Building a Community of Learners

Sometimes looking at why things are ineffective is just as important as discussing what is effective–this kind of approach gives learners context and an idea of important criteria to co-create and facilitate learning environments. In short, today I am going share findings on what kind of frequent errors derail student learning and how to create a culture that fosters learning with literature circles.

The majority of my findings are from a fantastic article by Lane W. Clarke, Jennifer Holwadel “Help! What Is Wrong With These Literature Circles and How Can We Fix Them?” 

*Note–this article was based on an inner city school information from the USA and is not a complete representation of all challenges students and classes face.

As mentioned in my previous posts, literature circles are highly collaborative, engaging, and require students to show ownership of their learning. These traits foster growth and help build a sense of unity and teamwork in the classroom–it’s a popular method for helping build a community of learners.

Often, when studying exciting ways to teach it can be difficult to forsee every obstacle that could come up–this is a practiced skill and other times it requires flexibility and adaptability. Because literature circles are collaborative, and collaboration is a learned skill these are some of the factors that can alter the dynamic of a group.

  • Socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Racial and gender differences
  • Student animosity
  • Boys typically sidetrack the most (in this study).
  • Difference in literacy development
  • Challenging personal circumstances at home
  • Basic needs being met

Knowing ones learners and building connections with students is key. It is often difficult to be entirely inclusive when you know particular students can be disruptive but it’s vital to be as inclusive as possible to continue modelling inclusion and community–students watch everything the teacher does and they pick up behaviour. It is incredibly important to be mindful of how we interact with everyone and to recognize that learning is a process. It is important to set realistic goals when challenges are plenty but to also keep standards high, and consistent. Helping students feel safe, part of a community, and gain skills to have meaningful discussion is the goal to keep in mind, these are competencies that will help carry your students for the rest of their lives.


One way to help build community is to be consistent in teaching styles to set students up for success. For example, if a teacher is running literature circles in a manner that promotes slowing down, self-regulating and collaborating it would be counterproductive to follow a lesson that was based speed, working individually, and competition. It sounds like common sense but consistency and routine are excellent for creating an environment where students feel safe.


Another method includes something I think the year 5 B.Ed cohort is quite familiar with–ice breakers and games to get to know one another. Using games where students can learn about what they have in common with their peers, what they can teach others about their peers. After the exercises, have a discussion about what they learned and how it is important to build connections with one another.


The articles focused on a class that had a hard time listening to one another so they adopted a method from a lesson called Sharing Air Time. During a literature circle, students would have a specific number of poker style chip. Each time a student contributed an idea they would have to supply a chip to the centre of the group–after a students chips were gone they could no longer contribute their ideas vocally.  This intention of this lesson was to help students reflect on how often they spoke out and to also demonstrate the growth gained by listening to others.

  • Keep in mind, depending on maturity, students may mock this exercise and see who can get rid of their chips the fastest.

Another idea I like for building community is to brainstorm as a class and create a chart that lists traits for what a good discussion looks like. During group discussions, students can use the chart to compliment those who contribute ideas during the literature circle.


I found it interesting when the articled mentioned critical coaching. In short, the teacher would enter a group that was deteriorating and help develop students as literature circle participants. The goal was to help cohesion and build community. The focus was on students who were struggling.

Other consideration

  • Allow students options for book choice–but also pick books that are interesting and generate discussions. “Good” books.


Final thoughts:

I really like these ideas because it gives me a lot of ideas on how I could build continuity and a learning culture in my classroom. The article highlights that all issues did not go away, but things improve. The main take away from all of this for me is that learning takes place when students feel safe, have co-created criteria, show ownership of their learning, are given opportunities for choice, and when classroom are consistently building a sense of community through mini-lessons and consistency.









2 thoughts on “Building a Community of Learners

  1. Great ideas, Robert. I like how you include student choice. It makes such a difference when students are able to choose their path based on interest in order to reach a set goal that you’ve created alongside them. Do you have a link to this article? 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s