At the beginning of this school year, three teachers from high schools across the district embarked on a literacy adventure that grouped their students together in Cross-School Book Clubs. The project was sponsored by funding provided by the NB Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to support Global Competencies. Inspired by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (2018), Sarah Kennedy (OHS), Angela Lardner (SHS), and Sara Bamford (FHS) created an opportunity for their students to engage in shared reading and conversation as a way to better understand themselves and the diverse world around them.
During our first planning day as a team, we learned about the Office 365 technology the students and teachers would use to communicate (Thank you to our amazing Tech Team, Bryan Facey, Jeff Whipple, Carmel Desjardins, and Wendy Thomas, who equipped and supported us throughout the project!). One of the first decisions we made was to participate in our own book club to create a model for students. We read The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah and discussed the book over a four week period online. During our time together, we also co-created our vision, co-planned timelines, and chose the books we would book talk to each of the four classes. One of the most exciting parts of this project was that students had the opportunity to read their TOP choice. This was also one of Sara Bamford’s highlights: “What I loved most about this adventure is the choice that the students had. I really think that they didn’t believe that they were going to get their first choice until it was physically in their hands.”
In planning for the Book Clubs, the teachers decided that in order for students to have authentic conversations about the books they were reading, they needed to be able to discuss in the way they chose, not a way decided on by the teacher. Instead of being provided with guiding questions each week, the students took ownership over deciding what was meaningful and worthy of discussion. Here’s what Sarah Kennedy had to say about the online discussions: “Being able to see their responses was a great way to see how engaged they were with their novels and how they were sharing their thinking with others. I had some students who said they would rather share their thoughts verbally in a traditional group in class, but I liked that this format pushed them a bit when it came to organizing their thoughts in a different format and asking questions to engage others.” Angela Lardner made similar observations, commenting, “It was rewarding to see the engagement among students from different schools as they discussed novels. I was amazed at the amount of predictions, inferences and text-to-world connections made.”
Here is an excerpt from an online discussion about After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay:
Here is an except from an online discussion about People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins:
Encouraged by Kara Pranikoff’s Teaching Talk: A Practical Guide to Fostering Student Thinking and Conversation (2017), the focus of assessment for the Book Clubs were the Speaking and Listening Outcomes. Midway through the Book Clubs, students took time to self-reflect on their contributions to the online discussion in relation to the curriculum outcomes. They were also provided with feedback from the teacher who was overseeing their group (this was not always their classroom teacher), who also provided them with a summative assessment after all discussions were completed. If teachers chose to ask their students to complete a final product on their book choice, that assessment focused on Reading and Writing/Representing Provincial Standards.
It was such a pleasure to work with these three passionate teachers and their students. Their openness and willingness to explore a new form of Book Clubs that allowed for communities of readers to come together across schools is truly inspiring.