Thursday, September 21, 2017

Upgrading Literature Circles



Hayley is a sixth grade teacher. She has been using literature circles with her students as a way to encourage student discussion of independent reading. In the past, she has used tech-free literature circles, but this year she has made a few changes to incorporate technology in order to increase learning, organization, and accountability.

Building Background Knowledge

Some of the typical roles that students take on in Hayley’s literature circles involve explaining key vocabulary, making connections, summarizing the text, and directing the discussion. In the past, she has also had an investigator. This student would choose a topic related to the reading to research and share with the group. Unfortunately, students seemed to get in a rut in which they would only choose to research the author week after week-defeating the purpose of building background knowledge and increasing comprehension.


To address this issue, Hayley has chosen to incorporate webquests into her literature circles. Students will spend time each week investigating a teacher-chosen webquest that relates to the story they are reading, building their background knowledge in meaningful ways while being guided by the webquest. Hayley is choosing webquests to deepen understanding of themes, settings, and social issues faced by main characters.



This student is exploring a webquest about dyslexia in connection with his book, Fish in a Tree. When asked why he was learning about dyslexia, he said, “The main character has a learning problem. Reading about dyslexia helps me to understand the character better. Then I understand why she does what she does.” That sounds like effective background knowledge to me!



Another student was using a webquest to learn about Arizona, the setting for his literature circle book, Stargirl. He is shown here searching the web for images to show the land features in Arizona. Meanwhile, another student was completing a webquest to build background knowledge relating to fairy tales for her chapter book. While their tasks and content were very different, all three students were engaged in meaningful learning that will extend their understanding of their chapter books.

Managing the Paperwork

I’m really impressed with Hayley’s overall organization of her literature circles. Students follow a set monthly calendar, showing reading assignments and roles for each week. All the calendars are shared with students through Google Classroom, so students always have a clear reading goal for the day.




Providing copies of role sheets and managing completed student was a challenge in the past. Students were turning in multiple pages of work per week for Hayley to organize, assess, and provide feedback. This year she has moved all of her documents to digital folders. Teaching her students how to make a copy of the role sheets they need was a quick fix to increase organization. They never run out of paper copies, students can’t misplace their work, and Hayley can access digital student work anytime, even before they turn it in.


Listening to Student-Led Discussions

Student led discussions can be so powerful! They can also get off topic pretty quickly. One struggle for any teacher is ensuring on-task learning while students are working without a teacher. In Hayley’s class, students participate in literature circle discussions while Hayley is teaching small group lessons, meaning that she is usually unavailable to really listen in to every conversation.


This year Hayley is planning to use the video recording feature in our learning hub to record group conversations. Not only will students have increased accountability, it will also help Hayley to have a clear idea of how to best support the learning of various groups and students. She can better plan her small group instruction and correct misconceptions to make her literature circles as meaningful as possible.

Overall, Hayley’s shift to digital literature circles has allowed her guided reading time to become more efficient and effective. Thanks for these great ideas, Hayley!

1 comment:

  1. Tomorrow, be on the look for our final Dog of the Day post. This last post is going to be a special one. I'll be revisiting current shelter dogs who are looking for forever homes, like I did at the beginning--rather than the success stories I've done the past few days--and featuring one dog who is having some medical issues and needs help from the loving humans in his life.
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