Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Getting in the Construction Zone: Filling the Teacher "Toolbox" for Implementing Literature Circles in the Classroom

Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Getting in the Construction Zone: Filling the Teacher "Toolbox" for Implementing Literature Circles in the Classroom

Article excerpt

Driving through a new housing development is always exciting for me. I hear the rapping of hammers, the buzzing of saws, and the whirring of drills, but I also hear the voices of people who are cooperating to construct something new. I can easily relate the noisy plots of land to what I hope will happen in my future classrooms. There, I hope to find young builders talking and working through what they read together to construct meaning, question themselves and others, and reach higher levels of critical thinking. As I prepare to provide an atmosphere in which such carpentry can take place, I turn to what research has to say about the effective implementation of literature circles in a classroom.

The question of how students learn is being asked with growing frequency by those in the field of education because of the belief that past instructional methods may not be the best way to facilitate student learning. With the movement towards theoretical frameworks based on learning as a social process, teachers search for ways in which their students might learn together. When considering learning using the sociocultural theoretical framework of Vygotsky (1978), it is important to realize the specific roles of students in a productive classroom. As Raphael and McMahon (1994) have stated: "Reading and writing develop through interactions with both adults and peers; students should not sit in isolation, working on individual worksheets to practice skills outside the social and cultural contexts of normal use. Instead, students should interact using oral and written language to construct meaning about what they have read." The search for a social means of literary education has led many toward educational techniques like literature circles that revolve around authentic situations in the classroom. Through the implementation of literature circles, research has found that students move to higher levels of critical thinking while engaging in the social construction of knowledge based on group members' prior experiences (Wies-Long & Gove, 2003). Literature circles also allow for the student voice to be heard. The concept of "student voice" plays an important role in student learning that can be achieved through a properly formatted literature discussion group. Recent research supports the idea of students' having a voice in their literacy learning because it is not only empowering, but also holds students accountable for their success. Through the interaction that happens during literature discussions, students are able to move to levels of textual analysis that enable them to work through, process, savor, and share the ideas they form through reading (Grisham, 1997).

When I began researching literature circles, I found that there is nothing precise about literature circles. Unlike the measurements involved in building a house, the rules of discussing literature in small groups involve some very gray areas. I can however, provide some "whys" and "hows" of using literature circles in classrooms. I will first discuss why literature circles are an attractive means of literature instruction and what should be considered before implementing them in a class. Then, I will provide some tools for teachers "literature circle toolboxes", including various teaching strategies, teacher roles, and assessment models. I will end with some of the challenges that may be faced during the initial construction phase.

Defining the Literature Circle Concept

Architects are constantly designing new and better ways to construct a building. Educators become like architects when they begin developing novel methods of instruction. We consider literature circles to be one of the innovations in literacy teaching. Also called book clubs (Raphael & McMahon, 1994), literature discussions (McCormak, 1993), reading response groups (Stien & Beed, 2004), and "talking about text" (Burns, 1998), this method of literacy instruction has variable facets often questioned by teachers who want to employ the strategy in their classrooms. …

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