Literature Circles: Notes, Goals & Feedback

In a previous post, Literature Circles Revisited, I discussed some techniques my colleagues and I began using to improve the quality of conversations in our cross-grade Literature Circles.

After putting some new expectations in place, each Lower School teacher was appointed to observe and help a different group.  I worked with a group of boys who were reading Frindle by  Andrew Clements. Here is what I learned in the last few weeks:

  • notes matter, but only use them if necessary
  • set goals specific to the group
  • stay out of it, but get involved

Notes Matter: The kids who brought notes were more focused, had more meaningful things to say and were more engaged in the conversation.  They got stuck, however, in this “I share mine, then  you share yours” routine.  One child would go through their notes, wait for a short time for responses and then move on, even when the thought had obviously not been flushed out.  This brings me to the next point…

 

Set Goals Specific to the Group: Each group needs a different challenge.  The Frindle group needed help with letting their conversation flow.  That first week I gave them a challenge: “let your thoughts just hang there.”  I explained I wanted them to share and idea, then give LOTS of time for people to respond.  The next week…they did that.  BUT, they were still sharing notes one kid at a time.  I gave them a new challenge: “put your notes down.”  I had noticed that at the beginning of their session they were able to talk a long time about what they liked and didn’t like about the reading – with no notes. I shared my observation with them, “You obviously have a lot to say about the book. It seems like the only time you would need your notes is when you run out of things to say.”  Next week, they did exactly this.

Stay Out of It, But Get Involved: While the kids were talking away about their book, I sat nearby writing notes and notes and notes.  I broke them down into three columns:

  • Positives
  • Challenges
  • “Conversational Language”

When there were 5-10 minutes left before the bell their conversation often started to dwindle, which was my cue to jump in.  I shared what they did well and what I thought was difficult for them.  We talked about the next week’s challenge, and how to improve their Literature Circle.  Finally, I applauded the kids for what I call “conversational language.”  These are sentence openers or phrases that encouraged a flowing conversation (a big part of the goal).  I am collecting them as I go, hoping to make a poster of exemplars.

All in all, we are growing and getting better.  I still see room for growth, but that’s what we do in education – we learn.  In a week the kids will change books and groups, and new challenges will arise.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Stay tuned.

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