I have long been a proponent of Donalyn Miller’s approach to reading. In both the Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild – she cites the importance of developing children as readers through exposure to child-selected books and less time on response type activities.
I also love Daily 5 as a way for children to manage themselves during the classroom literacy block.
As I moved down into Year 4 this year I had a group of high-achieving and motivated readers in need of a challenge. They were confident in choosing their own books and enjoyed reading in their own time. What the children craved was higher-level discussion. I realised that they needed more of a challenge so I decided to try literacy circle.
A literacy circle is a group where children construct meaning of the text through in-depth discussion of a shared text. The discussion is guided by the responses that children make to the text depending on the role they have taken; a word wizard is interested in vocabulary, an illustrator will sketch a key scene from a book while the discussion director asks general questions and guides the group. It was very different to the approach I had taken in the past where children were grouped in strategy stages and had far more ‘response’ type activities that I would like to give.
The children chose a book from a selection and assigned themselves different roles each week in response to reading. Learning could be shown in a variety of different ways all the kids needed to do was drop their artefact in a shared google folder and was one of the children’s ‘must dos’ for the week.
The book the kids selected was Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. A book I enjoyed as a read aloud last year and one that was challenging yet still friendly enough for my young readers.
The children enjoyed taking on different roles and reading the book from different perspectives. They organised their own technology needs and my role as a teacher was largely to monitor contributions using the harkness circle, redirecting conversation and offering feedback.
Things that worked for this particular group was:
- A great text. Out of My Mind is a phenomenal book. Nuanced characters, beautiful vocabulary and a plot that enables children to emphasise and relate with their own experience of school.
- A text that linked to a read aloud. I had previously read Wonder to the class and found that Out of My Mind enabled the children to make rich text to text connections.
- A text that had links to a Unit of Inquiry. When the children started this book we were exploring how actions people take can impact on other people’s lives.
Literacy circle didn’t work for every learner in that group. There one or two who, despite scaffolds, struggled with the format either because they were quick to finish the book and wanted to move on or weren’t ready to have critical literacy conversations. I also should have included a few children who showed interest in the book and being part of the circle.
What I was unprepared for was that book club actually became a source of anxiety for a couple of children if they felt what their contribution wouldn’t be up to standard. While the children in group were very warm, giving praise for contributions, they were also very critical. Particularly if they felt that a member of the group wasn’t giving their best. The process did make me question how I was giving feedback to the class and make me more mindful of modelling how to give critical feedback.
These structured discussions were a great success for this particular cohort of students, there was still plenty of student voice and choice but I still left the process wondering.
Am I killing some kids love of reading?