If you were to take a peak in my classroom during 5th period yesterday, you may have been quite nervous with the sight in front of you. You’d see one female student, Student A, with her hood up, trying to conceal something beneath her sweatshirt, as she paced the front of the classroom. A boy, Student B, seated near her got up, grabbed her arm, moved it closer to her other arm, and then they appeared to argue. Don’t worry. I was watching the whole time from the back of the room, and I couldn’t help but grin. This is some of what I heard:
Student A: No! You have to believe me. Tariq wasn’t some little punk, and he didn’t steal any milk.
Student B: I thought he stole the milk from the store. That’s what Brian said he did! That’s why he stopped him because he heard someone yell “Stop thief!”
Student A: Did you meet Rocky yet, who worked at the store? Tariq didn’t steal any milk, and Edwin proves it. [Student A opens her book to page 23 and shows a line to Student B.]
Yep, a book. This conversation was all about a book, which was How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. I listened to some animated conversations about whether or not Tariq was a good kid, or if he was getting pulled into a gang. One student couldn’t remember who was who–there are a lot of characters in that book–so other students in the group were helping him out. At the same time this was going on, another group of students was arguing over whether or not Rachel Bruin–from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak–could be a good friend to anyone after the way she treated Melinda on the first day of high school. These conversations are the ones teachers dream of, and they are happening in my classroom. My students are actively reading and then talking about the content and characters with their group members. These are book clubs.
I first heard about book clubs after reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. Penny’s book came out in late 2012, and at the time I loved the idea of book clubs, but I was hesitant to try them. 5-6 titles at once? Where would I get the titles? What kind of chaos would I see in my classroom? Just a few weeks ago, I saw Penny speak in Rochester, NY, and she shared the impact book clubs had in her classroom. After hearing all that her students accomplished, I knew I had to try them. I pushed aside my fears, and the results blew me away.
Choosing titles – Let me begin by saying that book clubs are centered around choice. Yes, I may be choosing the 5-6 titles my students choose from, but I make those choices based on what I have seen them reading during our independent reading time. I started with a long search to see what titles I could get. I wanted well-written, high-interest titles. I have a large classroom library, but I don’t have a lot of multiple copies of titles. This meant I would need to use different books in each of my five classes. Thankfully, I have an amazing librarian who helped me with my search. She got books on loan from other districts, so this way I didn’t have to purchase more than a few myself.
Book talks – Before all the titles came in, I book talked each one that my students could choose from. I gave them short summaries of each one, and read short excerpts. Students wrote down their reactions and used them to vote for their favorites. I promised that they would get one of their top two choices.
Discussions Preparation – I teach 9th graders, so I knew it would be important to practice what a proper discussion looks like before the book clubs met. To do this, we practiced with picture books. This way, I could also have them practice analyzing a text using the reading strategies I recently taught them.
Thought Logs – Once students got their books and began reading, I knew they needed a way to record their thinking so they had something to share in discussions. In Book Love, Penny Kittle used thought logs with her students. They wrote her letters in their writing notebooks about different aspects of the book, and then used them during discussions. I loved that idea, but I was worried that my students wouldn’t bring their notebooks back to the room. (I currently have them keep their notebooks in class, since some students misplace everything they leave with.) Instead, I created my thought logs on one piece of paper (per reading section), and students worked on them as they read. They folded the paper up so it fit right in their book, and this way they always had it with them when they read. Students have four book club meetings, and have a thought log due for each one. Each one is a little different, since students are at different parts of the story each time.
Discussion Time – When it came time for the small group meetings, I was so impressed with what I heard. I heard students correcting others’ confusion, and others discussing what they hoped would come in the next few chapters. I heard “animated discussions,” like the one at the beginning of this post. Most importantly, the majority of students were actively reading, and enjoying their books. The few students that weren’t reading left the first discussion apologizing to their group members and promising to catch up for the next one. This first initial discussion was more comprehension-based, but future discussions will be where students dive in deeper. The thought logs will guide them toward that higher level thinking.
There’s More – Book club meetings aren’t every single day during this three-week period, so there is a lot more that I do with my students. For one, we learn new writing techniques and practice using them. We study the writing in their books, share what we notice about the way stories are written, and even attempt to imitate style. We also keep a list of “cool and interesting words” that we hope to use in our writing. (I got this idea from Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg’s The Author’s Apprentice.) I have still found time to make sure my students write every single day.
After witnessing so much book love in my classroom over the past few weeks, I think it’s safe to say that book clubs are here to stay. Now to find new titles for the next round of book clubs for a little later in the school year.
Have you tried book clubs, or something similar, in your classroom? If so, how did they go? I’d love to hear what works in your classroom!