"Online Literature Circles Rock!" Organizing Online Literature Circles in a Middle School Classroom

By Day, Deanna; Kroon, Sally | Middle School Journal, November 2010 | Go to article overview

"Online Literature Circles Rock!" Organizing Online Literature Circles in a Middle School Classroom


Day, Deanna, Kroon, Sally, Middle School Journal


Doing literature circles helps you look at a book in a different way. Last year I didn't care for reading, and I didn't pay attention to the characters, setting, or even bother to finish the books. Reading was boring. The online literature circles motivated me to read all of the books. I even would go home and get back onto Think Quest and start talking about the books some more. Online literature circles rock! (Kaitlin)

Online discussions are stoopendos! Our literature discussion was much more in depth [than face-to-face] and there was less pressure to talk. It was fun and easy. (Brendan)

These reflections were written by sixth graders after our first online literature circle discussions. The world is quickly changing with social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) and Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis. We wondered as teachers how we could use some of these technological resources in our classroom to help middle school students create, think, learn, communicate, and gain meaning in life. We wanted to know how we could enhance our language arts curriculum with technology and prepare our students for a technological world.

Prensky (2001) calls students who have been using computers from infancy "digital natives." From a pre-survey, we learned that our sixth graders were very adept at using cell phones, digital cameras, iPods, and computers. They knew how to "surf" the Internet, play computer games, participate in MySpace, download songs, send e-mails, chat via instant message, and text friends. As "digital immigrants," we wanted to create a literacy environment in which we valued our digital natives' ways of knowing.

National Council of Teachers of English (2005) asserts that teachers can enhance or transform the meaning of work for students by integrating multiple modes of communication and expression. Anstey and Bull (2006) define a multiliterate person as one who is flexible, strategic, and understands and uses literacy practices with a range of texts and technologies. Borsheim, Merritt, and Reed (2008) encourage teachers to give students opportunities to access, evaluate, search, sort, gather, and read information from a variety of sources and invite students to collaborate to produce texts for a variety of audiences and purposes. Our desire was to integrate multiple modes of communication and integrate literacy with technology to help students in their journey toward multiliteracy.

Online literature circles

In the last 20 years, many middle grades teachers have organized face-to-face literature circles in their classrooms (Daniels, 2002; Hill, Noe, & King, 2003; Johnson & Freedman, 2005). Online literature circles are very similar to face-to-face ones, except students talk about the books they have read in small virtual groups using online programs such as Moodle, Blackboard, Angel, or Nicenet. Literature circles are based on Rosenblatt's (1978) transactional theory, which contends that students bring their life experiences and knowledge to a text, then through collaborative discussions take on an active and new way of thinking about the text so that a new meaning is created. Short (1997) found that literature circles promote a love for literature and positive attitudes toward reading. She also claimed that children become critical readers and thinkers, understanding a text more deeply and responding to books in different ways, when they are involved in literature circles. Latendresse (2004) asserts that literature circles work well with middle grades students, because young adolescents enjoy participating in small, collaborative groups and having the freedom to interpret texts in light of their experiences.

In this article, we share our journey of organizing online literature circles in a sixth grade reading and language arts classroom. Sally teaches in a large middle school located in the Pacific Northwest. During the 2007-2008 school year, she taught two groups of sixth graders (25 students in the morning and 26 students in the afternoon). …

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