Search form

Better Book Study Groups

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from From Literature Circles to Blogs: Activities for Engaging Professional Learning Communities, by Susan Church and Margaret Swain (Stenhouse Publishers, 2009). The book retails for $21 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

Professional learning communities can enhance their effectiveness with these engaging book-study techniques. See two more excerpts from this book: Co-Teaching Tips and Building Trust in Collaborative Learning Groups.

Literature Circles
Many teachers are familiar with literature circles as part of their classroom work with students. Daniels defines these groups as follows:

Literature circles are small, peer-led discussion groups whose members have chosen to read the same story, poem, article, or book. While reading each group-assigned portion of the text (either in or outside of class), members make notes to help them contribute to the upcoming discussion, and everyone comes to the group with ideas to share. Each group follows a reading and meeting schedule, holding periodic discussions on the way through the book. When they finish a book, the circle members may share highlights of their reading with the wider community; then they trade members with other finishing groups, select more reading, and move into a new cycle.

Like a book club, a literature circle may suit the purposes of a professional learning community by providing a framework for reading and discussion. Within a large professional learning community, several small literature circles can read different texts, thus providing opportunities for members to address areas of specific interest.

Daniels identifies four basic roles: connector, questioner, literary luminary/passage master, and illustrator. At the outset, groups may wish to use these roles to help readers actively explore the text and to stay focused on their discussion.

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

When undertaken by a group of teachers, this tried-and-true cooperative learning strategy can strengthen a professional learning community. Each member is responsible for one aspect of the learning and each aspect is essential to full understanding on the part of the group as a whole. Therefore, each participant’s role is essential to the entire group’s learning experience. Because each participant becomes an “expert” in one area, the entire group achieves a much greater depth of understanding of material than if each member were responsible for the entire text. This strategy also allows the group to engage with a large amount of text material in an efficient manner—which is always an important factor for busy teachers. The jigsaw strategy proceeds as follows:

  1. The facilitator divides a text into parts. The text can be a long article or book chapter divided into sections, or a book divided into chapters or subsections. If necessary, larger groups can be split off into smaller “home groups” comprising the same number of participants as sections of text.
  2. Each participant in a small home group gets a copy of a portion of the text that they will read and present.
  3. Participants read their part of the text and make notes. (This step may be done either on-site or off-site in preparation for the next session.)
  4. If there are several small groups, the participants get together in “expert groups” in which each member has read the same section of text. This group discusses what they have read, shares their notes and observations, and talks about the most effective way to present that section of text to the rest of their home group.
  5. The home groups reassemble and each participant shares a summary of their section of the text as well as their interpretations, connections, and opinions related to that section.

Represent Your Reading
This activity encourages participants to progress beyond literal understandings of text and create new meanings and connections with the text in response modes such as sculpture, dance, music, multimedia formats, and so on.

  • Participants are each given a copy of a selection to read. The facilitator leads a discussion about multiple ways to represent meaning and makes a list of possibilities. These possibilities should include familiar classroom activities such as poetry writing, drawing, sculpture, dioramas, singing, and role-playing, as well as less common activities such as baking, knitting, photography, and the use of multimedia materials such as podcasts, electronic slideshows, and websites.
  • Participants can work alone or in pairs to create a representation of the text to share at a subsequent session.
  • At the next session, each participant can share their representation and talk about how it connects to the text they have just read.

This activity can be as simple or as complex as the group wishes. In some cases, the response can be left completely up to the participants, according to their energy level, time, and creativity. At other times, the group can decide to limit the communication formats.

Besides creating new meanings and connections and opening up new conversations, this activity can encourage creativity, instill new appreciation for one another’s talents, and simply be FUN!!! Laughter cements group cohesion. Can you imagine knitting a response to improving geometry lessons, or singing a rap song about developing a new behavior policy?


Education World®
Copyright © 2012 Education World