After a long first semester of struggling with a plethora of reluctant readers, I decided that I needed to further adjust my approach to teaching and extend the student-directed pedagogy that I have found success with in both the art classroom and innovation class to literature.  But, how in the world could I continue to meet English learning standards with students all reading something different at their own pace?

I began researching what other high school English teachers were doing with literature circles and culled the information to increase student motivation and the actual reading of literature.  We are just finishing the first lit circle unit.  For the first unit, I had students select a text from one of the books that I would teach to the whole group.  This helped me introduce the process of reading, reflecting and discussing.  Since I have read all of the books they have been reading, it also let me help guide the discussion when there were gaps.  I think students have a better understanding of the process, as evidenced by comments in their post-discussion reflections:

I learned that blame should not always fall on one person, but sometimes you must take responsibility for your own actions and accept the blame. After Kiowa’s death, they decided that the blame was not to fall upon one person, but on all people. However, after the author killed a man on his own, and he had to accept the blame and responsibility for that. Next time, to create a better discussion, I could come in with more questions that appeal to the group rather than personal questions. We need to improve more on talking and on discussing rather than just talking at each other. I have not been here for the past two weeks for discussion, so I have not been able to tell what we should improve on. Now that I am here, I see that I am in the “quiet group” and should really work to help everyone discuss as a whole.

There have been struggles with implementation and this was expected, change is always difficult!  But overall, I have been amazed by the quality of discussion, the ownership over learning and more importantly the return of a small bit of joy to student discussions about reading!

The discussion was happy and funny. We need to stay on topic. But we have fun in discussion.

I learned that we still don’t like the book. We realized that Kenny is actually crazy. We pretty much just talked about Kenny. We all had input and we pretty much agreed on everything. I like my group very much. It’s gonna be sad to leave. I think I can ask better questions next time though.

Throughout the unit, we have been discussing the elements of effective persuasive writing.  Now, St. Philip Catholic Central is hosting its first Lit Circle Championship!  Each round includes argument videos from the lit circle groups, all advocating for why their books should be read.

Throughout the week, STP students have voted on which video shows a better argument for why the book should move forward in the tournament.  Final four games are tomorrow and the winning book will be announced on Friday and featured in my classroom library.  STP students are welcome to come to room 103 and check out a copy of any of the books featured in the tourney.  This activity has helped students develop evidence-based argument sand should serve them well as they begin essays on their lit circle books.

Next week, we will begin Lit Circle Unit 2.  For this unit, students are requesting any text, which will be approved if it is appropriate for school and at a recommended reading level for their grade.  Furthermore, the American Lit students are selecting U.S. authors and the World Lit students are selecting authors outside of the U.S.  I don’t expect to make huge changes to the process but want to hear from my students.  I plan to survey them on their experience with the first unit so that I can make adjustments and continue to work for increased student engagement and comprehension!