Monday, January 6, 2014

Teacher Book Clubs:  
Reading, rereading, writing about reading, talking, and eating! 
(And falling in love with hope and squirrels.)

This winter I had the privilege of working with teachers at Kaukauna's NDLC on the topic of writing about reading.   We were all curious to see what would happen if we read a book together, did some writing about reading in preparation for a book club conversation, and then had the conversation, and wrote some more.  We were wondering if we would grow stronger in our teaching of reading (and writing about reading) if we actually did some of that work ourselves in the company of one another.   
I enjoyed it so much, that I wanted to share it with other teacher leader friends who may want to do something like this in their schools.  Here are my top 10 reflections on this book club.

#1:  Pick a great book.  We chose Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  It was on my list of children's lit that I wanted to read.  A close runner up (and on my nightstand now) is The Thing About Luck.  One of the teachers at the table ordered 13 copies of our choice on her smartphone and they were in the  mailboxes the next day!  Wow!

#2:  We decided to read it in less than a week.  The teachers and I said, "read as much as you can," and we all knew that choosing a children's chapter book meant that we would all finish or be close to done at the week's end.  We also set a goal to do some writing about reading and come to the conversation with something to offer-up to conversation.  The short deadline and specific assignment helped tremendously.

#3:  We ordered a great lunch for the book club meeting day.  Thanks so much to the principal for the treat!

#4:  We gathered, and as we mingled and opened our lunches, we reread our post-its for 3-4 minutes so we would be prepared for conversation.  I asked the teachers to jot on a post-it something they would like to talk about for a long time.    I also offered up the need to jot clarifying questions.  It is hard to talk about bigger issues or themes in a book if there is a part a reader is still working to understand.  And, we did do a bit of clarifying.

#5:  We decided on a few bigger themes or issues that we thought would make good conversations.  Some of us wanted to talk about a specific character and Kate's deliberate placement of her throughout the story (The Dr. Meecham).  Some of us wanted to talk about the changes in the main characters, Flora and Ulysses, and how the other characters influenced those changes.  Some of us wanted to linger on some very powerful quotes in the book.  We decided to start with one of these and then eventually, we got to it all.

#6:  We worked hard to listen to the person in the club speaking, to ask them to tell us specific text evidence, and then we all went back to reread theat evidence.  We learned that doing this close listening and rereading, helped all of us add on to the conversation and eventually our writing about reading.  For example, while discussing Flora's mother, we asked questions like, "Do you really think the character meant to say that?  Why or Why not?" and then we forced ourselves to dig deeper, rereading places where that character spoke in different parts in the book and we developed a theory about the mother.  This ritual reminded us of the kind of close reading our friends Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts write about in their book, Falling in Love with Close Reading.

#7:  We wrote about our reading in different ways.   All of us collected jots on post-it notes.  Some of us jotted connections, ideas about themes, ideas about characters, and some of us commented on author's craft.   Some of us used a timeline to mark significant changes in a character.  Some of us made double or triple timelines so we could notice how one character's changes may mirror another.  Some of us made character webs or t-charts to compare characters.  Some of us even began to write literary essays during our conversation on the second day. 

#8:  We began to see that the small jots perhaps didn't mean much alone, but when we reread a whole book full of jots, we saw patterns and could use those patters to develop and idea for conversation.  This real-life experience of writing about reading in a book club will help us explain the purpose and importance of all this reading and jotting to our students.  

#9:  We saw ourselves, our families, and our friends in the pages of this book and in our conversations.  Kate DiCamillo is a fabulous writer and this thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud book is just ripe for conversation in upper elementary classrooms - and in teacher book clubs every where.  

#10:  Meeting for book club conversation felt joyful to me, as well as the kind of good, hard work that I want my students to do when they read in a club.  I want to read with this book club, and more like it, in the upcoming months.  

Who wants to join me in talking and writing about The Thing About Luck?  My goal is to post about it next week.  I am hoping to take pics of my jots and invite you to have a conversation with me via the comments section.  Let's give it a try.

Another  big thank you to the #nerdlution twitter community out there.  In case you are new to the hashtag, check out the post that started it all at Colby Sharp's blog and twitter feed.  Nerdlution is motivating me to read 60 min of YA a day and I promise to blog about it.  Nerdlution lasts for 50 days, but I am hoping my goal sticks as a real, long-term habit.

I dedicate this post to my teacher friends at New Directions Learning Community.  You are exactly as your school-name says you promise to be.  I get the chills listening to you joyfully problem-solve, plan, and ask such important questions.  It has been a pleasure to be with you from the conception of your dream to the reality. 
A big thank you for this post goes to Barbara, one of the first grade teachers, who at the end of this 2-day book club conversation, read the most beautiful literary essay about change, hope, and love (and it included text evidence).  We all had to wipe away some tears or run our hands down the goosebumps on our arms.  And, I know Barbara would say that her thought collective helped her write it, so to all of you staff members at NDLC, a big CHEERS!

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