful for students in finding wording to enter the conversation or to interact in a meaningful way if they were struggling to find words.

I was incredibly impressed by how well my students did in their meetings!  Most groups had terrific energy and engagement in their meeting, and even those that may have struggled in the first round came on strong in the second and third rounds of conversation.   The reading club work and conversations in their club meeting are definitely two of the highlights of this academic year—the caliber of work and the soft skills as well as reading/listening/speaking skills inherent in the club conversations are huge steps forward for my students as learners and individuals.

When we finished three rounds of discussions, we then worked on our post-club reflections to capture our thinking while it was fresh.  The following two days, we did some self assessment and reflection using this tool I created based on student agreements on etiquette and expectations.   In addition, we used these awesome standards-based self-assessment forms for four standards that were embedded in our reading club conversation work.  The reflections and thinking students shared through these tools was quite revealing, and my fellow teachers and admin were quite impressed with the depth of student reflection as well.

Though I wish our instructional calendar would have permitted time for an additional club meeting, I am incredibly pleased with the quality of work my students completed and the quality of their reading club conversations.   I am excited to see how we can grow these skills when we shift to nonfiction book clubs later this spring!

Supporting Student Conversations About Books: Senior Book Club Meeting #1

Student book clubs are a concept dear to my heart.  I’ve sponsored them in an after school context, I took a graduate class at UGA on book clubs, and I even did an action research project on student book clubs in my graduate studies at UGA.  The graduate book club class–once known as ELAN 7700 with Dr. Mark Faust–was the very first one I took on campus in Athens way back in 2002, and the experience set in motion a new course of study that shifted my professional life in a new and positive direction.   Until this year, though, I have not had an opportunity to incorporate book clubs into my own classroom.

Aderhold Hall, UGA

In a recent post, I recently shared how seniors participated in a book tasting in my classroom and how I organized students into book club groups.  With one final tweak to avoid having a small group of three students, the book club rosters were finalized around topics and themes.

Groups established meeting norms, roles, and how many pages they needed to read each week for their book on Wednesday, February 21.  These are published on our bulletin board.

On Friday, February 23, we reviewed our guidelines for the book club experience and our calendar for March the following Friday (we meet alternate days on our modified block).

As you can see from the embedded handout above, Mondays (our “skinny” day in our schedule) is an “acceleration” day to boost students and give them in class time to read with the understanding reading must be done outside of class to meet their self-determined weekly targets.  However, the Monday date provides students an opportunity to annotate and work on marking up passages as they read as they enjoy utilizing my Post-It note stash of many sizes and colors to meet everyone’s needs, plus I’m available to conference with students about their reading as needed.  We are working on argumentative writing and text structures on Wednesdays, and Fridays are our days (four total) devoted to book club meetings.

Since most of my students have never been in a book club, I have tried to build in structures to support their book club talk.  Our goal is to have 30 minutes of sustained and rich conversation about our books.  Students are required to bring the following to each meeting:

  • A one page written reflection on the week’s reading with a focus on a specific passage for discussion.
  • Annotations and marked passages with questions or talking points for discussion.
  • A current event article or reference article from any of our library databases related to their book in some way.
  • Prep work for their role in the group that week (inspired by my work with Sarah Rust a few years ago, we are using the College Board’s version of book club roles here).

Students reported directly to the media center this past Friday for our first meeting.   As students arrived, we moved tables (LOVE tables and chairs with WHEELS!), got our butcher paper for our visual notes, and distributed Sharpies and markers to each group.  Students put their phones on the designated parking lot so that they would not be a temptation for distraction and got out their meeting materials and books as we listened to the morning announcements.  After reviewing some reminders for our meeting participation and etiquette as well as tips for contributing to the visual storyboard the groups would create as an artifact of their meeting, we jumped in and students began their discussions.  I walked around the four groups with my AV cart and laptop, listening to student talk and typing notes for what I heard and observed with each group.  I made four rounds so that I could have notes on different points of book club observations during the 30 minute period.

When the meetings concluded after 30 minutes, each group received a “debrief” handout and took about 12-15 minutes to come to a consensus on their thoughts.

We then gathered to another area of the media center and groups presented their collaborative reflections from the meeting and visual notes.  As we transitioned to the meeting time, students turned in their individual work; as groups finished, they turned in their debrief notes and “posters”/visual notes of their meeting talk.

After the large group share from each book club, book clubs completed the planner sheet for meeting #2 coming up on March 9 to set roles for next week and share any notes for things I might need to know to help them prepare for the second meeting.  I made copies of these, and students received copies of their planning sheets in class today Monday (March 5).

We then ended our day with individual reflections:

After reviewing my notes with my observations as well as the student reflections completed at the end of the day Friday, I felt my students–even those in the strongest groups– needed some additional scaffolding to help them with their book club talk.  We’ll talk through these ideas on Monday before having in-class reading time, and I am eager to see if these glows/grows + scaffolding for richer talk will help students take their discussion to the next level.

As expected, the most prepared groups seemed to thrive this past Friday while the groups not as equally prepared struggled.  In the spirit of the growth mindset, I want to help students “grow” the depth an richness of their conversations, and I think those who didn’t come prepared found it difficult to fully engage in the discussions—hopefully, this teachable moment will stay with them and motivate them to be better prepared for our second meeting.

Overall, I think my students did well in their first meeting.   I know that students need time, modeling, and experience to grow their book club discussion skills, and most truly made a heartfelt effort to engage with their club members and books.a

I’d like to give special thanks to these friends and fellow Language Arts teachers who have been so incredibly supportive of my independent reading projects with all my classes and the senior book clubs:

  • Sarah Rust, Norcross High
  • Sean O’Connor, former Norcross High teacher and now Gwinnett County Literacy Instructional Specialist
  • Darrell Cicchetti, Norcross High
  • Kyle Jones, Lanier High
  • Julie Swinehart, Amman, Jordan
  • Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, godfather of literature circles and all things wonderful related to inquiry and literacy

Last but not least, a heartfelt thank you to our media specialist Suzanne Gordon at Lanier High (and fellow UGA alum) for pulling all the books I needed for the book tasting and for graciously providing us space with mobile tables and butcher paper in the media center for our weekly meetings!

How do you support student book clubs and how do you help your students grow their conversations?  How are you incorporating them into your curriculum?  Though I sadly did not get to attend their session in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I’m excited to read the forthcoming book by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle because I know from friend who did attend that Gallagher and Kittle shared their ideas and strategies for book clubs as part of a year of reading and writing studies in their new workshop about the ideas in the new book.    I also hope to book clubs in American Literature with my juniors like Julie Swineheart–check out her blog post for super ideas and inspiration!