The Case for Reading Partnerships and Clubs

This is a dual post–also posted on the PolkaDotOwlBlog.  Mrs. P, (@polkadotowlblog), my partner in the #rdgPartners chats, asked me some time ago if I would guest post on her blog when she reached 100 followers. She has been dutifully keeping me apprised of her numbers. Now she is at 105 followers and the time has come. 

I’m always impressed with Mrs. P’s thoughtful posts, and I’m sure you will enjoy them as well. Click the picture to the left and give her a visit. I’m looking forward to working with Mrs. P and her classes in the future.

Forming reading partnerships and book clubs with young students is challenging. How do I partner the students—By interest? Reading level? Friend requests? And once they are in these groups, how do I help them to set reasonable goals? How can I keep their conversations moving forward? What do I do about the student who doesn’t do his reading.

Surely, there are many questions. But I’m persevering in my book clubs plan because this I believe: Some of the most powerful reading we do is partner reading.

(These pictures are the students reading on the first day after they choose their books. After this first day, reading and preparation is done independently.)

I read for myself all the time. Oftentimes my reading is to find that next great book I can recommend to a student at just the right time. (And with the NerdyBookClub, there are so many options.) But the books that are most memorable to me are the books I’ve had the opportunity to discuss.

My colleague, Brent Peterson, and I read Dead End in Norvelt in patnership. We kept a simple goal of about 100 pages a week (we were doing other reading, of course) and got together during a free period to discuss. These were awesome discussions.  [You can follow these links to see our conversations… if you’re really interested. Talk 1. Talk 2. Talk 3.] We came prepared with some Post-it notes and lists of things we wanted to talk about and off we went. The half hour was barely enough time. It was great how we each brought different ideas and insights to the conversation. Brent saw things that I never would have on my own. Discussing a book brought it to life and made it more interesting than it would have been had either of us read it independently. (Who else would have laughed with me about paraffin wax hands and deterring deer with bodily functions?)  I think these conversations are why, though the public response to Norvelt has been lukewarm, Brent and I liked it so much. You can get more of a summary of our conversation on our Nerdy Book Club Blog post.

Brent and I also read and discussed Wonder a lot. And then we started passing it along to others to read. My mom read it. Then my dad. Then my sister. Then her book club. Then other reading teachers at my school. Students and their parents. And we read it aloud to our students. (And finally my wife is reading it.) And it was like Wonder became part of the social fabric of my life. It was something I could talk about with anyone around me. Family dinners were filled with conversation of Auggie and Daisy and Via. Being able to then talk with the Maker of these characters and this WONDERworld was awesome.

And this—THIS—is why I want to persist in pushing my students into partnerships and clubs. As I’ve told them, book clubs are social opportunities wrapped around a book. (Hmmm… good pearl analogy there.) I want my students to experience the joy of a book coming to life. Of understanding a book better together because they talked about and cleared up confusions and saw things from different points of view. I want my students to know the richness of literature.

So I’m willing to spend an afternoon with the book partnership/club letters they’ve written to me (Name; why I would be a good partner to someone else; my approximate
reading level [GRL]; five classmates who would be good partners for me and why) spread out all over the living room floor or dining room table. (“Dad, what are you doing?”)  I’m willing to deal with a slacker reader/partner who doesn’t come prepared with the reading complete or Post-it notes ready to discuss. Because I see so many other students benefitting from rich conversations and thought building that they wouldn’t have if they only read independently.

I’m looking forward to next year and getting these partnerships and clubs underway earlier in the year. We are already discussing how to scaffold them—giving students smaller texts with which to practice before diving into a novel. I can’t wait to see my students blossom in their book discussions.

We have a great year of book conversations behind us, a better one ahead—and the state of Book Clubs is Strong.

Your turn:  Have you experienced reading as part of a partnership or club? How did it add to your reading experience?

{resources}

Planning bookmark for clubs:

Evaluation form:

Skyping with WONDER author RJ Palacio

On Friday, May 18th, RJ Palacio joined the 140 Sweet Home Middle School students on AlphaTeam and Team Possible via Skype to discuss WONDER.

It took a few attempts to connect–anxious moments indeed–but that just gave us time to raffle off some great titles that Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do brought along for the students.  By the time we connected and RJ popped up on the screen, the students were pretty pumped up.

Yeah–we teachers were too.

Here is the intro we gave RJ. (We were asked to call her RJ, just in case you were wondering.  Just another thing that we enjoyed about her:):Once in a while a book comes along that creates an unmistakable buzz.

We started hearing this buzz in 2011 on the book blogs we follow—like the Nerdy Book Club blog.

Wonder, and its hashtag #thewonderofwonder, started burning up the Twitterverse.  When we had the opportunity to get an advance copy of this WONDER, we jumped.

There are many books that are exciting. Many books that are thrilling.  Now that we’ve all read WONDER, I think we can agree that Wonder…is a life changer. It’s about being a better person. It’s about treating others with kindness.

Wonder can be summarized with two quotes from the book:


Mr. Browne’s first precept: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
&
Be kinder than is necessary.

There are not too many times that a book really makes such an impact on us that we feel as though we need to expose as many people to it as we can.  Fortunately being a teacher allows for me the forum to do so.  We hope that all of you have enjoyed listening to the lives of the characters in WONDER as much as we have enjoyed reading them to you.  We would like to thank R.J. Palacio for her willingness to offer her time to us and to allow us to discuss this “WONDER”ful book.


And with that, we give you—RJ PALACIO!

DAVID: It was a little overwhelming to hear RJ speak and answer the students’ questions. After reading WONDER 4 times (once on my own, then aloud to three classes), I feel like the characters are my friends. To hear from the woman who invented these friends of mine was amazing.

BRENT: Her perspectives and explanations as to the characters motives brought a whole new understanding to WONDER for me.  I had these ideas about who everyone was and what they intended and to hear R.J. give additional background and insight as to why she had these “friends” act how they did was very cool.We had our students create questions about WONDER ahead of time so that we could choose a number of them to be read at our Skype session.  We did this for time reasons and also to ensure that the questions asked were not repeated or things that we had already discussed.

Here are a list of the questions that ended up being chosen and asked to R.J. by our students.

QUESTION TOPICS THAT STUDENTS GENERATED INCLUDED:

  • Why did you choose to write from different points of view?
  • Why didn’t  you write from Julian’s POV?
  • Why was Justin’s section all in lowercase?
  • Who chose the artwork for the book? Why did the pictures have only one eye?
  • Why didn’t Mr. Tushman do anything about Julian bullying Auggie if he knew about it?
  • How did you know so much Star Wars stuff?
  • Where did you get the idea for the precepts?
  • How did you choose the song quotes?
  • Have you been bullied? How did you handle it? How would you now?
  • What was the most emotional part of the book for you? (R.J. said that this was one of the best questions she had been asked!!)
  • Have your friends and family been inspired by the book?
  • Is there any future for WONDER in movies or television?

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DAVID: I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to blink back tears at a few points in the conversation. RJ’s answers were insightful and thought provoking.

BRENT: I agree.  I was blown away by her responses.  She took each question and responded with a very well thought out response.  It was really moving to hear her describe her characters as though they are real people.  I find that many times I feel that way as a I read a story but that usually diminishes as I get to discussing the book with others.  It was refreshing to hear her speak about them in that way.

DAVID: It was also rewarding to have my mom there to experience the interview with me. My whole family has read and discussed WONDER. My mom was thoroughly impressed with our students and RJ. We gushed about it for a long time afterwards.We concluded our time together with this:

Thanks to Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, we received discounted WONDER copies that our students were able to pre-order.  We ended up selling over 40 copies.

Links that you might be interested in:

Brent’s Todaysmeet blog post:
http://wp.me/pjlXg-61
Brent’s original Wonder post:
http://wp.me/pjlXg-2L

David’s Todaysmeet blog post:
http://wp.me/p28nqv-bR

David’s original Wonder post:
http://wp.me/p28nqv-6N – original chat
http://wp.me/p28nqv-ci – video
http://wp.me/p28nqv-cJ – final chat and video

RJ Palacio’s blog.

To show how the WORDofWONDER has spread, I played around with making this flowchart.  I call it my WONDERtracker. As big as it is, it is still incomplete:

Do you want to hear the unofficial soundtrack of WONDER? 1) join PING in iTunes; 2) search for David Etkin–click; 3) click on the “Wonder of WONDER” list.
Written by:
David Etkin (@DavidAEtkin)
and
Brent Peterson (@BrentJPeterson) / http://bjp7834.wordpress.com