Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday SOL: Book Club Practices w/ Chris Lehman (All Write 2015)

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life (SOL) community.
Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Betsy, Dana, Beth, and Anna
for hosting this meeting place each Tuesday 
                                                      and nurturing our writing lives.

Fellow educators understand my dilemma.  It was the first conference session on Friday at All Write 2015, and I had to choose between Seymour Simon and NF Writing, Lester Laminack's Writers ARE Readers, Writing NF through Mentor Texts with Georgia Heard, or Chris Lehman's Book Club Practices that Invite Deep Thinking and Strong Conversation.  Since I'm retired and run an after school book club, I felt a strong pull to attend Chris Lehman's session.  I'd heard Seymour Simon at the Thursday night banquet, I planned to give up lunch with friends to squeeze in Georgia Heard's session, and Lester Laminack would be delivering the closing address at the end of the day.  Decisions like this are hard to make, but I was compensated well for my decision.  To quote my own tweet:  "Best.Session.Ever!"

Lehman began by making a distinction between book clubs and literature circles.  In literature circles, students fill out role sheets for compliance, not for thinking about books.  (I believe that the terms can and are used interchangeably.)  Good practitioners of book clubs/literature circles have reached beyond role sheets to help students think deeply and prepare for strong conversations.  The complete title of Lehman's session was The Power to Build Big Ideas:  Book Club Practices That Give Students Ownership and Push Their Thinking.

He emphasized that book clubs have three components:  good conversation, social interaction, and reading.  The most important component is reading.  To talk thoughtfully about reading, we must start with reading thoughtfully.  In order to help students read thoughtfully, we want to look at what is worth talking about in a book.  He walked us through increasingly complex texts and helped us encourage thoughtful reading through careful examination of characters, plot, and setting.  He gave us an important phrase to use in our explicit modeling with students :  "What we know about books/texts like these . . ."  The more explicit we can be in our conversations about the things that happen in books (in regards to character development, plot, and setting), the better the student discussions will become.  This was the aha discovery of this workshop for me!

To prepare for good conversations, students should understand that we want to see the process, not the products of their reading lives.  Their jottings need to occur while they read, not when they finish a book.  Writing while reading gives the teacher a lens into the the student's life as a reader.  A quick scan of student jottings or annotations that occur while reading allows the teacher to look for patterns and see what the student does well and what the student needs to do better.  While writing to get ready for conversation allows us to see student thinking, more importantly it prepares students for conversations in book clubs.  As we give students additional tools to show their thinking, offer choices in how to respond, and make this process intellectually interesting, we increase the likelihood  that students come to book club ready to have good conversations.  (Watch for a future blog post that will explain three of the tools Lehman shared with us:  "Play A Note," "Using Phrases that Link Ideas," and "Using Qualifying Language.")

The third component of book clubs, social interaction, received the least attention by Lehman, perhaps because there are already numerous resources that address this part of the process and perhaps because we've focused so much on this part of book clubs in the past.  

He concluded with three words:  Read, Think, Grow and a reminder that we are the coaches for book clubs.  As we teach strategies to enhance thoughtful reading, prepare for good conversation, and encourage social interaction, book clubs can and will be viable tools in our classrooms to guide students to read, write, and talk thoughtfully.

Book clubs are one of the most rewarding ways that I've interacted with students to share my love of books.  It is an exciting journey that began in my graduate school classes with Dr. Diane Clay, continued with students in both my 3rd and 6th grade classrooms, was nurtured in a 3-day Literature Circles workshop in Santa Fe, and continues post-retirement as I sponsor an after-school literacy club at "my" middle school.


  1. What a rich session, Ramona - Chris never disappoints! I wish I could have been there - Allwrite 15 sounds like another big success...plus, it would have been fun to have seen you all.

    1. You were missed, Tara. Maybe we can meet someday in Colorado at Linda's state convention or NCTE 2017 in Atlanta. Or come to Seattle and include me on your itinerary!

    2. Oops, that would be NCTE 2016!

  2. So glad you are sharing this session! I had the same dilemma when trying to make a choice. I will be eagerly awaiting your information you are promising. So happy we could spend time together, but it was not enough.

  3. We really needed to clone ourselves for those 3 days! Thanks for writing about this session, it sounds like it was a great one to be at. I just came from meeting with a few people from school for a book club meaning and I think I'm going to send your post to them! The part that Chris talked about - thinking deeply while reading and writing thoughts down - is something I need to work at too!
    Happy Tuesday, Ramona!

  4. I love how Lehman teases out fine distinctions embedded in instructional practice. Sounds like a great session. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Ramona, what a great session! I need to look for his resources for this as it sounds perfect for what I am thinking for next year! One day I want to hear him speak!

  6. So much smart thinking in this post, Ramona! The idea that we have to be thinking about a book while reading it isn't a natural one for many kids. Talking with them about their jottings is a great way to gain insight into their thinking. Thanks for sharing!