When running a literature circle, one of the most important parts is the circle. The other important part, of course, is the literature. To fully engage with the literature students need the most valuable resource of all: time. Sure, you could expect your students to read a chapter or three at home, and you could expect them to complete their texts over holidays and weekends, but when you’re doing that you’re demonstrating that classwork is importnat, and reading is just an afterthought.
To demonstrate the importnace you place on reading, you need to provide class time for sustained reading. It is, afterall, an important skill that students need to be taught, practice, and develop just like any other.
Additionally, this creates class time for students to fill out an ongoing reading log, in the form of a directed “The Lines that Stand Out” handout, where they can record key passages of interest.
Throughout this process, students will find themselves both preparing, and prepared for literature circle discussions, written pieces, and final tasks without even realizing they’re preparing!
English Course Pack: Unit Three – Literature Circles
This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Three: Literature Circles, which focuses on reading a selected text in small groups. Student engagement with the text will revolve around topic journals, roundtable discussions, and the application of literacy skills.
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3.03 – Lit Circles: Sustained Reading & The Lines that Stand Out
Step One: Explaining the Importance of Sustained Reading
Time should be carved out at the beginning of each and every class for students to focus on their text. Twenty minutes should be a good amount of time for students to engage with their novel.
Understanding that there are many ways to layout a literature circle calendar, and that not all classrooms have the same needs, you will work to discover what works best for your students.
In the case of the calendar provided in the Literature Circle Introduction Package there are thirteen days dedicated to alternate tasks, after the novels have been assigned, and before the final meeting when the text needs to have been completed. This is just over four hours of reading time. Additionally, there are four sustained reading periods, which is an additional five hours of reading time.
By providing students with nine hours of reading time, you will demonstrate that your honour and appreciate the art of reading, while being able to circulate and ensure that students are annotating and keeping a running record of pieces that stand out to them.
Additionally, the average reading speed is approximately two minutes per page. This means that students should be able to complete a text that is 250 – 300 pages within class time, requiring no homework reading or weekend reading, if they use their time effectively.
Step Two: Setting the tone for Sustained Reading
For many students, being given self-directed time to engage with their text may be a new experience. Sure, they have likely been told to read a short story, and been left to their own devices for ten minutes, or so. But the sustained independent reading of a novel can be a challenge for many students.
Especially with the lure of technology, and disruptions.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is create a tone where students know this is time to be respected. Saying something like “I know you want to chat with each other, and there will be time for that soon, but this is a chance to be silent, be with your book, and to honour each other’s time. There’s not much chance to pause everything, and just be silent and read, so take advantage of the moments when they come to you.”
You can also suggest that if students aren’t engaged with their text, so long as they are silent, and have no technology out, that’s fine, as you cannot force action. So long as they don’t distract others, they can stare blankly at the anchor charts around your room, but remind them that doing that for nine hours, over three weeks, might become a little bit more boring than actually reading will.
Students should be challenged to keep technology in backpacks. Students can be asked to place cellphones on nearby shelves, if the lure of them is too overpowering. Stapling devices in paper can also be effective, because it creates that barrier to remind them to refocus, rather than allowing for a quick shift from text to phone.
In some cases, you may remind student that one individual disrupting a class of two to three dozen may need to be removed from the environment if they choose not to engage with the activity, so as not to take away from the whole.
This one moment might allow others to refocus on the task at hand.
How you manage your classroom, is up to you. But, setting the tone for students to appreciate the importance of sustained reading, and see your commitment to it, is what counts.
Step Three: Tracking Sustained Reading
Sustained reading needs to be practice, and the results of practice are often best when measured. This can be as simple as introducing a little bit of numeracy into your classroom.
Before reading begins, ask students to write down the page number they’re starting on. After twenty minutes ask them to write down the page number they finished.
Carley might record: Start – 102, Finish 108. Next, she will do some basic subtraction to discover this means she read 6 pages. By dividing the twenty minutes of reading time by 6, she’ll have learned it takes her about three minutes and twenty seconds to read a page.
Now, Carley can discover she has 104 pages left, and can do the math to discover that she will need just under six hours to finish reading her text.
But, the tracking doesn’t have to end there. A quick reflection might allow Carley to indicate that, despite their best intentions they did watch a short 45 second video on their phone, which also took away two more minutes taking the phone out and putting it away.
The next day, she might repeat this process and realize that she read 15 pages in the same amount of time, substantially reducing her required time to complete the text.
This simple process not only shows numeracy is a cross-curricular pillar for learning, but also gamifies literature circle progress, and creates a fun metric that students can discuss. They can be very candid about why they didn’t read as much as they could have, and this self-reflection is an important part of the process, too.
Step Four: Explaining “The Lines that Stand Out”
Much like how tracking reading speed can help engage students with sustained reading, so too can having a running record to record thoughts.
Students should be encouraged to annotate their text with sticky notes as they make their way through it, but they should also be encouraged to create effective graphic organizers that support their own note taking. By providing them with a copy of The Lines that Stand Out handout, students will have access to one such graphic organizer to use, or build from.
As students read through their book, they should be encouraged to record standout quotations that alight with some of the following:
- The quotation presents new information about the plot
- The quotation gives insight into how a character is feeling
- The quotation provides details about the text’s theme
- The quotation explores relationships within the text
- The quotation just sounds really interesting…
By writing down the sentence, the page number, and a brief explanation of why they feel that quotation mattered, students will augment their annotations, with extremely specific and meaningful quotations.
Students should be encouraged to record at least one linet hat stood out each day.
Through this process, students will have more than enough quotations to support their literature circle discussion groups, as well as more than enough textual support to use in their essay.
By simply recording one line per day, students will not only make the day’s reading meaningful, form connections to the text, and ensure that they are creating a mental web that links together different aspects of their book, they will also be preparing themselves for future success, reducing upcoming workload!
Step Five: Tracking Progress
Not only will students be reducing their own workload by completing this graphic organizer, one day at a time, it will make it easy for you to quickly pop by a student’s desk and take a look at what has stood out to them. If you are on day five of reading, and notice that they only have one quotation recorded, that will allow you to identify and intervene areas of challenge.
You can ask the student if they have been unable to keep up with the inclass reading, if they haven’t been connecting with the text, or if they just havne’t been completing their sheet.
Either way, a quick glance as you make your way around the classroom, allows you to stay on top of student progress, and keep them focused on the self-directed learning that is central to literature circles.
While still defronting the classroom, you are still able to collect and act on extremely valuable data.
Students will see the value in self-directed reading, they will understand that sustained reading is a transferable skill, and they will be able to make progress through the gamification of that skill.
Teachers will be able to record data, and track progress during periods of sustained reading, all which encouraging students to transition into becoming autodidacts that are focused on their own success.
Essay and written task preparedness will occur in a natural way that enhances the overall experience, rather than increasing workload or creating a challenging task at a later date.
Next up? Preparing for Literature Circle Meetings.
English – Unit Three: Literature Circles
One of the most important parts of a literature circle is the text selection. Students will be engaged with the text for a number of…
Allowing students to self-select their text is at the very heart of literature circles. Lit circles encourage small groups students to read a text, working…
English Course Packs: Full Units
Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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