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Modeling the Reading Groups or Book Clubs
In the first article in this series, I highlighted the practice of implementing reading groups in the classroom, as pioneered by Harvey Daniels, and suggested the heart of the elementary reading program should not be basal readers or contrived reading assignments that attempt to build various skills. Rather, the classroom's reading program should be founded on the notion that children will be more interested in reading if they are able to read what is given them (many children can't read the stories in a graded basal), and if they have a chance to choose what they want to read. If they are more interested they'll read with more heart and enthusiasm for understanding.
That said, a teacher cannot simply tell children in the first week of school that they'll be reading in small groups and then in week two send them on their way to do so with their own literature. The modeling process for book groups should take place over an intensely focused time period of several weeks, after which children are prepared to take on the big responsiblitiy of managing the small group sessions.
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Whole Group Book Study
I begin my year in the 5th grade classroom with a whole group book study.
To ensure that everyone is able to participate in the discussion, regardless of their reading level, I have the book in question on CD so that various children can follow the story while listening to the book. The afore-mentioned Harvey Daniels emphasizes discussion above decoding, and so, if the teacher is providing a way for every child to seriously discuss the book, then the goal is met. I likewise make sure that every student in the class has a copy of the book being read in the whole group forum.
Each day I guide them through the routine of first discussing the previous day's reading and then working as a class to decide how many pages we should read.
"This is what you will do when you are in your small groups," I will tell them. "Listen to each other and decide as a group how many pages you'll read."
I'm always emphasizing that what they are doing in the whole group is what they'll do in the smaller group once they start on their own When we have decided on which pages will be read, I let them go off on their own to read and respond to the section we chose to read. The big question students will have is ... How do they respond? This is where much modeling is required.
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Modeling Reading Responses - The Character Map
I have an entire list of response suggestions outlined for the students in a book club packet that I hand out for their reading folders. Each day I model a different type of response for them, making sure I show them how to date their notebooks and write up the response.
For example, I one response I will model for them is the character map. To help children reflect on the central or secondary characters in the book, I show them how to map it out.
I write a character's name in the middle of the board and box it. I draw several lines from the central box and attach each line to a circle. After having read a section of the book, I tell the children that to help me think more about a character in the story, it helps to take some notes about what I have discovered about the character.
I tell them this response may prompt discussion among the group. What if someone in your group disagrees that a particular character is dishonest? What if another person in your group asks you to explain why you see a particular character as sneaky?
To put together a response that evokes rich discussion is partially the goal in writing a reading response. Of course, in the modeling, I'll ask children to help fill in the circles based on how they see a particular character, which keeps them all involved and entices discussion related to the contributions.
One of the other things I'm always reminding the children is that in a book group we are reading for enjoyment, yes, but we also are reading for discussion. It is similar to DEAR time because it is independent, but it should involve much more thoughtful reflection.
Children need to know that they read for different purposes so that they can separate silent sustained reading from the independent reading done as a member of a reading group or in their bed at night.
Modeling Reading Responses for a Classroom Reading Group
Utilizing book groups, sometimes referred to as literature circles, is a great way to teach reading in the elementary schools. It also helps develop an ongoing love of reading to older elementary students in the fourth and fifth grades.