Literature Circles – a follow-up

Well friends, I don’t know about you but the last three weeks of school are difficult for me.  The students seem to feel that it is summer already and with the heat this week, I’m just about with them.

(books not pictured:  “13 Reasons Why” – Jay Asher and “Tex” – S.E. Hinton)

I wanted to write a quick post to follow up on the literature groups I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  I successfully pulled off the “Book Tasting” and assigned literature circles (2-5 students per group). The discussion groups went better than I originally hoped, though I still have not fully figured out how to engage the students in more in depth discussion than their original planned out answers.  Any ideas here?

What do I mean?  I mean that I scaffold-ed the discussion meetings by providing worksheets which assigned each member of the group a particular job for the meeting and had them “prepare” by completing the tasks on the sheet.

Ie: Discussion director had to come up with 3 questions to ask group and be ready to answer him/her self; Literary Luminary had to find 2 quotes they thought were important to the plot or interesting, or funny, etc…; Connector had to come up with ways the particular sections of the novel being discussed connected with the outside world and/or other literature or film… – You get the idea.



When the students came to the groups, they mostly read off of their sheets and did no further discussion beyond one sentence answers.

I attempted multiple mediums of observing the groups and therefore keeping them on task – None were flawless, but I learned A LOT.

The first meeting was somewhat floppy because I assumed the voice to text option in Google docs would be a great tool for recording and transcribing their conversations. However, I did not count on the fact that the students would be so very enthralled with the text being absolutely perfect, that their insistence on editing after speaking halted discussion.  For the following meeting, I had the students place an ipad or cell phone in the middle of the group and voice record the conversation – later uploading this to google classroom or emailing me the recording.  This worked the best.

The third meeting was conducted via google classroom in individualized discussion groups to which group members only had access to their assigned group.  This was a flop of a discussion because while they are not so comfortable discussing verbally, they seem even less comfortable posting and following a conversation via discussion comments.  This actually surprised me, I had supposed that because of the students’ constant social media presence, they might be rather versed in online comment centered discussion, but I think because it was focused on literature, they were at a loss of how to continue conversations.

The fourth meeting (there were 5 total), I had the class sit in a circle around a group as the group in the center discussed so that we could all observe different group dynamics and perhaps give advice/glean ideas.  Each group took a turn in the middle. This was fun for me – I had the students in the circle keep a running tab of how many times each group member spoke and at the end of the group discussion each student around the circle had to give a piece advice or say something they liked about what the group did.  If I could do this weekly or twice weekly, I think it could be a great learning experience; but only once, I feel like we just worked through a lot of kinks in understanding individual roles and keeping the flow of conversation was particularly more difficult for my already soft-spoken and shy students. Next year, I hope to do this more often, with more than just literature circles, I know that students benefit from observing the learning process of their peers as much as I benefit from understanding and learning from that process as well.

The fifth meeting, we returned to the groups recording and submitting discussions while I walked the room and contributed/prompted where necessary or fun.

Final projects in the literature circle needed to reflect each individual student’s understand of the novel read, therefore, each student was responsible for a onepager about their book.  I provided a list of items needed in the one pager, along with a rubric for how I would grade the onepager – we took an entire day to go through the directions for this during the first week of reading (we read the books for 3 weeks).  I think doing this first, was a bad idea – students for the most part did not pay enough attention to the instructions because they knew the project was at least two weeks off, and I had to repeat and re-reference directions multiple times during the last week.

Some turned out beautifully though, and I really do like the onepager as a summative assessment which shows how each individual understood, resonated with, or could synthesize the stories.

Overall, I am glad I attempted the literature circle. It was a great way to work through the issue of having class scheduling be a little wonky during SBAC testing, and having a timeline of 3 weeks really allowed me to focus the instruction and the students to be accountable not only to the timeline I had set, but the timeline each group set individually when given the planning calendar.  I have learned much and know that I will need to do more practice discussions before setting a class free to separated literature group discussion, whether that means that for an entire novel we discuss with a group at the center and make whole class observations, or if that means we read multiple short stories and practice the various roles and language that might be used in a book group – only time and planning shall tell.

This week we are finishing Robin Hood and relearning why parts of speech are important to understand when using vocabulary  – it’s going pretty well and while the language initially threw them, the students are now (at the last chapter) engrossed in Robin Hood of Sherwood Forrest. Whew!

How is the last push to the end going for you?



Wind and Webs – Trajectory and Tradition

Each year in my town, the spider webs let go and the citizens experience the somewhat horrifying tradition of removing spider webs from every outside surface.  Cars, clothing, outside furniture – you get the picture.   We are not quite there yet, but the crazy amount of warm wind we have been having inspired a little writing.  Therefore – to the muse of wind and webs, I dedicate this somewhat random post.  Enjoy.


My only goal was to get away.  To move somewhere with more culture; somewhere with opportunity – a bigger population and shiny shop windows. Theaters and sidewalks and people that never sleep, I had assumed life would just take off from there.  A jet plane ascending into cotton candy clouds, outlining my name in the steam trail.

Not until I was solidly on that plane did I realize there was no landing gear –  No seat belts, no clearly mapped out trajectory; only endless clouds and the need to avoid the flocks of geese who might take the whole crazy mission down.

Reflecting now, I think I’ve been trying in one way or another to turn this plane around for years.  Not the time or age, but perhaps place and culture. Because – when I close my eyes I expect to hear the deafening roar of crickets accompanied by the occasional bullfrog.  I expect to hear the wind and let my mind drift casually along with it’s steady swish.  To dream under the stars.

Instead I battle the pollen filled, hot breeze which blows so incessantly that it drowns out all sense.  Santa-Ana-ish, anything-could-happen, and it seems to as the days get longer and patience feels strained.  Everything but grace splutters and spits from ever passenger.

A spider web of sanity built structurally strong is jostled and jumbled into a mess of knots – tossed so constantly that I give up and just hold on for the ride.

Ears ringing, I close my eyes and instead of crickets, the metallic hum of the neighbor’s air conditioning overwhelms my ears – punctuated only by the high clip of the dogs down the street.

However, in moments of practiced peace, when I close my eyes I still imagine I see those stars and the mountains silhouetted.  Practice peace hard enough and the smell of dusty earth with a hint of spring water seems to play around my nostrils, reminding me that the pollen filled, anything-could-happen-and-does wind, might be the same that will pass through the mountains in my memory.

Lord, give me the strength to have patience.  To forgive the winds of crazy – literal and metaphorical – and to be grateful for each cloudy opportunity.  After all, that wind may be the only thing filling the space beneath this jet plane’s wings.

At least I’ve got a front row seat; and for sure the world is round.

Thank God for good company in this journey.

Goodnight and Amen.