By Gabriella Shery ’17
Students are navigating the vast territory of literary works in literature circles. Students take on different responsibilities in a small, temporary group. They are given the opportunity to choose and fulfill the role of being either a discussion director, summarizer, connector, illustrator or literary luminary. The objective of literature circles is to get students to discuss the written works, without it being led by an adult.
Ms. Catherine Kaczmarek has found a way to make sure students are on task, while still letting students lead the conversations.
“I walk around and take notes of the conversations I listen in on,” she said. “I also have students record their conversations so I can compare it to the accountable talk rubric.”
The accountable talk rubric is a tool that teachers use to help students guide their conversations. The rubric prevents conversations from going stagnant, by offering conversational ideas like, “Add to the statement of a previous speaker.” After a discussion, students grade each other on accountability to the learning community, accountability to accurate knowledge and, accountability to rigorous thinking.
Brianna Lockwood ‘17 finds it entertaining when she sees her peers rehearsing what they’re going to say before sending the audio file to Ms. Kaczmarek.
Lockwood is currently analyzing A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. “I like that my group and I are able to come together and build on each other’s ideas,” she said. Lockwood also thought that literature circles were beneficial in that it made her more confident in her understanding of the book, in case of a test or quiz.
In literature circles, students find that they’re less intimidated than they might’ve been in a class discussion. Thus, they’re more willing to learn from their peers when they feel they’re not being judged by an entire class. According to http://www.teachervision.com, “Collaboration with more advanced peers provides modeling of comprehension strategies and critical thinking, as well as providing motivation for students to stretch their abilities in order to meet the group’s expectations.”
Kelly Wong ‘17 added, “Literature circles encourage all learning abilities whether it be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.”
Wong is currently discussing Oedipus Rex in her AP English class. This form of group work has helped her become more involved in lessons because she is able to understand the opinions of her classmates to a further extent. The reason is that, literature circles allow students to match the voices to their peer’s faces, rather than seeing the backs of their heads in a standard classroom setting. Wong even recalls having numerous memorable moments in her literature circles where she and her peers laughed about moments they thought was amusing in Oedipus Rex.
Simon Abramov ‘17 said, “I liked when my group once had an argument over the controversy in Susan Vreeland’s, The Passion of Artemisia. We debated over whether or not Artemisia’s father ordered the trial for his own self interest.” He was often surprised by the opinions of his peers and was excited to debate with them. It eventually became so controversial in his Art and Literature class, that it developed into a class discussion.
Inevitably, conflicts arise in group work when different attitudes become discordant towards academic goals.
Abramov noted, “The downside to literature circles is that one person usually takes too much of a dominant role in the group.”
This occurs because students who usually work both ambitiously and autonomously, decide that they’ll take on more work so that they could secure the grade that they want.
Ms. Kaczmarek adds, “Shy kids and students who don’t read will be forced to get involved because of the roles they have to fulfill for their group to function normally.”
Literature circles are preparing students for the outside world in that they won’t be able to shy away from contributing their opinion.
Ms. Joan Rowe added on, “Students who don’t like to read or work in groups are encouraged to do so in my class. I allow them to pick books that they’re interested in, and know they’ll commit to.”
Miranda Morales ‘17 commented, “When I had her for 10th grade English, Ms. Rowe let us choose our own books. I was able to find time to read Looking for Alaska by John Green, and discuss it with my group members.” She felt that picking her own book for literature circles accommodated her schedule, and in turn made her more engaged to discuss the book with her peers.
Maia Vines ‘17 stated, “Students are more likely to finish their books, when they’ve picked it out themselves. The book my group chose in my True Crimes class was A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard.” Her group discussed the events an 11-year-old girl endured after being kidnapped, and rescued eighteen years later.
Ms. Rowe believes that “all students are the authors of the books they choose.” All students interpret their books differently and give the book a whole new meaning.
“I like to read their interpretations when I give them guided reading questions,” she said.
All in all, literature circles are student led discussions in which literature is discussed in depth. This type of group work provides students with a deeper understanding of the book that they’re reading, allowing students to think critically and reflect on what they’ve read.