Today’s successful reader must demonstrate “thoughtful literacy.” Thoughtful literacy, according to Dr. Dorothy Strickland and Dr. Richard Allington, emphasizes students’ comprehension performance. Beyond recalling facts, we want students to be able to personalize, think about, and analyze text. We want students to be able to apply a repertoire of strategies to approach different types of texts, achieve reading fluency, and actively monitor their comprehension. Successful readers are able to question, summarize, opine and infer across genres and reading materials. Students must be able to think critically and express their ideas, both verbally and in writing. Beyond working with a teacher, students benefit from structured cooperative learning opportunities with their peers. It makes the reading much more fun!
Literature circles are student-centered, collaborative book clubs that promote social engagement in connection with developing literacy skills. Literature circles enhance student motivation, provide real-life context for engaging in literate conversations, and promote thoughtful literacy. To facilitate group discussions, students rotate roles that focus on a particular aspect of the group’s discussion.
There are a variety of roles with templates available from different resources. Typical roles include:
- Discussion Director
- Word Wizard
- Literary Luminary
Literature circles are consistently formed around:
- Small groups
- Student choice for book selection
- Specific individual responsibility for the group discussion
- Developing an understanding of the text through discussion with peers
The setup is really important. During the introductory meeting with students, the teacher should conduct book talks to introduce several book choices. Students then come to an agreement on the book selection or, depending on the size of the group, students are grouped based on their preferences. Groupings, however, must take into account a student’s reading level. We want to use “just right” books that are appropriately challenging so that students stay motivated to read. In a classroom, this introduction and grouping may unfold over several days. In a private book club setting, this process may be adapted.
Literature circles also present a wonderful opportunity for students to practice executive functioning skills, such as time management, long-term planning, daily scheduling, and negotiating with peers. Since the students are already intrinsically motivated about participating in a literature circle, we can dive right in during the first meeting. I ask students to map out a plan for completing the book by a set deadline. Then I have my students plan their roles and track their rotations using a matrix.
Students are accountable to one another, and they do hold each other responsible for being prepared for the group discussion. I have watched students become very frustrated and express their disappointment with a peer who comes unprepared, and it rarely happens a second time. These discussions become authentic, important and meaningful opportunities for students to discuss, debate and engage with each other about a text. It’s powerful to watch, and students usually ask for a reward…
…another book for another round of Literature Circles!