Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reinventing book clubs for grade 8s

So, you want the kids to enjoy reading, make some connections, have insightful discussions. Right. But how to make sure that they have actually done the reading and are able to participate? Let alone assess reading. At some point, this becomes the so-called bottom line in teaching grade 8 English.
This year I tried something new and it succeeded on many levels.
Whether you call them Book Clubs, literature circles or any other term, these groupings are a great way to study novels. While I often start the year with an independent novel study, a couple more times during each school year I select several sets of novels based on a theme and let the students choose their groups.
In the past I tried various methods, from booklets to blogs to task cards, to get the students to document their reading and respond to their books, both before and after group conversations. However, I found these vaguely unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. And to top it off, it was hard to tell for sure who was reading. Or not.
This year I announced that each week Book Club would also involve a quiz. This was quite a good motivator.
Since I was not about to make up a zillion traditional quizzes I came up with four thematic questions, and this was the sum total of the quizzing, one per week. Week 1, list the 10 most important things that happened in this week's reading. Week 2, discuss the theme of your book, from a list (importance of family, importance of friends, racism, etc.). In week 3, we headed to the lab and in 50 minutes, the students used Bitstrips to dramatize the key scene from the third section of their books. Week 4, they wrote 5 questions (no answers) using higher-level Bloom's-style starters. In weeks 1,2 and 4, the quiz took about 30 minutes and then they met in circles to share their answers.
Finally! Lots of good ideas were presented, points were discussed and debated, and any slacking readers were easy to spot. It also allowed me to listen to the oral contributions of students who enjoy reading but struggle with writing. This satisfied another of my assessment criteria - don't base a reading mark on writing skills.
Next year I will continue this approach, and will try to follow up more formally with those who seem to have fallen behind in their reading.

1 comment:

Mme Jones said...

This is really great Anne, love the way you structured your quizzing! I so agree with you that spotting the kids who are slacking is often most difficult and this completely solves that problem.
I really like that you talked briefly about not basing a reading mark on a students writing skills. Often I assign things as 'reading' and then realize I have just assessed their ability to write. I find that conferencing with students about reading helps me in that aspect.