Clubbin’ with the Kids.

That’s right, we’re clubbin’ in Room 40. BOOK CLUBBIN’ THAT IS.

Today I pulled my first guided reading groups. These groups are currently my highest readers in each of my classes, reading at least a year or two above where they need to be at the moment (which is awesome!). After consulting my wonderful literacy coach (without whom I would be completely lost and perpetually in tears), we decided that these higher end groups could do something a little more flexible and relaxed, like a book club.

Thinking of book clubs, I recall my student teaching year. I taught 5th grade reading in English and we had three book clubs reading books revolving around racism. One group would finish their book and then trade with another group, and so on and so forth. The raw discussions that came from reading these books were fantastic, and I think many people would be surprised to hear how much kids understand such serious and relevant concepts.

What I wanted to change about this book club experience was that I didn’t want to necessarily tie the books to a theme. The worked for my fifth graders two years ago, but these are third graders who have never participated in a book club before (at least not one with so much freedom). I went to the book room and collected ten sets of books.

Yes, this took me more than one trip to get back up to my classroom.

I chose books that I thought looked interesting and that I thought the kids would enjoy, too. All of the books I chose were fiction chapter books, though some were historical fiction, others realistic fiction, others fantasy — I tried my best to select a wide array of books. I felt good about my selections, and I was excited to share the titles with my kids.

To say I was excited before pulling the groups seems silly in comparison to how excited I was when I actually DID pull the groups. I laid out the ten sets of books and eyes widened.

We can choose…any of these books?!

These kids were absolutely THRILLED that they got to choose what book they wanted to read. We talked about ways we can preview books, like reading the back or checking out the cover, or even reading the first page or two to make sure you know the words to comprehend the text. We spent time perusing these books, and then the kids got to pick their top three choices. I hadn’t planned on giving the kids their books today, but they were so eager that I couldn’t resist their incessant pleading. I tallied their votes and gave two of the three groups the books that they chose together (my last group got cut short due to a fire drill, which was incredibly annoying). I explained how they’re the ones really running this book club and that they will need to, as a group, make finish lines and set goals together.

The kids had no problem with this.

These kids could hardly put down their books!!!

It was so exciting for me to see their excitement over these books of their choosing. It was like they never had the power of choice when it comes to books they read, and I was more than happy to give them that choice! One group chose the book Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, and another group chose Shadows on the Sea by Joan Hiatt Harlow. These kids were able to justify their reasoning as to why they wanted to read these books, and they made a case to try to get others on board with their book when we were still in limbo waiting on a book consensus.

I’m excited about reading through these books with these different groups. When we picked books, one student was upset because he wanted to read ALL of the books. Fortunately, I was able to reassure his bookworm self that we have all year to read all of those books, and that when we finish one book we’ll move onto another!

Can you see how eager these children are to learn? To grow as readers? I know I’ve asked before in previous posts, but isn’t this what it’s all about?

As I finished explaining the book club components to one group, a boy said under his breath at the table, “THIS IS SO COOL!!!”

[Nerd alert: this is a child after my own heart.]

My response to that?

HECK YEAH READING IS SO COOL!!!

…and so is talking about what you read and writing about what you read and sharing what you read with your friends..!!!

It’s all about choice. You have to give kids the opportunity to choose for themselves so that they can take an active part in their learning. If you’re always choosing for them, how will they learn to choose for themselves? Will they even learn or be motivated to grow?

Yes, kids will choose and the book will be too hard. Yes, kids will choose and the book will be too easy. But they GET that — they learn that. They’re smart enough to figure out that they don’t understand what they’re reading and they need to pick a different book. They’re smart enough to discern whether or not they want to abandon a book or stick it out to the end. They’re smart enough to realize that a book is too easy for them, and they know how to make a better selection next time. None of these are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ — this is simply how we live literate lives. We make choices every single day about the literacy we see and experience, and you have to let kids learn this just by doing it.

Literacy is not passive, it’s a many-actions-required concept. My heart was so happy watching these kids get so excited about choosing their book club books, and I can’t wait to foster that excitement over and over again as the year progresses.

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