Book Clubs, books, Reading, Reading Identity

My Best Ideas (for now) for Book Clubs at the Middle Level

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.

Overall Purpose

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.

Book Choices

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:

  1. No one in the group can have read the book or watched the movie.
  2. 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:

  1. The group can choose to change their book before they even begin – we then show them what is left for them to choose from.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.

Update:

Here are the self-paced lessons students worked through. They went pretty well, it was a great way to fill in more world knowledge and get kids thinking about the world we live in.

Week 3 – Are We Living in a Dystopia Already?

Week 4 – Who Has Equal Rights?

Book Clubs, books, picture books, Reading

Great Books of 2020…So Far

It continues to amaze me how many fantastic books are accessible to us as readers. 2020 started off strong and continued to amaze as more books made their way into my hands. While some were sent to me via publishers in order to be considered potentially for the Global Read Aloud, many others were recommended by friends and students, I am so grateful for these. While many were brand new books, some were just brand new to me. Either way, there are many books here to potentially check out, so in no particular order, here are my favorite reads so far in 2020.

I have gathered the list for shopping purposes at Bookshop.org – a fantastic website that partners with independent booksellers and pays them a higher percentage for anything they sell than Amazon. Please consider ordering the books from Bookshop.org– an independent bookstore that partners with local independent bookstores to sell books. You can see the list here and also stay abreast of which books I am loving as I continue reading for the year.

Picture Books

My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal, Trinity Neal: 9781984814609 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball - Kindle ...
When Father Comes Home eBook: Jung, Sarah, Jung, Sarah: Amazon.in ...
Red Shoes - Kindle edition by English, Karen, Glenn, Ebony ...
Ron's Big Mission: Blue, Rose, Naden, Corinne, Tate, Don ...
Image result for we are water protectors

Early Readers

Ways to Make Sunshine

Middle Grade

Class Act: Craft, Jerry, Craft, Jerry: 9780062885500: Amazon.com: Books
My Life in the Fish Tank: Dee, Barbara: 9781534432338: Amazon.com: Books
Fish Out of Water | Joanne Levy
The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga, Book 1 - Kindle edition by Robertson,  David A.. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
The Land of the Cranes
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)
The Brave - Kindle edition by Bird, James. Children Kindle eBooks ...
Amazon.com: Cinderella Is Dead (9781547603879): Bayron, Kalynn: Books
Twins (Twins #1) - Kindle edition by Johnson, Varian, Wright ...
Efren Divided - Kindle edition by Cisneros, Ernesto. Children ...
From the Desk of Zoe Washington
The Moon Within
Birdie and Me
The List of Things That Will Not Change
Snapdragon
They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems
Green Lantern: Legacy
Go with the Flow
The Only Black Girls in Town
Rick
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
Trowbridge Road: Marcella Pixley: 9781536207507: Amazon.com: Books
A High Five for Glenn Burke
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
Dragon Hoops
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
The Ghost Collector
The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills
Bloom
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

Young Adult

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez
Amazon.com: Junk Boy (9780062491251): Abbott, Tony: Books
Amazon.com: All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto eBook ...

   

Amazon.com: Again Again eBook: Lockhart, E.: Kindle Store
The Astonishing Color of After
Standing Strong
Manning Up
The Grace Year
Golden Arm
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks & Scones
Dig.
Cemetery Boys
Clap When You Land
Dear Justyce (Dear Martin, #2)
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
A Phoenix First Must Burn
A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #1)
All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth, #1)

Non-Fiction – All Ages Mixed Together

Amazon.com: Becoming eBook: Obama, Michelle: Kindle Store
Amazon.com: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the ...
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality
Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice
Almost American Girl
If I Go Missing
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices
Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City
A Stranger at Home
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures
No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
Book Clubs, Literacy, Passionate Readers, Reading, Reading Identity

How We Set Up Book Clubs in Middle School

Last week, we kicked off our second and final round of book clubs for the year. As I shared the titles for this round of book clubs, I was asked a lot of implementation questions. What do they look like? What do kids do? How do you make them successful? And while I have been referring people back to this post that discusses the changes that we have implemented through the years, I thought it might be nice for a comprehensive post that shares the how and why of what we do.

Timeline and Time Spent

Where do book clubs fit in for us? This graph may help with our layoot 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 90 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:

  • Five minute word study (a root word exploration required by our district).
  • 10-20 minute mini-lesson, it becomes about 10 minutes once we have read aloud our anchor mentor text – a short story that I found in the brilliant book Unbroken – 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp.
  • Then 20 to 30 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.
  • After our bell break, we usually finish with book clubs and switch to our writing work for 45 minutes. We will be kicking off our This I Believe writing unit next week that fits in nicely with our book club theme.

Overall Purpose

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 find others to share their thoughts with. 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 235D:

  • 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.

This also means that the skills they are assessed on are directly tied into their discussions and not to any written work, unless they choose this. 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?

Book Choices

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), this 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 audio books.

While all students are expected 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. 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.

To see our book club choices, please view the slide show. Note: this is updated and I keep updating it so if you want to remember these choices, I would encourage you to make a copy for yourself.

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:

  1. No one in the group can have read the book or watched the movie.
  2. Everyone has to agree to rank it.

For some of my voracious readers, there were not enough 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:

  1. The group can choose to change their book before they even begin – we then show them what is left for them to choose from.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. I will write another post about what I am listening for if there is any interest in that.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.

Be the change, being a student, Book Clubs, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Join Me for the Summer Book Study of Passionate Learners!

With the bustle of April and all of the excitement that that brings, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a summer that calls for reflection, relaxation, re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore summer for all of its passion and courage, and also time to just be a reflective practitioner.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that there will be a summer book study of my first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students , which will kick off on June 1st and run for four weeks until June 28th. Why June? Because while I am still in school in June, I am also itching for some reflection for the new year. And then comes July, where I take time off in order to be a better person and I hope others do as well.

This book is what started it all, it reflects the journey I have been on, inspired by research and people who did the work before me, to create a more human and engaging experience for all of my students, particularly the kids who felt that school was not a place for them. The book is an honest view into what I did then and what I have learned from my students in order to be a better teacher for them while also working within the restrictions of a public school system. It is not meant as a step-by-step guide, but instead as a way for you to reflect on your own decisions and how you can change your teaching to allow room for your students to have more control and power over their learning experience. While the book study will take place in the Passionate Readers Facebook group, it is not a book focused on reading specifically, but rather overall student engagement.

So join the Passionate Readers Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, Facebook Lives, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this school year the best one yet.

In the book club we will explore how to:

  • Establish or expand a learning experience based around giving space for student voices.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behavior.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  June 1st -June 28th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free – you do need a copy of the book, though, you can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

Sign up: Please fill out the Google Form in order for me to email you all the details when we kick off. Don’t worry, I don’t use your email for anything else. Also, join the Passionate Readers Facebook Group in order to be a part of the discussion.

Thank you for wanting to be a part of this conversation, I cannot wait for this opportunity to learn together!


Book Clubs, Reading, Student-Led

Partner Feedback Groups – A Tip for Better Book Clubs

In room 235D, we have been immersed in our dystopian book clubs.  These past two weeks kids have been quietly reading, and loving, their self-chosen texts, using strategies that they have been taught previously, as well as the ones introduced each day, to gain a deeper understanding of the text.  Navigating these books as they try to figure out how they will discuss what they have uncovered, how they will prepare for their own student-led discussions.    Every day, these kids and their thoughts are reaching new heights.  Each day, we get to sit and listen to them discuss without dictated questions, without packets, without us constantly holding their hand.  It is a brilliant thing to see.  

While we have loved seeing the growth in student discussions every year, we wanted to give students another chance to learn from each other and to also be exposed to great conversations.  Enter my brilliant colleague, Reidun, who came up with the following idea and template.  Introducing the partner feedback groups.

The idea is simple:  Students are matched up with a partner group.  Every time the group discusses, the partner group gives feedback to them using the following form.

The sheet is printed and handed to each student

We introduced this tool individually with each discussion group rather than as a group fishbowl.  This was for time’s sake and also helped everyone ask questions and ward off confusion.  While all kids give feedback, not all groups are matched, only because some groups have expressed anxiety over the extra audience and we wanted to respect that.  we are hoping that in the spring when we do our next round of book groups, all groups will be ready to be matched.

Each child is assigned the same person to follow and they take turns coaching each other.  They are not evaluating, but merely paying attention to what is actually happening in the conversation.  It works quite easily.  Let’s say Sam is evaluating Marcus.  Every time Marcus adds to the conversation, depending on what is said, she gives him a tally mark.  So if Markus brings up a new idea to discuss – i.e. the main character fits the villain archetype – she would put a tally in the “Brought up a new idea” box.  She could also write “Villain archetype” under specific example.  She categorizes everything Markus says in order to give him feedback at the end.

Once the discussion is over, they usually last between 10 and 15 minutes, I ask the discussion group, “What went well?”  After they reflect on this, then I ask them, “What do you need to work on? ”  They reflect on that and then it is their partner’s turn to give them feedback.  In our example of Sam and Marcus, she may let him know that while he did well in bringing up new ideas and also responding to other people, he didn’t use a lot of text evidence to back up his thinking.  This is then something he can work on for the following discussion.  After each feedback partner has gone, they are dismissed so that I can speak privately with their group about their actual evaluation.

What we have noticed since implementing this last week is the keen observational skills of our students.  They notice things that we miss and also have been providing spot-on coaching tips.  Just today a student stated how impressed she was with the growth of the member since the last discussion and all of the things she noticed they had worked on.  This tool is offering our students a way to give each other feedback that is constructive and without judgment.  They are merely stating their observations, not offering up a grade.  

In the long run, we hope this help students become better givers of valid and productive feedback.  For many years we have been stuck in a rut when it comes to kids helping each other grow more pointedly.  They often say that things are great when really they need work or simply don’t know what to say.  This little tool has helped them focus on what the tangible skills are and how they can be improved while also providing them with models of effective discussions.  An added bonus has been the excitement over each other’s books as well, and how some kids now want to read the books that other groups are reading.

So there you have, a small idea, shared by a great friend and colleague that has been making a difference in our book club discussions.  To see what else w do to make our book clubs better, go here.

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.