Every school wants to foster a love of reading in its students, but how can one more reading activity fit into an already packed educational day? Some schools are catching kids in the morning, before classes begin, and inviting them to join in book discussions as they have breakfast. These "breakfast book clubs" encourage students to love reading and share their thoughts about what they have read with their peers, whether they are seniors, senior citizens, or kindergartners. Included: Learn how organizers run successful book clubs.
"I am still moved by how excited some students get when they get to pick out a book to keep," Nancy Foskey, Ed. S., told Education World. "They are so appreciative of the books. Some students have been in our book club since they were in kindergarten."
The breakfast book club at Dresden Elementary School was inspired by a grant that Foskey, an ESOL specialist, received five years ago to purchase books for her students to read and keep. The Chamblee, Georgia, kids loved choosing the books, reading them, and adding to their personal libraries so much that she wanted to create a way for more students in the school to earn books and nurture their love of reading.
Today, all students at Dresden -- with the exception of incoming kindergartners and students who have relocated to the school -- are aware of the breakfast book club, Foskey reported, adding, "It has grown so large that we can only take about 20 children each morning, and the kindergarten group is larger."
Foskey gathers participants from one grade level every morning in the cafeteria. In order to participate, the students must have eaten before or must eat upon arrival. Dresden is a Title I school, and the majority of its students are Hispanic. All of the students are eligible for a free school breakfast. Many do not have book collections of their own, so for them the best part of the club is getting books to keep.
"Research has shown that independent reading and being read to improves reading ability, and it is especially important for our students whose first language is not English and who don't have many books in their homes," Foskey explained.
The students meet in the classroom of a volunteer teacher. Among those helping out with the program are two professional actresses who read to the first and second graders. Kindergarten through second grade students listen to books that are read, and students in grades three to five read books on heir own. Fourth and fifth graders can earn books after attending their club sessions three times because chapter books are plentiful, but younger students sometimes have to participate six to eight times before they can be given a new book due to their numbers and the supply of materials.
Funding can be a challenge for the book club program. When Foskey was awarded one grant, it wasn't repeated the next year because the organization wanted its funds to go toward reusable materials, and her program gives the books away. The value in students building their own personal libraries isn't always recognized.
Work schedules and the number of parents who do not speak English have limited parental involvement in the book club, but there is no shortage of children who can benefit from it. Adds Foskey, "I am impressed that so many students want to read, be read to, and earn books. If we had more volunteers, more books, and more rooms, we could have larger groups of students each morning."
One of the original advisors of Edina (Minnesota) High School's Breakfast Book Club (BBC) had fond memories of participating in one as a student and brought the concept to the school. According to organizer and language arts teacher Martha Cosgrove, the club began with two ideals: to find ways for adults to connect with kids in the building beyond the classroom connections and to promote reading for pleasure among the kids through literary discussion and conversation.
"I am always impressed that 20-50 kids will get up an hour early to talk about a book!" Cosgrove told Education World. "They like getting together to talk about books on a more casual and more personal level than is the case in their English classes. They like the community of it, they enjoy talking about ideas, and they like meeting kids in a different context."
The BBC at Edina has always managed to fund a "book and a bagel" for each participant. Cosgrove feels that this is profound because it shows that the school cares enough about the students and what they are reading to select a book they will enjoy and give it to them. As the bagels disappear, the books come into view. The reading of each book often travels through many, many students after group discussion has taken place.
"We also read one book with another school," said Cosgrove. "We are a suburban school district, so we have partnered with a city school each spring to read a book in common. Then we bus to that partner school for a discussion. Kids love this experience, and we have been surprised by how the common ground of a book gives kids who might not have anything to say to one another a reason to get to know each other."
Sara Swenson, an Edina High librarian, does the paperwork for the BBC and updates the Web pages and writes grants to keep the group going. This year she helped to organize Edina Reads, a one-town-one-book community read program that had community members reading The Kite Runner in October.
"Part of the reason this book was chosen is that the BBC had read it last spring," Swenson stated. "Some of our students lead book club discussions in the community as part of this program. In an upcoming excursion, 30 book clubbers and 30 members of the community will be going to hear Khaled Hosseini speak. It's an intergenerational activity around the book. All are excited!"
What has most surprised and delighted Swenson is that five years into the program, the BBC is still going strong. The kids continue to want to read. She says, "It's a dream!"
DONUTS AND DISCUSSION
"We have heard consistently positive feedback about the breakfast book club from the students, parents, and staff," reports Carol Loflin. "The kids love coming to school in the morning for breakfast with their friends. We have started at 7:20 a.m. for the past few years and all participants get there."
Loflin is the former principal of Twin Creeks Elementary School in San Ramon, California, where she, her staff, and the PTA launched a breakfast book club six years ago. At the time, it was designed to support a school-wide focus on literacy, and the endeavor continues.
The breakfast book club is organized by the PTA and begins in the spring when a lead parent collaborates with teachers to select a book list for each grade level. Student participants read one book per month, and the staff works with parents to ensure that the books are appropriate and not core literature used by teachers for instruction. During school registration, parents enroll their children in the program. There is a permission slip, a fee that is paid by parents (or the PTA when the cost is an obstacle), and a behavior agreement.
At registration, parents also volunteer to facilitate club meetings. Later, participating parents attend an introductory meeting and join in a mini-workshop that reviews behavioral expectations and how to lead a group. A list of questions and starters to use when working with students is provided.
"Once students have signed up, the parent volunteers put students into groups and assign a parent facilitator," Loflin explained. "These are grade-level groups, organized heterogeneously. A schedule is also put into place with monthly meetings, designating the classrooms to be used in the mornings."
Over a third of the elementary school's students have been involved in the breakfast book club. A typical meeting includes gathering in a multiuse room 45 minutes before the start of the school day to enjoy donuts, donut holes, fruit, hot chocolate, and juice provided by parent volunteers. A short story is read while the children eat, and then they separate into their assigned groups for meaningful discussions about the current reading selection. After the literary conversation, they receive a copy of the next month's book.
At the last meeting of the year, students bring books for an exchange so they can select new books to read over the summer. Loflin looks forward to unveiling the book club program in the newly-opened school she now leads. According to her, it is a wonderful way to promote literacy and afford parents an opportunity to be involved while showing students that reading can be fun.
Book Club How-To's
Check out advice about organizing book clubs from the Seattle Public Library.
How to Run a Reading Group
Barnes & Noble offers some guidance to those who want to set up book clubs and effectively discuss literary works.
Kidsreads.com helps readers start a book club, run it, and make good choices for reading selections.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2009 Education World
Originally published 01/02/2006
Last updated 02/24/2009