This four-year-old blog has had a slight makeover in appearance. I removed the header photo
montage of used books on the classroom shelves and in the back of my car:
This purpose of this blog, however, will not change. There still will be posts dedicated to how I am putting books in the hands of students. There will be posts about instructional strategies that work in classrooms. There will be posts about issues in education.
In other words, this blog will continue offering the same old messages in a new wrapping.
Of course, educators regularly refurbish old ideas with new wrappings. Take for example, the literature circle. The literature circle has been in education since 1982 when, according to Wikipedia, fifth grade students in Karen Smith’s class, organized themselves loosely into groups, and started to discuss individual novels.
Smith was surprised at the degree of their engagement with the books and the complexity of their discussions, they had no outside help or instruction from their teacher (Daniels, 1994). From here literature circles evolved into reading, study and discussion groups based around different groupings of students reading a variety of different novels.
In contrast to the the classroom where a whole class novel is taught by the teacher,literature circles have provided students the chance to participate in self-directed discussions in by taking on different roles and responsibilities.
I am a big fan of literature circles as a way to encourage critical thinking, student choice, and independence in students. I have been promoting the incorporation of literature circles at multiple grade levels. Most recently, several of the 7th and 8th grade classes in my district have been using the literature circles in their new block schedule with some success. The teachers in these classes began by using the traditional roles for students: discussion director, connector, illustrator, vocabulary enricher, text locator, and researcher. The transition was smooth since students were already familiar with these roles from literature circles in elementary school.
Last month, I began offering teachers suggestions on how to offer some “new wrappings” for these old roles. Using a list of writing genres, I suggested that the teachers could offer roles for students in the literature circles and also include authentic writing prompts.
In these new wrappings, each student’s role could center on one of the following writing genres:
- Write a Personal Letter from one character to another;
- Prepare a Greeting Card to or from a character;
- Develop a Things to Do List for a character;
- Write Classified or Personal Ads that connect to a chapter;
- Prepare a mix tape for a character and explain the choices;
- Draft a resume for a character;
- Compose a TV script from a chapter with notes for stage directions;
- Script a Talk Show Interview or Panel with characters;
- Record a recipe that is associated with the book;
- Organize an Infographic using facts from the story;
- Create and organize Receipts, Applications, Deeds, Budgets from the story
- Obituary, Eulogy or Tribute for a character
These roles could rotate the way the traditional roles rotate in a literature circle, or the roles could be added as special collaborative writing activities.
The incorporation of technology to literature circles expands the opportunity to “wrap” the old roles in new digital covers. In a literature circle of four or five students, the major platforms for social media can be used as a way to have students interact with a text. With (or without) technology, students can rotate roles where they could:
- Tweet a summary
- Design a Facebook Page for a character or event;
- Suggest “pins” for a character as on Pinterest;
- Write e-mail correspondences between characters;
- Plan Instagram messages.
I also encouraged teachers to number the seats in the literature circles, and then assign roles based on the number of the seat a student selected. Another strategy would be to offer a “surprise” role that rotates to a different numbered chair every meeting.
Like so much in education, old strategies can be made new.
Old literature circle roles can be made new with genre writing and/or with social media.
2015 New Year means a new wrapping for this old blog, but there will always be used books for classrooms in the back of my car!
Best wishes for the new look and the new year. I look forward to keeping up with your posts.
FYI: My site is down for a while…. This fall one of my students found my anonymous blog, spread the word among the community, and started a shit storm. A parent whose child I had written about disparagingly a couple of years ago — a serial plagiarizer who was expelled a week before graduation — wanted my head, claiming defamation, etc, even though, of course, I never mentioned any names in my posts.
Thank goodness my administration supported me. I’ve been a teacher at my school for eleven years and have a really good reputation. So — long story short — I still have a job but I won’t be blogging anymore. I’m super sad about it, because writing the blog and sharing ideas with teachers around the world was a rich part of my life. That said, I was incredibly naive to think that no one would discover my site, figure out its author, and be upset by some of the things I wrote…. I feel terrible, for I love my students, am passionate about teaching, and am dedicated to my school, but my few uber-honest posts (ones where I complain, vent, criticize) hurt some feelings and thus shouldn’t have been written.
While I am delighted to hear from you (I have been on a bit of a hiatus because of the new position), I am sorry that you encountered difficulties with your blog. I, for one, appreciated your honesty. I often think about what I should or should not post, and I will consider what you experienced as an important lesson. I do hope that you will stay “in touch” through this blog. If not, I expect that I will find you on a Cormac McCarthy worship blog:)