Saturday, October 17, 2015

Adding Voice and Choice Through Book Clubs

My line of work's a little different from the others'. I teach pull-out reading and math to gifted fourth and fifth graders, which, I'll admit, is a pretty good gig.

My kids are voracious readers. Those basic skills? Handled. They (mostly) read fluently, visualize, connect (whether I want them to or not), and question the text, all on their own. They hypothesize and infer, all the good stuff.

So, I've got it made, right?


On the flip side, they are independent to the point of obstinate. Some crash through their reading like proverbial bulls in china shops, driven to be done first, even if it's not done well. Some are immovable objects, underachievers that do very well when they feel like it, but otherwise, not so much.

One thing I can promise you, though, is that every single one of them wants to be right, All. The. Time.  Picture Congress. Now make them ten. Put 22 of them in a classroom. Welcome to my world.

Your best students don't want to be told, they want to be guided. Voice and choice is a must when dealing with this group, and book clubs is a perfect place to provide that. In a heterogeneous classroom, your top group or two can do exactly what I do with my motley crew, create and maintain their own groups for book choice and discussion.

Mine is a two-year program, so the fifth graders come with experience in partnerships, which is what I do with my fourthies. They know what makes a partnership work and what makes one fail. I start by giving small groups chart paper to list those qualities:
Next day, we tape them to the board, where we group ideas together, then create some generalizations. Those generalizations become the standards which we'll evaluate during meetings. At this point, they're pretty simple: cooperation, being ready, staying on task, etc.

On the third day, I give the kids new chart paper, each with one of the standards. Their job is to write, on a scale of 1-4, with one being awful and four being awesome, what behaviors match each number. For example, how do I know someone has been very co-operative? Very uncooperative? It's easiest to start with the bookends and then fill in the other two. Focus on things that are measureable.
Once these are done, I type them up into a rubric. They require a little modification, but not much. In fact, I want to edit as little as possible, because this belongs to the kids, not me. It's kind of the point.  This is what they said is important to them, what will help them learn and grow.

Some are, of course, things I'd have put there if I'd done it on my own, but not all of it. I like how this group addressed those that don't want to give others' ideas a fair hearing. I wouldn't have come up with it. Here's the final product. It's a Google Doc, so if you click the pic, you can snag a copy of it as an example.
With a set standard of performance, and rings of questions that are specific to what I'm teaching through the books that were offered for choice, the groups more or less run themselves, and, better yet, I can get a grade for them. Each student gets a rubric to keep in his or her binder and a shorter rating sheet, so that I can get a week's worth of meetings (three, for us) on one piece of paper. Each kids grades him or herself and another member of the group. In our case, it's always the kid sitting to your left, that way we know everyone gets graded and there aren't any shady deals. I take the average of the two for a grade.

That's how book clubs work for my group of headstrong, opinionated, but, also funny and fun children. I hope you find this useful for yours!

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