Saturday, March 24, 2007

Literature Circle Update (or...This Must Be Why I Have No Time For My Own Reading)

Back in January, I wrote about my preparations for all of my students to be involved in literature circles. It's interesting how the groups have evolved and the directions they are going now that they have found a rhythm in the balancing act of reading at a pace for the literature circle: making sure you meet your deadlines to be respectful of the other group members AND to be prepared for discussion PLUS to avoid the withering look Ms. Hahn might give you (along with the patient lecture about meeting deadlines, respect for other members of the group and being prepared for discussions).

The group that has been meeting continuously all through fourth and fifth grade is now reading their "hardest" book yet -- The Secret Garden. They've been pleasantly surprised to find that although (or because?) it is their hardest book, we are having our best conversations. We're focusing on language (lots of Yorkshire-isms and old-fashioned words to puzzle out, along with some flowery similes and pun intended) and on how the author uses language to convey a mood.

I wanted to push the group of capable readers who read Mary Pope Osborne's Revolutionary War on Wednesday and The American Revolution: A Nonfiction Companion to Revolutionary War on Wednesday, so I offered The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop. The were wary when they held it for the first time. It was "long." Maybe "too long." So I did something I rarely do: I pretty much outlined the whole story for them as we looked at the cover picture, the blurb on the back, and the map of the castle inside. They thought it sounded like it might be good, and they decided they could probably read 25 pages in the week before we met again. The next day, the most reluctant member, who had never read a book that long and was pretty sure he couldn't, asked to reconvene the group so he could try to convince them to read more -- he had finished 25 pages in one day, he was hooked, and he knew the rule about not reading past the stopping point. If I haven't done anything else of value this year, I have shown that one student what it's like to get sucked into a story so great you don't want to put it down!

Even before we had finished The Travels of Thelonious, I knew what book I wanted that group to move to -- The City of Ember by Jeanne du Prau. I think the comparisons and contrasts of these two books of speculative fiction about a future where humans have almost, but not quite completely destroyed the planet (and who survives and how and why) will be fascinating. I read Thelonious for the first time with the group...great book! Review to follow soon!

The Friday Group has finished all five books in the Akiko Pocket-Size graphic novel series. An unlikely, formerly invisible-by-choice boy has emerged as a leader in the group. He is lobbying strongly for Time Cat as the book they read next. I think it would be a perfect pick for them -- just the right mix of fantasy and history.

The A-Z Detective Camp group continues to slog along at a chapter a week. They want to read something harder next time...maybe Castle in the Attic will work for them, too. Just at a slower pace than the Tuesday Group.

Those are the five groups from my classroom. Then, as if I didn't have enough reading to juggle, I agreed to organize a free author visit for our fourth and fifth graders. Angie Sage will be coming to our school in mid-April, compliments of HarperCollins Publishers and Cover to Cover Children's Books. We didn't have enough time to try to get every 4th and 5th grade student through one (or hopefully more) of Angie Sage's thick-ish fantasy books, so I am doing literature circles with a few fourth graders from each class and another with a few fifth graders from each class. I am listening to Magyk on cassettes in the car. It's a fun story that really moves along with lots of characters, plenty of action, a bunch of unanswered questions, and short chapters that have provocative titles. I often find myself sitting in the school parking lot or my driveway, listening for just a bit more...just until there's a good stopping spot!

Finally, in every other waking moment, I am reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson for my adult book club. Bryson writes about growing up in the 1950's with his characteristic dry humor. My growing up started exactly ten years after the 1950's, so this sometimes reads like history for me, but much of it rings quite true. As of today, I am halfway through. Jury's still out on whether I'll be finished by Tuesday.

NOW do you understand why I have that huge pile of professional journals and NYTimes Book Reviews that lie untouched?!? Why I still haven't finished The Higher Power of Lucky, or Clementine, or Hugo Cabret?!? And sadly, not only are there books to read, there are papers to grade. Sigh.


  1. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Your students are soooo lucky to have you!

    Also, I've been trying to remember the Bill Bryson book ever since I heard him interviewed last fall (for some reason I thought the title had something to do with an Atomic Toilet??) and now you've saved me!


  2. There's an Atomic Toilet in the book, so you're not too far off!

  3. Move Clementine to the top of the pile. Forget those stuffy professional journals.

    I really enjoyed this post as it gave me some real insight into the reading life of your students. Please do it again sometime.

  4. Anonymous12:20 AM

    Re: "If I haven't done anything else of value this year, I have shown that one student what it's like to get sucked into a story so great you don't want to put it down!" though I'm sure you have done other things of value, I think this alone would be enough of an accomplishment. So very cool!!

    And neat having Angie Sage in to visit. I listened to Magyk on MP3, and enjoyed it, but haven't gotten to the next books yet.

  5. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Wow wow wow! I second the person who said your students are so lucky to have you! I always wanted to do literature circles but never did! Lots of work for you, huh? Thanks for the very interesting post. I loved seeing what your students are reading.


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