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Book Clubs: Building Community with Trust

Over the last few years, I have tried to establish a community of readers and writers. Often times those shared reading experiences have been key to establishing that classroom feel. In Elementary school, it was often around a read-aloud. I remember the pin-drop silence as I finished off the early moments of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book and the questions that followed. The kids were always hooked as we explored the world of Nobody Owens. These read-aloud opportunities were always great for skill-building as well as we practiced different comprehension, visualization, and reflection strategies. When I moved into upper elementary and on to Junior and Senior High I found that the gradual release of responsibility applied to our reading work. I want to move away from directing the reading, the conversations, and move towards students becoming the leads.

This brought me first to Literature Circles. I won't be spending much time talking about them as they never felt like the answer I was looking for. As a step towards a more authentic book club, I could see the more task-oriented literature circles being helpful but the groundwork we had done with read-alouds and the things my students were doing made the roles of literature circles a step backward. They were bored sticking to roles and wanted to run when I was forcing them to walk.

This brought us to book clubs more in line with the ones adults hold. Students would choose their books and using the different strategies we had discussed in class for reflection and recording their ideas throughout the week to share in conversations during the last class of each week. Students set their own reading goals and I provide feedback on their notebooks. Ultimately students have three assignments tied to their book club. A critical analysis essay, an example of multimodal representation, and a group created 11-word summary (Thanks Pernille Ripp). Aside from that students read, notebook and share.

My first attempt at book clubs was really a hodge-podge of scholastic books that came in 6 for $30 packs. There was little if any continuity between the books and well the results showed my lack of purposeful planning. Students read their books and did what was asked of them but I did not sense much excitement. Students were not making connections to their own lives, they were not really being impacted by their books. They were reading but generally beyond that a community was not being formed. So I went back to the drawing board. I looked for texts with diverse stories and characters. I look for experiences that were removed from the ones my students typically lived so that reading was an opportunity to learn about their characters but also themselves. Book clubs really seemed to take off from there. Kids were enthralled as they read Ghost Boys and The Benefits of Being an Octopus. They marveled at all the wise words found in Shouting At The Rain. Along with this they shared their thinking, expanded their knowledge and experience and they practiced reflection and communication in .community with their classmates.

Book Clubs are the focus of this unit and so students have a large amount of time to read in class. I can't control the outside environment but I can dedicate the time I have to this activity so that my students see it is important. As students work on skills they also learn to independently work their way through a text. They learn to question and reflect in the ways that work for them. In turn, I trust them to run their book club so that it works for them. They set their goals, they run their meetings and they hold each other accountable.

Book Clubs are most certainly still a work in progress but they have helped students see the world around them, develop their own literacy skills, and form a community with their classmates around shared reading experiences. With all that considered they are definitely time well spent.

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