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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Clubs in the Middle School ELA Classroom


I recently posted about book clubs in my classroom and I have gotten tons of questions about how I run them on both of my posts.

I am going to try and answer them all here.

First and foremost, I try to make Book Clubs and simple as humanly possible. I used to be MUCH more involved in the book clubs when I taught fifth grade, but I only had 24 students then, and I had them all day long... and well, they were in fifth grade. I used the book clubs to support them and teach them as readers.

Now that I have progressed to seventh and eighth grade English, my procedures and management have most definitely changed.

I'm going to keep it as real as humanly possible, because when I first started looking into implementing book clubs at this age, I wanted the real truth.

Here is what I have learned and here are the facts.


HOW DO YOU PUT STUDENTS INTO GROUPS?



1. I don't do it by reading levels. GASP. I know, but honestly, I think that totally ruins the whole point of book clubs. I do it by 90% interest. I briefly show students ALL the options, my personal opinion of the book, who tends to like it, it's genre, and subject. Then they can walk around and look at them all. Then they have to give me their top 5 choices for book club books. It used to be 3, but now with so many students, I had to go to top 5, but I also have A LOT more book club choices.

2. I *try* really hard to put them with their friends. 90% of the time this works in my favor because friends have the same interests and hold each other accountable... the other 10% are a complete disaster (but I can usually predict that).

Sometimes I have kids that I know will make a book club difficult no matter which one I put them in. Not being mean, promise. Some kids just struggle with book clubs. I tend to put those 2-3 students in a book club together. Sometimes they set out to prove themselves and they have great success, or it's a complete disaster. I always have at least one group like this, but I would rather it being one group than 3 or 4 that are a total disaster, so I just prepare myself and check in with them A LOT. If one or some end up proving themselves, they go to different groups next round, which is really what I want anyway.

3. After students have given me their top five choices, I get to work making the groups. I almost always can give them one of their top two choices, but sometimes (due to not enough books, too many people in groups, or dynamics) I do have to give them their third, fourth or fifth choice. I also gave my 8th graders priority.

4. Again, I don't pay too much attention to reading levels, but I do pay attention to stamina. If I know a student struggles to finish books, if he/she has Divergent as an option, but also something like A Long Walk to Water (highly engaging, great book, but also short) then I will give them the shorter book, especially for the first time to set them up for success.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

1. Wait to do book clubs. My mentor teacher told me to wait at least six weeks into school. SHE IS MORE THAN RIGHT. When I was in elementary that was really hard for me to wait that long because I loved them and management was simple. In middle school, sometimes it hasn't been until second semester, simply because I've had to wait until a point I thought they could handle it, and a point where I thought I could manage it.

2. Some kids will NEVER read and will NEVER do their book club work or homework. Or they will pretend and make up the reading and/or homework. I wish I could tell you 100% of my students do their book club homework, but it's just not reality. I REALLY do not want to give them quizzes, or comprehension activities, or just another thing for them to do. So I don't. I want book clubs to be fun, and to provoke conversations, and to give kids common things and interests to talk about. I make the homework something super simple and designed to help guide their discussions and 95% of the students do just that. I work really hard to get the other 5% to appreciate the process and idea as well. Some come around and some never do. I don't give up on them, but just know that it does happen.

3. Sometimes kids pick books they don't like, and want to quit. This is a tough one. If the whole group is on board after the first week, I will allow them to abandon and come to a new agreement for their book. If it's just one student, I try to have a discussion with them and see what's best or them and their group. Sometimes they abandon, move to another group and have to play catch-up. Sometimes they just have to suck it up. Again, it doesn't happen often, but there are always a few.

4. Some people read ahead. Let them. We as a class always make super strict rules about no "SPOILERS." If you read ahead, you need to review where your group is so you don't reveal information later in the book. They also have to make sure they only do their "homework," for that week's reading.

I mean, who doesn't want to read ahead when a book gets good, and 4 weeks is A REALLY LONG TIME for true readers. Often these kids end up in groups together, end up reading the whole book in a week (I usually tell them not to worry about the homework and just have discussions) and they will devour 3-4 books during the span of 4 weeks. UMMMM..... I call that a success. That's the real goal, so I 100% let the book clubs evolve as they need to.

HOW DO YOU GET ALL YOUR BOOKS?






I probably get this question more than anything. Honestly, I buy them all. I have been buying the sets for the last 5 years, but it's more than worth it to me. I built up a really solid collection for grades 4-6, but then switched to 7th and 8th and have started to have to buy other sets to keep up with their interests and needs.

I could sit here and tell you that I scope out the best books and the highest quality of literature, but I have a couple problems with that thinking.

First of all, I'm not sure who get to decide what "quality" literature is, except the reader... so I don't make the decision. Currently my new school has a big focus on "the classics," so we're getting plenty of that. Third, I just buy what I can get sets of.

Any time books go on sale for $1-$3 on Scholastic, I buy 5-6 copies of them. Over time, you have a pretty good collection of book club sets. Now that I have a solid collection, I focus on getting specific genres, interests to meet my current students' wants, higher reading levels, and now I've put more of a focus on getting some good non-fiction sets.

Also, hate to break it to you, but you REALLY have to read the book club books that your students read. I have read 80-90% of my sets, and if a club picks a new book, then I make sure to read as they are reading. It's not always easy, but it's kind of necessary, because kids know when you haven't read the book.

*The exception is when you have a book clubs form naturally and you know the kids are reading (again, this is the real goal go book clubs, and they don't really need you to much anymore). Sometimes groups bring in their own books and do that for the club. 99% of the time, those self-motivated groups, do it all without me and that's the best thing ever!

WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU USE FOR BOOKS CLUBS?

I almost always start our really structured and then lay off a bit, or we continue with a lot of structure as I see fit.

We use A LOT of interactive notebook pages in my class, but we actually just used the traditional roles in this resource. I used these in sixth, but when I got to seventh and eighth, I wanted something that wasn't as structured, but pushed their thinking.

Interactive Literature Circles from Lovin' Lit. 



This is the resource I used this year with my seventh and eighth graders. There are some tough pages,  but I LOVED it. The kids liked some pages more than others, but I feel like it really made them think, and they actually helped guide and spark their conversations. 

There are pages to make for the students and then there are also "role cards" so students know what their jobs are when they meet with their book club!




HOW DO YOU RUN BOOK CLUBS?


Okay, this changes constantly.

When I taught fifth grade, they decided how much they would read each week, they each had to come to the group with three questions to ask, we would meet (me included, to help run the groups and make them think deeply about the books), discuss the books and our questions, and then we would do it all over again.

In seventh and eighth, I have to have more structure, because I can't meet with all my groups every week, simply because of time constraints. Also, they're in seventh and eighth grade, so I would like them to truly be able to read the books they want, have conversations with each other, and see how book clubs really should be.

Something that I learned from Erin Cobb (Lovin Lit') that I loved, was a time frame for the books. She mapped out how long they had to read the books. For seventh and eighth, they had four weeks, and they just did the math themselves. They just divide the book's number of pages by 4 so they could determine how many pages they had to read each week.

I also tell them about this before hand, so students who think they don't "read fast," know what is expected of them.

Then they are responsible for one "job" each week. I usually give them some time of packet that has 4-5 pages of jobs and they have to do one weeks' reading and one page of the packet.

For example: A group is reading, "Al Capone Does My Shirts" and they had to read 60 pages during week one. Student One would be reading those 60 pages and be responsible for the "Discussion Director" for only those 60 pages, and Student Two would read the same 60 pages and be in the "Plot Profiler," for those 60 pages. The next week, they switch jobs for pages 61-120.

Here's a better example of a groups break-down.

Week One: Read pages 1-60
Week Two: Read page 61-118
Week Three: Read pages 119-183
Week Four: 184-237 (finish book)

Week One:
Mariah: Discussion Director
Richie: Plot Profiler
Mackenzie: Illustrator
Nico: Literary Luminary

Week Two:
Mariah: Plot Profiler
Richie: Illustrator
Mackenzie: Literary Luminary
Nico: Discussion Director

Week Three:
Mariah: Literary Luminary
Richie: Discussion Director
Mackenzie: Plot Profiler
Nico: Illustrator

Week Four:
Mariah: Illustrator
Richie: Literary Luminary
Mackenzie: Discussion Director
Nico: Plot Profiler

HOW DO YOU GRADE BOOK CLUBS?


This is such a tough one, because I don't want to make reading something they hate, so I try to make it all about them and making sure they don't let their book club down. By making book clubs a really big deal and really selling the value and purpose of them (to enjoy books, and have conversations about books, with people who have similar interests) they kind of do the whole disappointed in their peers and classmates thing for me.

I do always have a group or a few who band together and act like they don't care that none of them do the work and/or reading, but the rest of the class tends to think they're lame, and don't join in on their bad attitudes. Just keeping it real. It does happen, but when they all come unprepared, I just say, "That's a bummer. Hope you guys do it next week so you can have a book discussion then." Yes, even eighth graders.

BUT, I do assign grades for the work, simply because I'm a realist.

Students are responsible for reading 1/4 of the week and one page of their packet. I make it 25 points each week... for a total of 100 points.

The packet itself gets turned in at the end of the four weeks and becomes another 100 points. That way if they get behind, miss a page, or have a bad week, they have the opportunity to go back and complete the pages and earn a full 100 points on the packet. They only get the 25 points on the day books clubs meet (it's automatically a zero, if they come unprepared, with no room to make it up, but they can and should do the reading and homework page later for when they turn in the packet).

I do this so they complete the reading later and don't get further and further behind, and because I think it shows their peers something if they mess up, but are willing to do the work to be back in the club.

If they come unprepared more than once, they are "kicked out" and have to finish the novel on their own and write an essay. I didn't have a single students miss work more than once because of this.

I just walk around when they meet (all clubs meet on Mondays) and while they're discussion, give them 25 points or a 0.

After they're done meeting, I talk to my zeros and what they need to do for next week.

Thanks for sticking with me friends! Please ask any other questions you may have and I will try to answer below!

MUAH!


3 comments:

  1. Great post, thank you for sharing! Another question, and my apologies if you have answered this in a previous post...you mentioned you do book clubs for about 4 weeks. How do you structure your classes in terms of the book club structure (reading, discussing, etc.) Do you give them time to read in class or is it always done at home? Also, are you also responsible for teaching writing, and if so, how do you incorporate writing into book clubs?

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    Replies
    1. Of course! So we aways read the last 10-15 minutes of class each day. They can use that time to read or they can do it home. Most do a both! On Mondays, that 15 minutes is used for book clubs to meet and discuss and for me to come around and grade. The first week, I allow for more like 25-30 minutes to get them settled. I do also teach writing, but right now we are doing poetry, so I have been doing a mini-lesson on poetry, practice with writing the poems, then we do the silent reading. Next week we will work on writing during the first 40 minutes and/or I will do mini-lessons as they work on their poetry anthologies. Then we will still have the last 10-15 to read or meet. It's not perfect, but it works. Lastly, the book club packets do ask them to write a lot. some write more than others, but it does make them think and write. Next round of book clubs I want them to do a literary analysis on their book club books, but that just didn't work this go around! Hope that helps!

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  2. This post was so helpful! I teach 5th grade departmentalized ELA, so I feel like it's more similar to middle school than self-contained elementary classrooms. I love your ideas about giving them a time constraint to finish a book (most of mine get the books read in a good amount of time, but I definitely have some straggler groups) and buying the $1 books from Scholastic to build your collection. Thanks for posting this!

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