Pitfalls to Avoid
No book club is perfect, but it’s helpful to know what sorts of problems might arise. Here’s your chance to learn from my mistakes and draw from things I learned during my years in the classroom.
My most challenging group happened to be my third-grade book club. In retrospect, they were a little young and I was a bit ambitious. Even with our “how to” discussion and handout, the ability for nine-year-olds to talk about books beyond the basics is too abstract. These guys were really, really excited to have a special group of their own. They also were pretty squirrelly. As I’d taught mainly middle schoolers with a few years in upper elementary, I didn’t walk in equipped with ways to capture and direct their energy and to walk them through discussions.
If you want to work with young readers (8-10 years), your discussions will have to be very, very basic. It’s a great idea to include some sort of thematic game, image, idea, etc. to begin with. For example, when reading SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL, we started our discussion by describing ourselves with two adjectives. I shared with the kids pictures of Kansas and Maine so that they could see first-hand the drastic change Sarah experienced in moving across country.
If I had made our third-grade group a parent/child club, I’m sure things would have operated much more smoothly. Ideally, bringing parents into a book group means adults and children read the book either together or separately and discussion naturally arises. This would lay groundwork for a later meeting. In moments when discussion lagged, adults would add their ideas, questions, or statements, modeling for their children how to both dig into a story and share discoveries with others.
It is possible to run book clubs with one sole adult. My older groups functioned beautifully discussion-wise. This was partly due to the fact we often carried over ideas we’d first touched upon in class and partly due to the cognitive development of the middle-school mind.
Regardless if adults are in on the meetings, it is incredibly helpful to have them informed and supportive. As is often the case, attendance dropped as the school year progressed. More than one parent expressed her frustration with me, saying her child loved coming, but she was disappointed others weren’t as faithful. A couple were annoyed on my behalf (seeing the work that went into preparing a meeting beforehand).
Keep in regular contact with your kids’ parents. Give them a calendar of titles, then remind them of the next read. Yes, it’s discouraging that people aren’t better at handling schedules (I sometimes fall into this, myself). Yes, you’ll answer the same questions a dozen times. If it means more regular student involvement, do it.
What other difficulties might surface when leading book clubs?