Group reading is a popular method by which people engage in literature in a group setting. Teachers will employ group reading so that students can actively participate in group discussions. Book clubs often involve women who convene in their spare time to discuss popular literature. Book clubs meet in private homes or libraries. Group reading fosters sharing opinions, ideas and interpretations, offering a more personal experience than individual book reading.
Book clubs in America began in the 17th century, when Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan pilgrim aboard a ship bound for the New World in 1634, organized a women's study group to discuss the Sunday sermons. Hutchinson continued this practice in Boston, but the Puritan community banned book clubs, claiming they were an improper activity for women. During the 19th century, book clubs became popular among women all across America. Women gathered not only to discuss literature, but also to talk about various social and political issues. Such discussions contributed to the rise in women's suffrage movements. During the 1950s, many women, specifically housewives, attended book clubs in order to create a sense of community and break up the tedium of staying at home all day.
One of the first educators to introduce literature circles to the classroom setting was Karen Smith. In 1982, she had left some novels in the back of her classroom, and some students found them. Smith noticed that these students were forming their own book clubs, arranging them according to genre and meeting regularly. Independent reading is a major proponent of education. According to the study Becoming a Nation of Readers, "Children should spend more time in independent reading. Independent reading, whether in school or out of school, is associated with gains in reading achievement. By the time they are in third or fourth grade, children should read independently a minimum of two hours per week. Children's reading should include classic and modern works of fiction and non-fiction that represent the core of our cultural heritage." This study found that independent reading helps improve fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Harvey Daniels, author of Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, stresses the educational importance of literature circles. He maintains that in order for group discussions to be effective, teachers must provide a number of key elements: "clear expectations, mutually developed norms, shared leadership and responsibility, open channels of communication, diverse friendship patterns and conflict resolution mechanisms." The teacher should welcome disagreements and conflicting interpretations, so students can learn conflict resolution. Not only do literature circles teach students how to read, but students also learn leadership and communication skills. In addition, these groups are useful in culturally diverse classrooms; open discussions promote understanding and more open-mindedness. Students of varying reading levels can discuss the reading material together, and any student with particular reading issues can receive private attention by the teacher while the students lead the discussion independent of the teacher's supervision.
Elementary schools that implement group reading notice an improvement in their students' comprehension and phonetic skills. It is preferable that reading groups remain small and intimate so that each student receives the required amount of attention. According to studies recorded in the article "The Effectiveness of a Group Reading Instruction Program with Poor Readers in Multiple Grades," first to sixth grade reading groups "performed significantly better than the controls (groups that received regular classroom reading instructions) on phonological awareness and decoding, reading accuracy, comprehension and spelling."
Schools have been pressured by the government to endow their students with enough reading skills to become independent readers by the third grade. These schools face the issue of finding effective programming regardless of lack of sufficient funding. Researchers, incuding the National Academy of Science, have determined what specific reading problems need to be remedied and the most efficient method by which to go about it: "It is increasingly recognized that a major cause of reading disabilities is weaknesses in the ability to process the phonological features of the language that make it difficult for poor readers to recognize words by sight and to easily sound out new words." Poor word recognition and a deficiency in oral language skills intensify difficulties in reading comprehension. Reading groups are simultaneously educational and enjoyable for children. By reading the literature aloud, students can improve their phonetic skills, and by reviewing the content via group discussions, students develop reading comprehension skills they would not otherwise develop as easily via lecture form.