Seeking to expand their program, reading specialists at Washington Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois, approached the school's parent group and proposed a new project. The "parent-child book discussion group" would strengthen family connections through a shared reading experience. The idea was a bestseller!
In the fall and spring, students and their parents were invited to read a book selected by the reading staff. Copies of the selection were either borrowed from the school library or purchased at a discount from a local bookstore.
"The first book that we read was Petey by Ben Mikaelsen," reported Dawn Neylon, chair of the School Family Community Partnership team. "After a discussion of the book, parents and students had a live question and answer time with the author through a telephone conference from his home. Readers were excited to find that the inspiration for this book was an actual person in Mikaelsen's life, and they were able to get the story behind the story."
After the announcement of each selection, families had about one month to complete their reading. The second book chosen for the discussion group was Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, a tale about peer pressure and nonconformity.
"We were told about some great family discussions that took place during the process of reading each book. Some families read the books together; others read separately, but then discussed the chapters as they went along," Neylon told Education World.
On the discussion evening, parents and students gathered at the school library.
"Treats and snacks were provided, and groups of 8-10 readers discussed the book," said Neylon. "Groups were facilitated by reading specialists from the school who prompted discussion with questions."
Neylon was impressed by the variety of students who joined in the discussion group, which represented all of the three grade levels served by the school, six through eight, and many different levels of ability.
One of the basic challenges that organizers had to overcome was schedule. It was difficult to find a date and time that would not conflict with other school activities. When organizing this type of group, Neylon advises schools to plan an array of books and times to appeal to different demographics.
"We also had father-son and mother-daughter discussions that were very well received," she added.