Friday, September 20, 2013

Rallying reading in the secondary school

Image from Book Club invites

In my new role I have been installed into a new area that I had always wanted to explore, implement and learn more about but never had the opportunity, support, time, understanding and even experience to have a go at. This area is active literature circles, which we have coined Reading Rallies.

At RCHK literature circles are conducted in collaboration with the English Department and are a part of the wider library visits that occur once every 5 or 10 days. Once a year, for six weeks, each class students in year 7, 8, 9 participate in a literature circle where the TL runs the class once a week. There are two classes from each year level scheduled at anyone time to be participating.

The first lesson is me book talking about the range of titles on offer. For Year 7 and Year 9  there is a list of multiple titles, for year 8 they do a genre study. The year 7's and 9's choose a title and form a group who will read and respond to their chosen book. Year 8's choose a genre they are interested in reading, form a group based on the genre, then choose freely from the library collection a book from that genre. They then join the Goodreads groups that have been set up according to their class and title title, or in the case of year 8, just a generic year group. The students are asked to read 1/3 -> 1/2 of the book before the next lesson, which is at the most 7 days away, at the least 4 days away. They also have reading time at the end of lesson 1.

The second lesson the students are asked to log into their Goodreads accounts and respond to the discussion question which is more than a comprehension question. Some examples of the questions are below....

Year 7 discussion questions ....

War Horse - How does seeing war through a horse's eyes change your perspective on World War I? 

Silverfin - What do you make of minor characters (Wilder Lawless, Uncle Max, Aunt Charmian, Red Kelly) in the story? What is their function in the narrative and what is their relationship to young Bond?

When you reach me : This remarkable novel holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart. Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. Are there any similarities or differences between this New York neighborhood and your neighborhood in Hong Kong? 

Example of the Year 8 Genre questions
Novels in the Romance genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.Describe the relationship of the characters in your novel and how it is romantic.

A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. How is the community or society you are reading about undesirable? What elements makes it a dystopian society?

After they have entered their responses into Goodreads they then move into their Reading Rallies to discuss their book, they can use the Goodreads question as a discussion starter, or just talk about what they found the most interesting part of the story so and any other topics that come up about the book. We have bookmarks with discussion prompts for each book they can ask. With year 8 genres, they tend to discuss the differences and similarities between their stories and ask lots of questions of each other about the books. These discussions are purely student driven, I only intervene if there are bahavioural issues. They then have reading time.

The third lesson follows a similar format where they respond on Goodreads to a new question about the ending, form their groups then have a short discussion. At the end of the session they choose a new book to start reading for the next 3 lessons.  

What I have learned so far .... 

  • Reading the Goodreads comments has been enlightening for me in so far as students find it difficult to articulate details, focus on and answer discussion questions  - whether it is because they have not read the question, do not understand it, or it just isn't what they want to respond to at that time. I need to find out more ...
  • Books that I have read personally are enthusiastically snapped up  after being book talked. I need to be reading all the books on the list - I need to make more time to do this as it is a long list!
  • The students are really enjoying the chance to have time to talk about what they are reading, particularly with people they wouldn't normally socialise with.
  • The books that have been chosen seem to be received well. I inherited a number of titles, retired some and replaced them with more contemporary titles. I woulkd like to replace others as budget allows.
  • I need to have books ready for more "are there more books like this" for each title....
  • Preparing the discussion questions, updating and responding on the Goodreads pages takes quite a bit of time & preparation.
  • I am nearly at the end of one complete cycle for one class, I need to create and conduct an evaluation on the program to garner the students feelings about the reading rallies to see how effective it is, and how we could improve it.

It has been a lot of fun so far while I go through  steep learning curve and tweek the programme to suit my style.

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