CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
"A literature circle is a group of people who meets on a regular basis to iscuss stories and books" (p. 5). It sounds deceptively simple, but many of today's overworked teachers in grades 4-6 could use a book such as Literature Circles: Tools and Techniques to Inspire Reading Groups to help them to implement literature circles as a language arts strategy. Rogers and Leochko are especially credible authors as they have made these techniques work in inner city schools where the trials and tribulations of teaching can sometimes overwhelm the best intentions. Teachers reading their book will likely be inspired to try this technique. Literature Circles: Tools and Techniques to Inspire Reading Groups is organized into five parts plus a short bibliography of other titles (and a web site) which will also help teachers to learn about and use literature circles. Although the headings of each part are not particularly helpful (as they are not descriptive), the contents of each section, for the most part, are exactly what most teachers need to get them started. Part I: Literature Circles offers an overview of definitions, management, extension activities and evaluation. Of special interest here is detailed help on scaffolding instruction for students. They will learn to be effective group members by learning literature circle roles by practicing them, for example, in whole class experiences before trying roles in small groups. Part 2: Handouts gives a dozen sheets to guide students, teachers and even parents (a sample letter to be sent home) through such topics as roles (e.g. word detective, picture maker) and mini-lessons (e.g. how to write a response journal). Literature circles: Tools and techniques to inspire reading groups is published on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper which makes its many reproducible black line masters especially easy to use. Part 3: Rubrics has more blackline masters, mostly for teachers to use when assessing (e.g. presentation of project rubric) but also one for individual students to self assess and another for a group assessment. These assessment sheets are general enough for teachers to adapt to any provincial curricula. Part 4 Short Stories gives six tales for teachers to use in the early stages of teaching literature circles before the more extensive work required by novels. Unfortunately, while these stories may be useful for the teacher/writer, I would recommend that a teacher use published trade book literature instead. It seems to me that there are a great number of stories in picture books and anthologies which could be used to good purpose as an introduction to literature circles. While no doubt Leochko and Rogers enjoyed writing these stories, and students are always thrilled to discover that their own teacher is a writer, in my opinion they are not at a high enough standard for general classroom use. Teachers using this book may, however, be inspired to write their own stories for their own students. Part 5: Beyond Literature Circles offers four more blackline masters to guide students' small group discussions in art, music, poetry and mathematics. Literature Circles: Tools and Techniques to Inspire Reading Groups will assist teachers to get started with this approach in upper elementary classrooms through the use of narrative texts. Any teachers wishing more thoeretical background or ideas for using literature circles beyond stories (for example, with expository texts) would be well advised to seek out Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-centered Classroom by Harvey Daniels (1994, Pembroke Publishers). Daniels also offers handouts for student roles and discussion sheets both in English and Spanish. Nevertheless, many teachers beginning to use literature circles for the first time will certainly appreciate the more practical stance and greater number of blackline masters in Literature Circles: Tools and Techniques to Inspire Reading Groups. It is a worthy addition to a school's professional development library.
Deborah L. Begoray is a language arts professor at the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.