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Book Club integrates reading, writing, speaking, and listening in a variety of learning contexts. These contexts for learning—which range from reading independently to sharing ideas with the whole class—overlap constantly while they support and enrich one another. For the purposes of discussion, however, we divide the Book Club program into the following components.
Students begin by reading high-quality trade books that inspire them to think, ask questions, and make connections to their own lives.
The obvious first step in getting children excited about reading is to expose them to interesting, well-written books. Because the Book Club program revolves around lively discussions, books that deal with important and often controversial issues make the best choices. In addition, most Book Club teachers use themes to organize their reading instruction. This may mean that the books in the classroom library are thematically related to those that the students are reading in their small groups. Or it may mean that each small group is reading a different book, but all of the books share a common topic or theme. Book Club can increase your options for interdisciplinary instruction when you select books that develop themes from your social studies, science, or other curriculum areas.
Book Club provides opportunities for many different reading experiences. Many Book Club teachers begin each day by reading aloud. Then the students read a section in the books that they're discussing in their small groups. They might do this reading independently, with partners, or in some other format, depending on their needs and skills as well as the teacher's instructional goals.
It's important that all students—not just the best readers in the class—read high-quality literature. In too many cases, less able readers have been left to practice reading skills while others read real books. Book Club teachers have used partner reading, choral reading, teacher read-alouds, audiotapes, parent readings, and Chapter One assistance to include all members of a diverse classroom in the experience of good literature. They've found that every student has something to contribute to a book discussion when given the opportunity and appropriate support.
As they read, students record their responses in reading logs. Over time, each student builds a repertoire of response types that includes a wide variety of personal, creative, and critical responses.
It makes sense that children who are good readers will also be good writers, and that good writers will also be good readers. Research has confirmed that reading and writing influence each other as a child develops in both areas. That is, the more a child reads, the better his or her writing becomes, and vice versa. The Book Club program takes full advantage of this relationship, providing a framework within which reading and writing skills develop hand-in-hand, supporting and enriching one another.
In recent years, reading logs have taken the place of traditional workbooks in many classrooms. These logs appear in a variety of forms, but their basic function is to provide a place where students can record their ideas, feelings, and questions about what they are reading. Teachers may provide a few open-ended questions to spark students' thinking or create pages that prompt students to apply skills such as comparing and contrasting, sequencing, predicting, or summarizing. But reading logs consist mostly of blank pages on which students can write, draw, or diagram their personal responses to the text.
In Book Club, reading logs help children prepare for their small-group discussions. The thoughts and questions that each child records while reading provide a rich source of material for later discussion. After they have met and talked about the literature, children may write about how the discussion has affected their thinking. Thus, reading logs become a written history of students' evolving ideas as they read and discuss books. They are also a tangible symbol of the value placed on students' own reactions to literature and on what students can learn from talking to each other.
Student-led Book Clubs
Groups of four to five students share ideas from their reading logs. As students become more comfortable with the format, their conversations flow more naturally.
Susan McMahon, co-founder of the Book Club Project, has suggested that classroom talk about literature should flow like a "river of interpretation," moving naturally from one topic to the next based on students' ideas and interests. This model parallels the conversations that adult readers have about books and allows for engaging discussions that are relevant to students' lives. The Book Club program facilitates meaningful conversations about books in a non-threatening, teacher-supported context.
Four to five students comprise each student-led discussion group, or book club. Ideally, a book club is a heterogeneously mixed group, representing the diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, economic background, and academic abilities in the classroom. Students who are just beginning the program rely heavily on their reading logs to provide discussion topics. As they become more comfortable and skilled, however, they'll start to take risks. Their conversations will begin to relate their personal experiences and feelings to the literature. At the same time, students will learn that the point of reading good literature is not to find the "right" answers for completing a worksheet, but to explore their own personal responses to the literature.
By learning to have natural conversations about books, children not only become more excited about literature but also learn more from their reading. Current research tells us that a reader's understanding of a text is enhanced by interacting with other readers. As students participate in book clubs, they'll learn from each other and work together to construct meaning. Since the students themselves decide the content of their discussions, their "rivers of interpretation" will flow wherever their interests and concerns take them.
Ideally, a book club is a heterogeneously mixed group, representing the diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, economic background, and academic abilities in the classroom. A student's understanding of a text is enhanced by interacting with other readers.
While small, student-led discussion groups are the core of the Book Club program, discussions involving the entire class also play a crucial role. During community share, students introduce the ideas and issues that they discussed in their book clubs to the full classroom community. Children in other groups who are reading the same book or a thematically related book can share their unique perspectives and knowledge. Community share is also a context in which the teacher can provide instruction that applies to everyone in the class. For example, if a teacher notices while monitoring small-group discussions that many students seem confused about a particular issue, he or she can clarify this issue during community share.
The purpose of community share can vary depending on when it is held. A whole-class discussion that takes place before students begin reading can be used to build background about the historical context of a book, or to activate prior knowledge so that students make full use of what they already know as they read new material. Community share can be used to give students ideas about what they could talk about in their small-group discussions. Book Club teachers usually bring the whole class together after students have met in their small groups to allow them to share some of the most interesting ideas to grow out of the student-led discussions. In general, whole-class discussions involve students in a wider community of readers and allow them to benefit from the work of all their classmates.