Have you ever had Literature Circles drag on from Thanksgiving until Spring Break? We have, and we knew we needed to do something about it—the kids quickly lost interest, we were unsure who was where in which book, and the learning wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. We decided to take action and revamp our project. We wanted to work smart, not hard, so we integrated Social Studies and Language Arts. Due to the diversity in our classrooms, we needed a project that could fit the needs of all students with different abilities. Having an organized and engaging unit that excited kids about reading and allowed us to monitor their progress was key.
Our Literature Circle project was used with two grade four classes at Captain John Palliser Elementary in Calgary. Prior to launching the unit, we obtained the approved Alberta Grade 4 Reading List for Social Studies and multiple copies of several of the books. The students explored all of the chosen books, reading the teaser and several pages of each. They made priority listings of their top four favourites, telling us why they liked them, and from those we created student groupings.
Most of the students in the classes had no experience with Literature Circles. Therefore, we took our time explaining and demonstrating possible roles and our expectations very clearly and in depth at the very beginning. We role-played written work expectations, using the overhead projector, the “think aloud” strategy, and classroom discussion.
Researching Literature Circles and selecting, modifying and creating the various roles according to curriculum requirements and their interests and abilities further prepared the students.
We felt that groups of four were the easiest and most productive in regards to work production, group sharing, conversation and manageability, and we wanted each student to participate in and be responsible for every role in a six-week unit, therefore six roles were created.
Because it had been decided that all reading and work assignments were to be completed in a six-week period, the students had to take the number of pages in their book and divide it over the number of weeks (six), to figure out approximately how many pages they must read each week. They were to work in their groups three times each week for 45 minutes to read and complete the tasks for their roles, then meet a fourth time to share the work done that week. The teachers and students chose the meeting dates according to the classroom and school calendar. Any uncompleted work was assigned for WOW (Work On Work) class time and/or for homework.
What is a Literature Circle?
– a student-led study of literature
– a strategy in which small groups of students read and discuss a piece of literature
– a way to engage students in critical thinking and personal reflections
– a collaboration of different roles and responsibilities structured for every member of the group
– a way to help students gain a deeper understanding of what they have read
The students’ work schedule was recorded on a Reading Planner chart (see Note below). Each week, each student took one role (leaving two roles unfilled for that week since the students were in groups of four). E.g., in week one, Student A was the Discussion Director, Student B was the Summarizer, Student C was the Illustrator, and Student D was the Vocabulary Enricher. The Literary Luminary and Investigator roles were left unfilled in that week. In week two, the students moved over one column in the Reading Planner chart, and Student A became the Summarizer, etc. (NOTE: The Reading Planner chart is on page one of the Literature Circle Unit which is available as a free download at www.PacificEdgePublishing.com. Click on “Free eResources” on the home page and then choose “Literature Circle Unit” under Language Arts.)
Another way we tried to address the needs of all the students was through the special project that originated from the students. Nearing the completion of the project, some students were finished before others, and those students wanted to do an optional celebratory presentation. We seized the opportunity and let the students organize their own presentations. They brainstormed the Presentation Guidelines and Plan as a class, and were given a specific and held-fast deadline. Three 45 minute time blocks were allotted per week for The Special Project. The class brainstormed ways to present the learned information: skits, dioramas, models, posters, PowerPoint presentations, comic strips, etc.
“I loved Literature Circles better than all the projects this year!” (Jason, 2010)
This was just the excitement we wanted to ignite in our students. The goal was to create an appreciation for and a deeper understanding of Alberta’s history through stories.
“You got to learn new things in Social Studies.” (Mya, 2010)
As teachers, we are constantly assessing the students’ progress with the activities and the effectiveness of our teaching. At the end of the project, the students were asked questions to evaluate their experiences in their literature circles, providing feedback on how we could improve the activity.
This assignment reflects meaningful learning within Richard Elmore’s instructional core between the student, teachers and curriculum. We found that this helped to solidify the curriculum, making the students feel successful and confident. As teachers, it was wonderful to observe the rich learning that was taking place.
Each student’s participation in every one of the six Literature Circle roles allowed for different points of view. They had to think about different ways to engage their peers in learning and reading the book. The students felt a greater sense of responsibility with deadlines to meet, and the accountability to their peer group.
“Literature Circles were more motivating because other people were counting on you to get the reading done.” (Claire, 2010)
Our project utilized the UDL framework (Universal Design for Learning) to meet the needs of our diverse groups of learners. There were multiple entry points in choosing what the project would look like from beginning to end. Students were completely involved in creating something personal to them, which provided multiple pathways for students’ expression. This engaged the students’ interest and motivation.
Some students found different roles and the assigned work more challenging than others, however the flexibility of having the different roles allowed for individualized instruction and independent work talents. As a result of this structure, students were enabled to learn from and help each other.
“My group taught me stuff and I taught them things they didn’t know. We worked together to understand the book.” (Kyle, 2010)
“If there was something in the book you didn’t know your group could discuss it. While I read out loud, if I made a mistake, my group could help me fix it.” (Hudson, 2010)
In conclusion, this Literature Circle unit is a versatile model, which is easily adaptable and can be modified as needed. To further develop this unit, we plan to adapt it to another cross-curricular topic within a different context. The Literature Circle format will be used in a public Montessori and multi-aged grade 4 and 5 class, as they explore the Alberta Science unit: Flight and Air and Aerodynamics.
Burns, Bonnie. (Sept. 2007). Questions and Answers: Continuing Conversations about Literature Circles. The Reading Teacher, v 54, pp 278-280. Retrieved April 06, 2010 from www.wsd1.org/pc_lms/pf/literature_circles.htm
Chandler, Laura. n.d. Retrieved April 03, 2010 from www.lauracandler.com/ strategies/litcircles.php
City, Elizabeth., Elmore, Richard., Fiarman, Sarah., & Teitel, Lee. (2009). Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press
Fink Storm, Lisa. (2010). Literature Circles: Getting Started. Retrieved April 06, 2010 from www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/literature-circles-getting-started-19.html
Greater Essex County District School Board. (2005). Just Read Literature Circles. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from www.gecdsb.on.ca/Staff/Teachers/Just%20Read/litcirclewhy.htm
Rose, David H., & Meyer, Anne. (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Saskatoon Public Schools. (2009). Instructional Strategies Online. Retrieved April 10, 2010 from www.olc.spsd.sk.ca/de/pd/instr/strats/literaturecircles/ index.html
Schlick Noe, Katherine L.,Ph.D. (2004). Literature Circles Resource Center Website. Retrieved April 06, 2010 from www.litcircles.org
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Stephanie Gee is currently a teacher with the Calgary Board of Education at Captain John Palliser School. She is in her 5th year of the profession, which she absolutely loves! Stephanie is also her school’s Learning Leader for Technology and enjoys interacting with teachers and students in exploring the use of digital media within the classroom.
Roberta Heembrock is an experienced teacher in regular and special education including the gifted and talented with the Calgary Board of Education. She has written and presented curriculum at the school, board, national and international levels, mainly in language arts and mathematics. Roberta has two books published: Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency (Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2008) and Oscar the Herring Gull (Bryler Publication, 2010).
Maureen Saunders taught grades 5 and 6 for nine years with the Calgary Board of Education. Three years ago she moved into a learning leader position that allowed her to work with a number of teachers at all elementary grade levels. She says that this has been the best professional development of her career. On the weekends, you will find Maureen out in the mountains hiking, skiing or climbing.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s September 2010 issue.