Once or twice a year, dependent on what the students feel like doing, we set out on our book clubs journeys in 7th grade. For 11 years I have been sharing ideas on this blog and so it feels natural to revisit past posts and update what we have been doing since my practice is always evolving, if only in small outward ways.
Last year, we did them virtually, as detailed in the post here. This year we are back together and the excitement is building for our first book clubs of the year, especially after the kids heard they were not writing a literary essay to go along with them.
Timeline and Time Spent
Where do book clubs fit in for us? This graph may help with our layout for the year. While I love doing book clubs, I will not do more than two of them in a year, our students ask us for moderation in everything we do and so two is enough in order for them to have other experiences with books as well. Of course, students may choose to run their own book clubs at any point, but they are not required to discuss their books like this except for these two times.
Having a gap in the book clubs allows us to continue our all-year focus on joyful independent reading, as well as see their growth. Since we start out the year by focusing on their independent reading and then slip into a read-aloud for the Global Read Aloud we have done a lot of work with establishing our overall reading community. This helps a lot when I need students to work independently either reading or discussion while I am coaching other students in our team area.
In our 88 minutes, our breakdown looks something like this (note this is the only time during the year that we do not start our class with independent reading):
- 10-20 minute mini-lesson, it becomes about 10 minutes once we have read aloud our anchor mentor text – For our Dystopian book clubs I lean heavily on the work shared by TCRWP and so we use the short story Ponies by Kij Johnson, in spring I use short story that I found in the brilliant book Unbroken – 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp. Some of the mini-lessons are inspired by the work shared by TCRWP, but then we have put our own lessons as well.
- Then 30-40 minutes is reading time for the groups. They can also choose to discuss in their group, I require they discuss in front of a teacher once a week.
- Then we pull back together to discuss our inqury question and do more learning surrounding this as we add to our knowledgebase. We end the class with 15-20 minutes of creative writing.
The number one purpose of book clubs for us is for students to engage in meaningful discussions, that are rooted in their chosen books but not confined by them. We really want students to feel like they are honing their voices, continuing to carve out their ideas and thoughts on the world, and also finding others to share their thoughts with. We also want to make space for our continued ponderings about the world and so the dystopian book club is framed by the inquiry question; How close are we to living in a dystopian world? We want our kids to be able to be together, to explore facets of the world they are curious in, and to relish this time we are spending diving into beautiful books. This community piece is huge for us, which is why there is very limited written work associated with their time in book clubs.
We have a few guidelines in room 203:
- The book club experience needs to protect their reading identity.
- The book club experience needs to be worth their time.
- The book club experience needs to give them opportunities for authentic, non-teacher directed conversations.
- The book club experience needs to help them grow as readers, thinkers, and human beings.
- The book club experience needs to be accessible to all types of readers. It is not just meant for the chosen few.
We want to make sure at all times that these guidelines are honored in order to protect the reading community we have painstakingly built together. This means that we check in with these guidelines before we implement anything.
Implementing an inquiry question that goes beyond their individual books allows us a natural opportunity to dive into the history of this nation, to learn, with choice embedded, about the laws that govern us, as well as how different groups of people have been targeted differently throughout history. This also changes our experience from one that is focused on the future and “what if?” to the right now. This is an important shift that has taken more root in the last few years in our classroom and my thinking and implementation around us is still evolving. Right now, a lot of what we learn is through short documentaries that then build our knowledge base. It is important for me that I offer up the many different opportunities for our students to think deeply beyond just literary terms and book clubs offer us a way to do this. One of the explorations we will use is choosing videos to watch, reflect on, and discuss from these Supreme Court briefs.
Central to the experience is, of course, the choice of books. While our first book club of the year is centered around Dystopian Science Fiction (which the students loved), the second round is centered on the theme overcoming obstacles. Because this is a broad theme it has allowed us to bring in all types of formats of books, as well as honor many different reading accessibility points. We, therefore, have more than 40 books to choose from. These include many genres such as realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction. It also includes different formats beyond the regular chapter books such as free verse novels, graphic novels, and audiobooks.
While all students are offered the opportunity to read at least one book in the three or so week span that clubs last, we also have groups who choose to read an entire series or multiple stand-alone books in order to compare them. They then engage in across series comparison work. One trick then is to make sure that they slow down enough to think deeply across the books and not just skim through the pages.
I have also implanted a short story option for the kids who for whatever reason are not in a space to take on a full book right now. We then have 3 short stories, one for each week, where we provide scaffolded questions that they can prepare for and I then facilitate the conversation. This has worked really well for the few kids who have needed it.
To see our book club choices for dystopian, please view the slide show. This changes as new books are published, I am always specifically looking for dystopian books written by the global majority. For the spring book club, the book choices change a lot.
One thing, we are asked a lot is how do you have so many books? There are a few factors at play here. One, my district, Oregon School District, believes in the power of funding books. This is why we have a beautiful school library and classroom libraries. We have a well-curated book room that continues to grow and expand as we add more titles, we tend to add groups of 5 to 10 titles in order to have a lot of different books to offer rather than just a few. I also buy a lot of books, I wish it wasn’t that way, but I do. While I certainly buy many via traditional means, I also use Books4School and Scholastic to help supplement our collection.
Because our book clubs are central components every year, we have been adding to our collection year after year and I don’t think that will stop any time soon. We have a lot of different readers and need a lot of different books.
Making Groups and Choosing Books
Because choice and honoring who our students are as human beings is a central component, we knew we needed to offer students ways to be invested in who they are spending all of this time with, as well as the book(s) that they end up reading. This is why they have a central voice in who they are with.
This starts with the partner interviews. This is a way for all students to reflect on who they are as a reader and what they need others to be in their groups. While many students naturally gravitate toward interviewing their friends, they often find that their friends’ reading habits do not match their own. They use this sheet to interview each other and then hand it in. For this later round of book clubs, students were given the opportunity to totally group themselves. We did discuss that they needed to be welcoming to all students and to base this off their reading habits, not just who they were friends with. All classes did a really nice job setting up their groups. All groups are kept to 3 or 4 students, with a rare exception for a partnership or a group of 5. We like the 3 to 4 people groups because it means everyone has an active role.
We do not assign roles to members of the group because we see this as an artificial component of groups, that while it may be helpful when students first start out in book clubs in younger grades, really can end up changing the experience and not allowing them to fully express themselves they way we would like them to.
Once they have created a group, they then go through the slideshow to select their top 5 of the books. There are two rules, they have to follow:
- No one in the group can have read the book or watched the movie.
- Everyone has to agree to rank it.
For some of my voracious readers, they sometimes can’t find five great choices. We then enlist the help of our classroom library, school library, and our librarian in order to help them find something they want. This is also where I typically end up buying one or two other sets of books that then get added into our rotation.
Once their books have been selected, they turn their sheets into me and then wait a day while we puzzle out what they get. The very next day, they are then introduced to their book club choice. Students then create their own reading plan breakdown. This is once again to honor their busy lives and reading habits. They then sign up for one day a week to discuss in front of a teacher, who assesses their discussion skills. There are still a few choices here:
- The group can choose to change their book before they even begin – we then show them what is left for them to choose from.
- The group can choose to abandon the book together within the first 3 days of reading. This is in case they don’t love it as much as they should. We want this experience to be awesome, not awful so book choice is vital.
- A student can choose to abandon their group within the first 3 days as well, if they really dislike the book or the dynamics are not working out for some reason. They then need to approach another group to ask if they can join them (with adult support) and then catch up to that group.
If a group needs access to the audio version of the book in order for all kids to be successful, we then add the book to our Audible account. We don’t ever want the decoding of the words to stand in the way for a child to truly participate since the decoding is not what is being assessed. This also allows our kiddos who need extra support to be a part of these clubs without barriers that may harm their reading identity. Many groups also end up using Audible as a way to read together, thus enhancing the reading experience.
And now they read and we start our mini-lessons. We always give them a few days to get into their book, during this time we do reminders of what we are looking for in powerful discussions, as well as have them do a main character baseline.
Other “tools” we introduce to help our students find success are…
- Creating an anchor chart following our mini-lessons of what they can pay attention to when they are reading.
- Handing them a bookmark that also gives them things to discuss. They tape their reading plan to the back of it. I also pull small groups that need extra support with their discussions in order to help them find success.
- Have kids create their own rules for how they want their clubs to function. Kids used to post these but now they just share them with me, it is not even so much the rules I am interested in but rather the discussion itself. How will they help each other find success and how can they also hold each other accountable?
- I stop discussions if they are not going well. If it is clear that a group is not prepared to discuss, I would rather pause them than keep them going. This means they get a chance to come back the following day once they have prepared. If it happens again, then they do their discussion ad we discuss what needs to happen the following week.
- Lots of post-its or note cards. This is the only time during the year where we require students take notes as they read. I do mini-lessons on what you can put on a post-it note or what you can annotate for so that there is a deeper meaning to their notes and not just “…the teacher said I had to do it…” some students need more help than others. They cannot discuss if they do not have evidence pulled to support their thoughts.
- Discussion prep sheets. We have found that if we have students pick things they want to pay attention to and discuss the following week, their discussions are so much better. This graphic organizer changes as we see fit. Before they then discuss in front of us, we ask them what they are focused on this week and then hold them accountable for that. Two of the three things they are asked to focus on are items we have discussed in class, such as power structure, unspoken rules to live by, or character change.
- Partner feedback groups. I have written more about these in this blog post.
After the first week, I pull them to discuss in front of me and then continue to do so every week. The first discussion is a formative discussion and then the following two are summative.
What do I assess?
We start with a pre-assessment using a choice of a short film or text in order for students to show us what they already know. This also lets me know what I should focus heavily on or not. We have purposefully included a short film so that decoding does not stand in the way of kids expressing their thoughts. Again, we really want all kids to be able to show off their knowledge without some of their usual obstacles.
The skills they are assessed on are directly tied into their discussions and not to any written work unless they choose to do written work. The rubric for their discussions can be viewed here. If a student does not do well in discussion or would rather be assessed through writing, we give them the option to do this one-pager created by my fantastic colleague, Liz. We also have a few kids where they are doing the one-pager and discussing with an adult instead of with a group because of extenuating circumstances. However, we try our very best to give ALL kids the same experience, even if we provide more support for some of them in order to be successful. Often, kids who are labeled as below grade level readers will not be exposed to the same reading experiences and opportunities as their peers, because we worry that they will not be able to do it, however, when we remove even the opportunity for them to try then we may end up limiting their future growth. How can you ever be successful in discussions if you have never been expected to do one?
As they are discussing, I am marking down what I hear and also thinking of what supports they need in order to continue their growth. One of the big areas of growth is always how to explain how their chosen evidence ties in with their ideas beyond the obvious and to help them go deeper in their reasoning, this is major work we are continually working on all year, not just in book clubs. Their discussion tends to last 10-15 minutes, at the end I ask them to tell me what they think went well and then what they need to work on. Only after they have spoken, do I offer my feedback as well as a plan forward. We then discuss the idea and what they need to grow, then they are released. We do three discussions in the three weeks, the first one is formative, the next two are summative. If a child is out on a day they are scheduled for discussion, we either wait until they are back if we can or they do a minor written discussion for me.
As a fun way to wrap up the unit, I have all groups do 12-word book summary, detailed here. They get two days in class to work on it and then they present in front of each with motions. Then we end with watching The Hunger Games or Wall-E as a way to wrap up the unit.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.