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I love the use of literature circles. Many texts have multiple interpretations. Students bring with them different baggage (used positively) to a reading. Not only do different interpretations help understanding, but sometimes one student may find that they share a common experience or feeling.
Life is all about the interpretations and communication. Lit circles help develop this.
One component of these types of activities in my classroom at the start of the year is to teach the students how to be reflective. We brainstorm what it means to be meta-cognitive about their learning and what kinds of questions they should asking themselves and answering for themselves. Once they tune into this, it becomes more second nature as the semester goes along. They always tell me that this is part of the class that ultimately helped them grow the most as readers.
My sense regarding literature circle and the development of reflective skills is twofold. First, the student collects all that he/she remembers from the experience of reading a book or story, and has to find the best way to mentally organize and verbally articulate what the student believes the story is about, with details to support the answer. When other students speak, each student is challenged to rethink his or her perceptions and look at that piece of literature from another angle. This is, in my mind, a way for students not only to share their ideas, but it gives them a sense of how well they are reading for understanding, and it gives all students a chance to discuss their ideas, stand firm with them or change their ideas. The retention of the reading should be much greater once discussed, and it also helps develop a positive learning environment, as well as a closer class identity when these circles are conducted in a truly positive way.
I use two different versions of literature circles in my classroom. In one version, we use the traditional roles. Every group has a discussion director, summarizer and literary luminary and we trade off illustrator, vocabulary wizard and connector. I use the worksheets. Another version is what I call a mini Socratic Seminar. Students prepare 5-7 discussion questions as they read. They have been trained using Bloom's Taxonomy, and we also do whole-class Socratic Seminars. They run their own Socratic Seminar in small groups, and turn in their questios along with a reflection. They are graded on the questions and reflection, as well as my observations.
I think that the issue of reflection in the literature circle approach can be seen in their origins. When Phoenix teacher Karen Smith cast her books aside and saw her students organize into small "book clubs" that discussed literature and what they gained from it, a moment of reflection was evident. The literature circle approach develops reflective habits because it is centered on the student and initiated by the student. When one considers the concept of "the book club," there is reflection there because individuals are in charge of what they are to derive from the literature. Given the reader or student centered nature of literature circles, reflection is evident in that students must assert their own voice in what was meaningful or relevant in the text. Literature circles are not driven by teacher instruction, which increases habits of reflection because the teacher is not necessarily a part of the instruction of reading. The student has to select their novel, assess the meaningful elements of their own reading, and ensure that what is read has personal meaning. In this, the habits of reflection are fostered and nurtured.
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