Thursday, August 13, 2009

Literature Circles

I have used literature circles for many years. My students always enjoy them, and I get better each time with setting up the process so they truly engage with their books. I particularly enjoy doing this with my ninth graders when I have them write their own tests as a group. I was given the opportunity in college to write a final for a class rather than take one. I was petitioning to take my final early, and the professor offered me this instead. As I wrote that final, I realized how smart the professor was about assessments. I had to really know my stuff in order to create a final I thought he would deem worthy -- the writing of the test probably took me longer than the hours I would have been in the exam room taking his final. It was a powerful lesson for me, and my ninth graders have benefited from it. They are always amazed when I tell them they will write their own tests. The discussions the groups end up having as they decide which questions to ask are always the best of the whole lit circle process. I know they know their stuff when I see strong tests.

This summer I had another chance to really learn something by doing it. A colleague of mine set up an online literature circle in our school's ning to work through the first five chapters of Understanding by Design, our assigned faculty summer reading. I was glad to have a structure set for me because I knew that meant I would get the reading done, so I signed on. Well, if you have any doubts about the efficacy and power of the literature circle process, banish them now. As I worked through a lit circle role for each chapter, I saw the beauty of the lit circle pedagogy in action. It is reading strategies come alive -- when I read a chapter knowing I was, say, the connector, I read specifically for that goal. I ended up remembering far more with this focus than I ever do just reading something to read. I had a scaffolding to pin my reading on and to give me a road map through what is some dense reading a times (trust me on this one if you have not read UbD). I also knew I did not have to worry about every detail because I had my lit circle partners focusing on the other aspects. I knew I would learn from them, so I could learn at this first stage better because I was more focused. Then the discussions we had helped me pull everything together -- I looked back at the book, I remembered things I had forgotten, I learned things I had never thought about ...

While I knew in my mind that literature circles were a good thing, to participate in one gave me so much more insight into why they work so well. Once again, I am reminded that DOING something is the most powerful way to learn. A great reminder particularly as I begin a new year with my students ... can I get them to DO more in their learning?

No comments:

Post a Comment