Have you ever noticed how groups of children huddle around the Guinness Book of Records during break times, pointing out oddities, arguing and sharing information about something they've heard that's related to the items on the page? If you've ever wondered how you could harness that same energy in a classroom reading situation, then maybe Literature Circles is worth a try for you!
Literature Circles is a reading program based on the assumptions that children enjoy choosing their own reading, thinking critically about what they read; that they learn by sharing that reading and discussing their views about the text with others.
In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a book (either fiction or non-fiction) in depth. The discussion is centred around students' responses to what they have read. You may hear talk about events and characters in the book, the author's craft, facts or personal experiences related to the story, or a lively debate about issues in the book. Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to books. By facilitating small-group work with higher-order, student-centred, open-ended activities, structured discussion and extended written and artistic response, Literature Circles also reap the benefits shown in the research of group work in education.
Literature Circles can be particularly effective for encouraging reading with Middle School students, whose interest in reading may otherwise wane. Changing the reading culture of a whole school, developing recreational reading as a norm for all students rather than an exception to social practice, is a worthwhile but seemingly impossible goal. The more "reading tools" in the teacher or teacher-librarian's repertoire, the more attainable the goal becomes.
Literature Circles success can depend on several factors:
Middle School students are highly selective and critical of what they read, as well as of their learning experiences. They enjoy discussing their reading but some may be resistant to doing any "work" on recreational reading. Yet, integrated into an existing subject curriculum, such as English, motivation is provided and the supporting structure of Literature Circles can ensure success for all.
Literature Circles are Learning Circles for everyone involved. They provide a good opportunity for team teaching, with classroom teachers and the Teacher-Librarian working together planning, teaching and evaluating student progress. Teachers become learners as they analyse, assess and improve their pedagogy. Check out the Worldwide Web to learn more about Literature Circles and the variety of ways they can be used, adapt the formula to suit your students and give them a go!
Literature circles: Reading in action by Darelyn Dawson and Lee FitzGerald.
Charles Sturt University, 1999.
Literature circles: Voice and choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups by Harvey Daniels. 2nd ed. Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine, 2002
"Reading and responding in literature circles" by Catherine Day. PETA Journal (no other details known).
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