Friday, January 4, 2013

Revisiting Lit Circles Once Again

This is a post I started some time ago and am finally getting back to it.
One thing that has been hitting me each week has been our lit circles.  I have worked with lit circles for many years and even done workshops about them but to me they have both a magic and elusive quality to them.
Teaching at SFU many years ago, I had my university students do lit circles and share their reading with each other.  For many, it was the favorite part of the class, and when they saw the joy of reading and sharing books with each other, I knew that this would become a part of their classroom teaching as they could see its power.
I have always been a strong believer in lit circles but honestly they aren't always easy to execute. At one point I gave up having groups read the same books because everyone seemed to need a different amount of time to finish their reading.  I also had trouble monitoring all the groups.  Then I decided to just have them share whatever they were reading in lit circles, doing this once a week, after I had "trained" them.  This seemed to work well.  I still often bought several copies of books as I found the kids liked to read what their friends were reading.  I would also have a class novel going as well where I would do more direct teaching.

After four years at the school board, I came back to teaching and didn't initially do lit circles until the seventh graders kind of demanded them, having done them in sixth grade.  I chose to use strategies picked up from Faye Brownlie's book, Grand Conversations.  If someone finished the book earlier than the others they could move to another book and circle.  I think I was doing this when the sixth graders were doing something with our teacher librarian.  I kept all my sixth graders for the second year and they do were eager to do lit circles.  This time we were just heading into unit on Ancient Egypt and I managed to have an assortment of books on Ancient Egypt.  Some kids finished six in six weeks and others two but that was okay.  Then we moved into an assortment of contemporary novels. 

Last year I again had a six/seven split so I believe I did lit circles with the seventh graders.  I honestly can't remember much about it!  But this year I asked our teacher/librarian to do a novel study with my ESL/LAC students and decided to do lit circles again with the rest of the class.  I chose novels that went with our theme of struggling children like our class read aloud, Almost Home.  The kids chose their novels and just got to work on their own like magic.  Strange but true!  One interesting thing they seem to love taking turns and reading aloud.  Also strangely the groups have stayed together.  One group has only read a couple of books and another has read at least six books!  The group that has only read two books has avid readers who are reading other books as well. 

The lit circles meet once a week and set their reading goal for the coming week.  They are to write a response to share with the group when they meet.  I have group evaluation forms to help keep them on track and some guiding questions. 
As usual I have had other surprises,  reluctant at first, my all boys' group started reading Stargirl and found themselves, much to their surprise, loving it.  I had to go order copies of the sequel, Love, for them. 

I have really been pretty hands off in my approach.  I occasionally join the groups but they have been really quite goal oriented.  I think Lit Circles are another great way of encouraging reading. 

My ESL/LAC group has loved doing a novel study in the library.  They have used a favorite book of mine, After Peaches, by Michelle Muldar that touches on the working conditions of migrant workers in BC.  It is about a girl and her family who are refugees from Mexico. 

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