Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Magic of Lit Circles

Years ago, I was brainwashed into believing that whole class novel study could not effectively teach literature to a group of students at various reading levels. I distinctly remember being told by a trusted colleague that I would never reach all of my learners by teaching the same book to an entire class of students. Even though I was skeptical of her words, I chose to believe her.

As I became a more seasoned teacher, I used short stories and passages from our grade level anthology to teach reading skills to my students.  I added poems, song lyrics, and nonfiction articles into the mix while differentiating instruction for the various learners in my classroom. Still, I refused to read an actual novel with my class. "They are reading books independently outside of class," I would convince myself. "Surely that is enough reading practice." But deep down, I knew that it was impossible to guarantee that all of my students were actually reading literature on their own.

Then one day, I had an interesting conversation with a mother or three children, all of whom graduated from my school. I told her about my views on why I do not teach novels in class and she said, "I loved it when my children read books in school because sometimes it was the only way to get them to read."

I often remember that parent, and I am grateful for her honesty. She truly helped me see the forest through the trees.

Once I was finally ready to attempt a novel study with my students, I decided to use a strategy known as literature circles. Lit circles are essentially mini book clubs where students are responsible for reading a book and meeting in small groups on a regular basis to discuss the reading.  In addition, students take turns completing specific lit circle roles which are shared during lit circle meetings to enhance the discussions about the book. Typically literature circles are not composed of teacher-selected groups of students all reading the same title, but since my intention of lit circles was purely to motivate all of my student to read the selected book, I did it anyway.

It did not take long for me to see how powerful lit circles can be in the classroom, even when students are all reading the same teacher-selected book. Maybe it was the book I chose. Maybe it was peer-pressure. Whatever the reason, lit circles got all of my students to read the book. How could I tell? Just listening to the depth of discussion taking place in the lit circles throughout my classroom was evidence enough to prove that everyone had been reading the book. Hallelujah!

Reading can be a very social experience, and lit circles truly helped me get all of my students to enjoy reading and discussing literature. Moving forward, I would like to redesign some of the lit circles roles to support the literature skills outlined by the Common Core State Standards. Next quarter, my students will also be participating in a 1:1 Chromebook pilot program, and they are very eager to use the new devices to complete all lit circle roles in a paperless fashion. Please check back soon to hear about our progress!

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