Every year, I facilitate an after-school literacy class for teachers who are interested in studying a specific topic in depth. The topic changes every year, but this year, we are studying book clubs. Because all of my experience with book clubs comes from my years in a 3rd grade classroom, I have been spending time with younger students to learn about how these clubs might strengthen their reading.
I began my work with a 2nd grade book club quite by accident. I was in the classroom for another reason, and I just couldn’t resist the urge to pull up a chair and spy on their conversation. This particular club was talking about a book in the Bailey School Kids series. I noticed right away that they were stuck in the rut of retelling. They were expertly taking turns and acknowledging each other’s comments, but they were mostly reporting on the events that they had read. This is an important skill, but it didn’t really push them as readers. They had all read the book, so retelling the events to each other over and over again wasn’t stretching their thinking.
I knew the conversation had the potential to go deeper, so I complimented them and snuck in a teaching point. It sounded something like this: “I’m noticing that you guys are really good at talking about what’s happening in the book. I want to give you a tip. It’s a good idea to talk about what happens in the book so that you’re all on the same page, but you can really stretch your conversation if you also say what you think about what’s happening. Do you think you can try that?”
They decided that they could share their thinking in addition to retelling the events, so I encouraged them to write that thinking down and be prepared to share it at their next meeting.
I had high hopes for the next book club meeting. While their conversation was fabulous — one student suggested that they share everything they know about ghosts so that they could match it up with what was happening in the book — it still stayed firmly grounded in retelling. No matter how I prompted them, I could not get them to talk beyond the events in the text. I wanted them to think BIGGER, but I could not figure out how to get them there. I began to wonder if it was even developmentally appropriate.
I sat down with Mrs. Scott (the students' teacher) to brainstorm, and I had a moment of clarity: Perhaps they couldn’t talk about ideas bigger than the text because they hadn’t finished it yet! This made me wonder how their conversations might change if the book were shorter. I decided to test this theory the following day.
I brought the club together again and told them I’d like to try something different. I showed them a copy of The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, which they had all read. I reread it to them to make sure they remembered it, and I challenged them to talk about some big ideas in the book. I also provided them with the prompt cards they use for partner talk in class. (Oh, how I wish I’d thought of that sooner!) I’m thrilled to report that they could push their conversation to big ideas when the text was shorter. They chose to talk about how the character changed across the book, and they discussed the lesson that the author was trying to teach them. What an amazing change!
I am learning so much from these sweet 2nd graders! I am already ordering multiple copies of some simple picture books that will encourage big conversations. I will be sure to post more about how this book club work is going on our campus. Have you tried book clubs yet? Share your experience in the comments below!