Today on the podcast we're bringing you another bonus episode with authors Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen. Their latest book, Breathing New Life into Book Clubs, is a one-stop resource for starting, improving, and troubleshooting your books clubs. From choosing books to best approaches to organization, Sonja and Dana cover it all.
In this episode, Sonja and Dana chat with Brett Whitmarsh about the role of technology in book clubs, and what is at the heart of starting a strong book club.
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Dana: First and foremost, it's most important to get to know your students and the types of books that interest them. We do not recommend that you begin your year with book clubs. Instead, we recommend that you use those first precious weeks of your school year to get to know each and every one of your students. We love, in the book Being the Change by Sara Ahmed, we love how she reminds educators the words of Don Graves that you want to begin by learning 10 things about each of your students, and we want to live by those words. This includes getting to know your students in terms of their family, their pets, their hobbies, their sports, and all their interests. And getting to know them well, and outside of academics. This is essential, especially when you're going to form book clubs.
Sonja: From there, we think you can consider the kinds of books you need to gather. For some schools, back to school night happens the first few weeks after the start of the school year. Our favorite tip is to include the titles of the books you'd like your class to have access to on that back to school night letter that's going to go home to parents. You'll be surprised by how many families will come in with a book to contribute toward that class goal.
Brett: Oh, wow.
Sonja: Also, teachers can pull resources with their colleagues, school library, and public library. And then once you have your books, the next thing is going to want to hype those books, right? You'll do this through a series of book talks, book buzzes, book trailers, and book displays. For example, you can have a display that says, "Coming soon to," you know, build the anticipation in the classroom.
Dana: They love that.
Sonja: Yeah, exactly. These can be short, they don't have to take up a lot of time in the classroom, but the benefits are tremendous. Kids can get... They will get super psyched about their possibilities for reading and book clubs. Choices is also paramount in book clubs. Students really can sense when you're grouping them based on ability, based on reading levels, so it's important to honor their book choices. We recommend giving students the ability to choose three titles that they are interested in reading, and then creating clubs around their interests.
We know this can be one of the most challenging things for teachers. We're not trying to minimize this at all. There's a lot they have to consider. They don't want to disappoint their students, and we also want our students to be in clubs where we feel like the clubs will thrive. We have to consider the social dynamics, and we do have to consider is this a text we believe our readers, our students, can read. You know, is it going to be at a complexity level that will be too challenging for them? But we believe we should lead based on student interest first.
Sonja: And then do everything you can to support students, their endeavors in book clubs, and just know that adjustments can be made along the way whenever necessary.
Dana: We want to say something about book clubs that fizzle. We've definitely experienced in our classrooms every year, book club that fizzles. Honestly, most of the time it's a natural fizzle where the students in the club feel a mutual decision that there needs to be a change. So we want to tell educators not to fear the fizzle.
Brett: Don't fear the fizzle.
Dana: Yes. Don't fear the fizzle.
Sonja: Don't fear it!
Brett: I think we're going to get buttons with that.
Dana: It sometimes happens. In order to keep the clubs going though, to try and avoid the fizzle, right?
Dana: It's important to honor their choices. Honor their choices around written response and to always keep book club time sacred in your classroom. It's really important to celebrate your book clubs along the way by having time set aside for book talks, and book buzz, and book projects, so that when your students are steeped in this reading, and when they finish their texts too, you want them to share that excitement, enthusiasm. Like, "We did! We made it! We're excited." And to share what their book is about with others so that they stay excited and engaged throughout book clubs throughout the year.
Brett: What role does technology play in book clubs?
Dana: When thinking about technology, we're constantly looking for authentic and purposeful ways to use technology in all aspects of our teaching. We found that specifically blogging tools with book clubs are especially great, such as Padlit, Kidsblog, we love Flipgrid, Google Classroom. The list can keep going and going-
Brett: A lot of tools.
Dana: ... work really well with book clubs, and many students enjoy maintaining a digital reader's notebook in spaces such as these. We found that when students have an online component for discussion, it allows multiple entry points for all students in the club to join in the book club conversations, which is wonderful.
Sonja: There's like a duality there, right? The technology is supporting the kids and the conversations that they are having in book clubs, but it's also a support for us as educators, right?
Dana: Exactly. Yeah.
Sonja: Technology can help kids create and sustain a world that they can dwell in during these book clubs, and it helps them to also connect to the world around them too. To reach out to explore answers to what puzzles them, and as changemakers to connect with others in organizations about issues that they're concerned about. Many of our students have continued to read together as a book club beyond the classroom, and use variety of these platforms to continue to read and discuss texts together.
Dana: As Sonja was saying, in terms of the duality, these spaces are so helpful for us as educators that we can learn what our students are discussing in their clubs, right?
Dana: And this acts as an assessment tool for us, which is very helpful. Actually in our book we developed the observation checklist so that teachers are able to quickly gauge what's going on in clubs. And whether the clubs are in digital or physical spaces in our classrooms, this checklist can help them assess what's going on, and things to think about.
Sonja: Yeah. We can notice the conversations that students are having and the way that they are thinking about a text. If they're becoming stagnant, we can make note of this on that checklist, and allow that to inform the kind of coaching that we'll do in clubs. For example, we can monitor exactly what our students are talking about. Are they summarizing? Are they making connections between and across texts? And what reading comprehension strategies do they seem to be using in clubs? Are they posing questions? Are they retelling, are they rereading? Are they citing text evidence? Technology is helpful for both of these purposes, for students and for teachers.
Dana: Right, and I think that Sonja and I really feel strongly that these platforms mimic the social media platforms that students are on, or they wish to be on. We know that students are really drawn to technology. It's the world they live in, and they can engage safely in these spaces that we set up in our classrooms. This really motivates them to keep the spaces going and to keep their discussions going.
When we were writing our book, we wanted to make sure that we included many examples and images of ways that teachers can use technology to nurture the discussions in their book clubs. We made sure to include a lot of those. For example, we love creating book trailers with our students, and then they can share that on their blogs with each other. It's a great way for them to share everything about their books and what they're getting. We've included a guide actually in our book to help teachers organize their students. It's a storyboard guide that can help.
Brett: Oh cool. That's great.
Dana: Yeah. The not-so-hidden purpose of experiences such as these, which commemorate book club experiences, is of course to spur on more reading. That's the goal. So when students see these book trailers on their blogs, and they see other students getting really excited about different books, then this is continuing our main goal, which is to cultivate joy and reading with our students.
Learn more about Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs at Heinemann.com
Follow us on Instagram @heinemannpub to stay up to date on the latest books, your favorite authors, and upcoming events!
Sonja Cherry-Paul, EdD, has taught middle school English for twenty years. She is a literacy consultant who served on the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award committee for ten years. Sonja leads presentations about literacy at national conferences and provides professional development for educators on reading and writing instruction and racial literacy.
She is the coauthor, with Dana Johansen, of the titles Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop.
Follow Sonja on Twitter @LitLearnAct
Dana Johansen has taught elementary and middle school for more than fifteen years. Dedicated to the ever-expanding applications of technology in the classroom, she presents at national conferences on the use of blogs, digital texts, and flipped learning in literacy instruction.
She is the coauthor, with Sonja Cherry-Paul, of the titles Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop.
Follow Dana on Twitter @LitLearnAct