Book clubs is a great way for students to collaborate and think critically and creatively about text that they never have before. It is an important responsibility to be a part of a book club that students are self-motivated to fill. They are interested in their authentic books. They can discuss the text through reading with group members. They are supporting opinions or arguing points with text evidence. They are challenging themselves to analyze characters, events and themes in their stories. All of these amazing things can happen once they are given the tools and deeply understand the process of good discussion.
Last year was my first year implementing book clubs into my third grade classroom. It was a great success, so I thought. Students were definitely excited to meet in their groups and talk about their books. It encouraged struggling readers to put good effort into completing their reading. I was so excited about this positive aspect that book clubs was bringing to my classroom, that I was missing some key mis-steps that I had made in starting the activity in my classroom.
In my reflection, I have now seen some ways I could have improved book clubs in my classroom. First of all, I was doing too much of the planning. I had packets of activities for the students to be doing with the book. Many students could successfully complete and benefit from the activities, yet some were overwhelmed with the different skills instead of focusing on the reading. I also did not model the activities enough before distributing. I expected the students to already know the process of reading, gathering, analyzing, creating and discussing in book club. When it was time to meet, the groups were excited, but there were always a couple students who did not have every activity done or not all of the reading done because they were worried about completing the activities. Our meeting days were the same for every group, so I had five different groups meeting on one day. As I monitored the conversations when walking around the room, I was excited to hear the good discussions, but I was not able to assess each student individually in what they were sharing about the book. The experience itself was successful in that it excited and motivated students to read and collaborate with their peers, but it was hard for me to see if the standards were being addressed and if I had prepared the students enough to have the best discussions that they could. This is where my re-vamping came this year.
As a third grade team, we knew we wanted to make some changes. The first thing I suggested is taking MORE TIME! WHAT?? WE CAN’T DO THAT WE HAVE TOO MUCH TO COVER. This was my old mindset. I have really changed that this year. What I have realized is that when you take the time to model the activities before hand, you take less time in reviewing those skills later on at the end of the year. We decided to take a whole week to model book club discussions with a class read aloud, The Lemonade War. This text has a great lesson and rich character relationships to explore. We decided to model book club discussions as we read the text aloud. While I was reading each chapter, I was also able to model when and where to use sticky notes to highlight important excerpts so my third graders would not go sticky note crazy. I was also able to show why certain parts of a story are important with symbols from our close reading tool box:
Then we implemented the fishbowl strategy. In this strategy, I had each book club group model a book club discussion for each chapter of The Lemonade War that we had read the day before. Before the discussion, the group had to prepare ONE statement from the text using our discussion skill cards that we would be using for our book clubs the following week. The five students in the group (the fish) would sit in the middle of the circle on the carpet with the rest of the class (fish bowl) circling the inner group. The fish took 10 minutes to each share their statement about the chapter and the other fish would respond by agreeing, disagreeing or adding evidence or connections. I let the groups go through the discussion, only stepping in when I thought it was time to move on to a new statement. Students in the fish bowl were entranced by the conversations and loved to share comments after the group was completed. As the fishbowl practices went on through the week, they started improving. The reflection, modeling and practice time was so helpful for students to see.
As I have introduced book clubs this week, students are already brimming with excitement in their reading. I have completely taken away the packet activities that overwhelmed students and replaced them with higher-order questions that I created specifically for each book. All students have to do is prepare one written response from those questions along with 2 discussion questions and 2 thoughtful sticky noted events from the story they want to share. I already am seeing students add thoughtful notes while reading AND re-reading their assigned chapters for the week. I have scheduled the reading so that two groups are having their book club meeting one day and the other three will have their meeting the next day. This way I can rotate to the meetings so I will be present for most of the discussions and assess students on their discussion skills and preparedness.
In our quick check in’s this week, where I made sure students were on the right track, I am not seeing any stressed out faces or confused looks. Students are already looking forward to their meeting to share their opinions, predictions, questions and thoughts. Our first meetings will begin tomorrow and I hope that these little changes will bring great book club discussions this week!