Disclaimer: This post is largely focused on the mechanics of literature circles with tools and activities to generate quality discussion. The theories and the “why are these methods effective” are located in a different posting. There is SO much information that without a clear focus, these posts become larger essays and I know you are itching to skip to the conclusive last paragraph. Spoiler: Dumbledore dies—and you can probably get away with reading the intro and closing.
There are many exciting works that capture the hearts of readers—Harry Potter, online memes, and the greatest work of non-fiction to date, Faye Brownlie’s Grand Conversations – A Unique Approach to Literature Circles. I am still a noobie in the world of literature circles, but my greatest wish, nay, academic craving is to one day facilitate a literature circle program. Shoot for the moon and you will land among the stars, or at the very least accrued academic debt and the ability to conceptualize literature circles. Okay, let’s get on track—this work is arguably the standard for literature circles and has been utilized by people all over the world. There are too many videos count (I only have my fingers and toes to help me count with) on youtube and online sources that use Fay Brownlie’s methods and or extend them or personalize them.
Literature Circles are broken down into these key components:
- There are collections of books made available for students.
- ~ 6 different titles with 5-7 copies made available (for a class of 30–obviously scaled differently for our classroom composition)
- Titles need to be appropriate reading level and something students want to read.
- Students meet in discussion groups twice a week to talk about the book chosen. The teacher joins the discussion-student led. Students can tease but do ruin surprises for what they know will happen in story. Students will be at different parts of the books
- After completing books, students choose another book and join another group for that book.
- Two or 3 times a week students respond in journal to the book they are reading. Journal entries require additional effort and skill and students become better versed in their journalling.
- Every 2 weeks all students complete a comprehension activity based on the novel they have completed reading
- 75-95 minutes are most effective for group discussions
Here is an example of how to set students up for success as active participants in literature circle discussion.
The Say Something strategy: Building Group Discussion
Why: Literature circles require cooperation, openness/safety, and a foundational set of rules to garner respect amongst the group. The goal is to generate conversation—like an adult book club. I think most people have felt unsure whether they should share their opinion or doubt their understanding and feel embarrassed—whatever the reason, this is one way to address this as a class.
This is paraphrased from the book. A teacher will acquire a poem and share it on the overhead—a student will read the poem outlaid and the class will read silently. Students will share their connections, thoughts and feelings they had—this class whip around is key. The teachers makes the kind of response they are looking for clear for each student such as big ideas, personal connections, or what the student wonders about. This activity is meant to highlight how everyone thinkings and interprets information differently and enriches everyones learning though various perspectives. This activity can be extended and practiced using additional poems. While this approach starts very structured, it acts as a guide before students start to feel more comfortable and feel the desire to share aspects they found interesting, challenging or what have you.
This resource and all other resources I have read agree that an effective discussion includes:
- All voices are heard
- All students must feel included
- All students must have their ideas respected
- The discussion should move us to new understandings.
Choosing the Right Books
The books are a vehicle that are going generate hours of discussion for your students, but literature circles are not implemented right away. It is suggested that literature circle do not start until around halfway though the academic year in order to discover student interests and be able to gauge books that will be appropriate for the various levels in the classroom.
When preparation is laid out, deliver the book options with energy, enthusiasm and curiosity! Give brief overviews, read passage that showcase writing style—the goal it to expose students to different options that they can connect with and enjoy when they work on their own.
Additional details to include:
Page count should be stated, and remind students that book groups are fluid—picking books based on friend groups will be ineffective for individual learning, the groups will change as students finish at varying rates. It is also to be mindful of how easier novels are presented—put the ownership like “for students that feel they are busy with soccer, eating dirt,” etc. Create backup plans for students who pick books that are not a good fit and keep some in store and present them to students that shows you understand what topics they are interested in.
This chapter shares so many ideas and I want to share them all, but that will be far more plagiarism than reporting. Once again, these ideas are not my own, my name is not Faye Brownlie and these are her ideas, not Robert Michael McMullen’s.
Chapter 2 finishes by recommending a poster is created with every students name on it and what book they are reading/have finished. It also acts as a visual and cues the teacher who needs more support
This is a skill that has so many moving parts—it requires a lot of setup but turns into an activity that students look forward to. I will try to improve my reporting from this book but the thing is, every page has gold on it. My overall recommendation is to stop reading this (you probably did) and pick up Faye Brownlie’s book.
The next post will focus on running a discussion group and the roles of the student and the teacher. It will be shorter.
Sloppy summary: Invest time picking the “right” books for your class. Get to know your learners, create an environment for sharing and be excited about the books your are sharing—this will energize and motivate students.