I knew I was up against some pretty deep-seated negative notions, but I guess I didn’t know how deep they really ran until yesterday when I started to read my end-of-year surveys. One questions asked, “What is the one thing Mrs. Ripp should never have 7th graders do?” Usually answers are varied, spread across an entire year of trying to meet every child’s need and invariably always upsetting someone else. But not this year; this year there was a clear winner; book clubs. This awesome way to create a reading community was one of the most hated things by far we did all year. And I am stumped
You see, we didn’t do book clubs the traditional way. Students self-selected their books from more than 50 choices (we even involved the library for some groups that didn’t like the 50 presented to them). Students set their own rules, reading pace, and expectations. They were given 3 weeks to read the books and ample time to do so in class, so that it wouldn’t become another homework assignment. I asked them to try to speak about the books for no more than 10 minutes, keeping their conversations focused and to the point. I encouraged them to write down things they wanted to discuss and we also brainstormed guiding questions that they were then given on bookmarks to help start their conversations. Their final product was a book talk with a small 5 slide presentation to use a backdrop for their conversation; and again, they were given time in class. Yet, they hated it.
They hated having to read at the pace of someone else. They hated the stilted conversations. They hated that I was even asking them to have a shared reading conversation, often carrying resentment that I had shaped their groups. We had discussed why I had made the groups, and some ended up loving theirs, and yet, others said it was the worst experience I could have forced them to do. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to talk about books, they just didn’t want to go deeper with them, not in that way, not with those people.
So as I sit and dream of next year, because isn’t that what we do over the summer, I cannot help but think what else I can do to make book clubs an enjoyable part? Should I abandon them altogether? We do read aloud where we discuss text, so we still have a shared reading conversation where we interpret, experience, and try to figure out the book together. Should I make it book partnerships where they interview three potential partners, one recommended by me, and they pick another person or two to read the same book with but perhaps with final approval from me?
Is there even a purpose for book clubs or are they a left over notion from when we were doing literature circles and felt we had to be in more control? How do we rescue something that most of my students hated, but I still see value in? Do I continue to just force it on them, trying to listen, or do we change our ways? Are book clubs even necessary for developing readers? I would love to hear your thoughts…
For more behind the scenes information on ideas for book clubs, both good and bad, please go here
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter@PernilleRipp.