By Hussein Fardous ’16
Literature circles are a way to effectively discuss a book by giving people in a group different roles according to Dr. Harriet Fayne and Dr. Adele Weiss in the article “Literature Circles.” However, various students have complained about them hindering their success on tests. Students have been trying to persuade teachers to stop implementing literature circles.
“Literature circles have limited the expansion of my English knowledge because I was stuck in groups in which there wasn’t a collective effort in completing tasks and in helping each other understand the text,” said Siddique Shafi ’16. “When we had class discussions, the teacher was able to go in depth into the text, and I was able to learn a lot. In addition, students from the whole class presented their views on different aspects of the book that strengthened my understanding as well. However, we don’t have that luxury in group discussions unfortunately.”
Literature circles prevent students from fully understanding the text and cause students to perform poorly on tests because they usually turn to student play sessions due to the lack of leadership, in contrast to class discussions in which students stay on task and have the guidance of teachers.
Many students don’t know how to cooperate in small groups and as a result, teachers have to spend time teaching students how to work collectively, instead of valuable time being dedicated to the book according to Bonnie Burns in the book Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literature: The Classroom Climate with Literature Circles in the article “The Disadvantages of Literature Circles” by William Council. There are several distractions that cause students to go off task including a group speaking too loud, for example, which prevents other groups from concentrating. In addition, in many cases students form groups based on friendship and have no real initiative to complete any tasks. In literature circles, there are several groups in a classroom that discuss a book. As a result, it is a difficult task for a teacher to monitor each and every group’s behavior and work. Literature circles can also be overwhelming because too many things are going on at once. Students have to take responsibility, be proactive, understand new ideas/concepts, and also demonstrate social skills.
According to Rachel Knauer, who has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Florida Gulf Coast University, in the article “Using Literature Circles – The Pros and Cons,” it’s a challenge to care for students who need help and give them attention when the teachers have to monitor other groups as well. Many students lack social skills and don’t collaborate, thus defeating the whole purpose of these circles. Students end up not learning. Students also don’t take the responsibility to research answers to questions they have trouble with because they are so accustomed to getting guidance from their teachers.
“Literature circles hurt my grades instead of benefitting me because I wasn’t responsible,” said Brian Rueda ’16. “In literature circles, I didn’t feel forced to do the work because every time the teacher came to check on our group, my group mates carried on the discussion, basically covering for me. My lack of responsibility was reflected on my exam. In contrast, when we had class discussions, the teacher sometimes randomly called on students to share their work. This was an incentive for me to always do the work in case I get called on.”
On the other hand according to Dr. Weiss and Dr. Fayne, literature circles “tap” different learning techniques and allow for a deeper understanding of the book because different people take on different roles and explain their different perspectives on the book collectively.
According to Knauer, students also become independent learners and take responsibility in helping other students learn. This can stir up a sense of accomplishment from individual contribution and achievements. Literature circles also improve critical thinking skills because they allow students to read, interpret, reflect, respond, and discuss the text. At times, students can choose their own piece of literature to discuss, which gives these students a motive to read and discuss the book actively.
According to Ms. Catherine Kaczmarek, literature circles are beneficial overall. The benefit of literature circles is that they help encourage quiet people to share their views and opinions. However, literature circles should be used in moderation because kids can get lazy and not perform their tasks, the talkative kids might take over group discussions, and students might need more attention from teachers to assist their understanding of the text. Even though these could serve as problems, literature circles performed in moderation won’t damage student’s understanding of the text. It’s totally worth it to have literature circles held periodically to get timid students to participate and think out loud.
Even though literature circles are a positive method to encourage reading, collaboration, critical thinking, and understanding skills according to Knauer, several groups are forced to discuss the book assigned by the teacher and there is no motivation to read. Additionally, many students are not responsible and don’t contribute their work from their roles to the group and therefore deprive other group members from understanding a perspective or a point of view of the book. Many times students are assigned to groups by the teacher and have trouble breaking the barrier to communicate with these people. It is evident as well that students frequently dominate a discussion while timid people don’t participate because teachers are not present to set boundaries on these students.
Literature circles could be a valuable tool for student comprehension of a text if executed properly. However, the lack of responsibility, initiative, and cooperation of students presents a flaw in these circles and therefore they should not be used. When students don’t cooperate and fulfill their role in a discussion, it can impede the ability of other group members to understand some key aspects of the text.