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Friday, May 24, 2013

Literature Circles 2013: The Adventure Continues!

Yesterday, we started Literature Circles.

This year, I decided the best way to do it was with two classes and made my offer to a Year 7 English teacher who had a double period at the same time as me. We both had to do it anyway and it would save us competing for venue(library) and resources(books) as well as giving our students a wider range of choices.

Before beginning, I asked my own students which of them had done it before(some had done it in primary school) and invited them to tell me what they thought it was.

One of them asked, "Is it like a book club?" Not like MY book club, of course, but definitely like an adult one and I agreed: "Yes, that's exactly what it is! It's book club for the classroom."

Because we have had the same books for the last couple of years and there were going to be a large number of readers, I took a look at my shelves and among the class sets and chose some I thought they might like and that had meat for discussion.

Holes used to be the Year 8 class text, before we went to Lit Circles. It's a wonderful book, and students loved it and last year, several asked for it in the library. I made that available. We had more than enough copies. There's a group of four reading it.

I had taught Stephen Herrick's The Simple Gift to Year 11, who enjoyed it, even those who whined loudly about our other class texts, and it had also been on our Year 10 list. It's a verse novel, not difficult reading, but sophisticated concepts for good readers to discuss. We have a group doing it.

Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was a Year 10 book at one time, also, but Year 10 teachers got sick of it, so it was out. I offered that too. There was some interest in it, but mostly by students who couldn't handle it. Reluctantly, I had to concede this one won't run this time.

We definitely needed some extra choices, because there's a Year 8(not mine) that did it last year.

So, apart from the above, here's what was chosen: Specky Magee,  Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan, Mao's Last Dancer junior edition, by Li Cunxin, The Ice Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield,  A Ghost In My Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang, Space Demons by Gillian Rubinstein and a short book called The Big Dig by Meg McKinlay. It's kind of nice that all but two of these books are Australian published. It's not that we did the patriotic thing, it just worked out that way. I've read them all except Specky Magee(next project, thank goodness it's short!).

I was sad that some of the wonderful books from the last two years aren't on the list - Burn Bright and Dragonkeeper and Once. It's not that they had no interest, but that some of the interest was from students who couldn't handle them - well, they could handle Once, but we tried to give first choice where possible and work out the groups so that where there was a student who needed support to get through a book, there was at least one good reader with a kind heart who would help them.

Which brings me to the process of choosing groups. We had a mixture of reading levels. There are Year 7 students reading at Year 12 level and Year 8 students reading at Grade 2 and 3 level. The choice of books was wide enough to cater for them all, more or less, as long as we had aides to help the Integration students, but we had one Integration student who would have been highly offended at being placed with that group, so we gave him a mainstream book that was not too hard and the aide sat with the group. We had students who would fight if we put them together and others who would waste time and some who would put aside their own work to help others who would not be grateful, leaving their own work undone. I would have loved to have a group of high-skill readers who could make the most of it, as I have had in previous years, but they made different choices, so we settled for at least two good readers where we could get them.

All this and giving them their choices of book! We did ask them not to choose a book they had read before, as it would bore them and ruin any chance of a good discussion if someone said, "So, what do you think happens next?" and someone else already knew! Or if someone knew already WHY a character did this or that. We did have to allow one student who had seen the movie to read the book, or there wouldn't have been a group, and besides, he might come to appreciate the differences between a book and even a film that was fairly faithful to it.

Even as it was, I panicked a bit when a student told me he'd suddenly realised he had read this book after all. Turned out he hadn't - he was confusing it with something else.

So, yesterday, after a lot of running around and preparation, we got the library set up and the books ready to collect and then... All the year 7 students were gathered at the other end of the library to be yelled at over a lunchtime incident, for about twenty five minutes! That took a large chunk out of our teaching time and made a negative start. I sat with my year 8 students, keeping them occupied while we waited, having to speak softly in order not to disturb the drama on the other side of the library.

Still, we got going, beginning with getting them into their groups and practising with a short story before they began reading. We had already shown them some discussions from a previous year( how glad I am I had the idea of videoing them!) and most had agreed they did have a better idea of what was expected after seeing them.

They only had about half an hour to read after the interruption and delay, but got into it with a good will. There were already discussions going, arguing about word meanings, read alouds, agreement of how much they should read. One student asked to borrow his novel. I had to say no; last year I lent out novels which never came back and we're short as a result, but mainly, you have to trust people to remember to bring the book to class. And if he was anything like me he'd read the book in an evening and twiddle his thumbs while others caught up. You're supposed to discuss it as you go.

Next week I will be at Reading Matters and my colleague will have to explain about roles. Lucky man!

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