Okay, I confess: I thrive on organization and structure in my classroom. My students like routines, and I like to know what progress each student is making on a daily basis. If you are like me, then your first experience with literature circles may just put you over the edge. Relinquishing control of my classroom was not easy.
Customizing Literature Circles
How I implement literature circles depends upon the learning outcomes for that unit. When I first implemented literature circles, the students in each group were assigned roles, as suggested by Harvey Daniels in Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (2002). Scholastic has a great resource that expands upon Daniels' work: Moving Forward With Literature Circles by Dixie Lee Spiegel, Janet McLellan, Jennifer Pollack Day, and Valerie B. Brown. This was helpful in teaching students how to think; however, I struggled with students who would select a quote, passage, or a couple vocabulary words without actually reading the book. On the other hand, there were students who were in a reading frenzy, finishing books in a day or two. Literature circles became more of an independent study for them. Now, I customize the literature circles to target specific learning outcomes and meet the needs of my students.
After adopting the Understanding by Design framework by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, I redesigned the experience to focus on the enduring understandings, essential questions, and learning outcomes of the literature circles experience. Literature circles still provide voice and choice. However, I also have a follow-my-curriculum map. Each unit addresses specific learning standards, so it is important to ensure that all students acquire the targeted skills and knowledge.
After engaging in a book talk, I give each student an index card. They put their names at the top. Underneath, they write their top three choices in order of preference. The cards create groups of four to five students based on choice, reading fluency, and compatibility. Students who read at similar reading rates experience less frustration. If a student finishes early, he or she can engage in enrichment activities.
Group Folders for Monitoring Progress
Each group receives a color-coded folder for storing group handouts. The folders are kept in the classroom, so if one student is absent, the rest of the group can still work. It also allows me to check up on student progress.
Middle school students sometimes struggle with long-range goals. To help them plan ahead, I give them a with due dates and other relevant dates on it, which is kept in the folder. Students analyze the calendar, and after a group discussion, they schedule their own assignments. As soon as my 6th graders are in control of their own homework, they are highly motivated to read. Motivation is so high that they often assign themselves more reading than I would, and they are more apt to honor the due dates. Ultimately, each student is responsible for transferring the assignments from the group calendar into his or her planner, thereby teaching them the skills necessary for achieving long-range goals.
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