Saturday, 25 April 2015

Literature Circles with Y11 and Y12 classes

For a wee while now I've been toying with the idea of literature circles. I did them in my first year of teaching without even knowing it was called literature circles. Back then I just figured I was doing something a good teacher would do - offer options and create strong analysis skills in her Y10 students.

Ever since, I suppose the idea of lit circles has been one that I have tried on and off with different classes. I've often tried to use lit circles in order to build a reading culture like with my extension class when I first started at Heights.

This year though - with such a big Y12 class and knowing we had so many new dystopian genre books at Y11 this year - I wanted to try it again. Full throttle.

I'd done quite a bit of research over the summer holidays, read up on different strategies and how to further enable my students to build strong individualised learning skills as well as collaborative and cooperative learning skills.

Links here:

I'd decided that after the two assessments my Y12 (Pink) class would study the three novels we had in the dept by John Green: Looking for Alaska, Papertowns and The Fault in our Stars. Having read all three at the beginning of Term One while still on my holiday reading buzz - I quickly and assuredly decided that my Y12s would definitely be reading these as literature circles.

I gave out the books to students about three weeks til the end of Term One with the expectation that they would be read by the beginning of Term Two. Most students have done so which has been great. While they continue working on the last assessment from last term - those who have finished have begun the analysis.

The clearer focus we have in Y12 has reminded me how I wanted to conduct the literature Circles in my Y11 class.

We initially started the literature circles mid way into last term. About two weeks was given for reading in class because unfortunately, a lot of kids just don't read at home. They're too busy, they are physically unable due to situations at home and sometimes kids just don't like reading.

After that we began the analysis of at least one main character and we learnt basic essay structure with SEXIST paragraph structure and for the last part of term we wrote that essay as part of their ongoing writer's portfolio for the year.

This term we started out okay where I explained that they needed to get back into groups and analyse the main characters again. Some students moaned because they had done this last term. Yes - I assured them - but now after the holidays they would have more to analyse about particular characters as they should all be nearing finishing the book.

On Tuesday, with an excited rush,  rather than do the analysis first and then edit on the site the following week, we brought in a few of the COWs and set up students on the site:

That was a huge issue because of technical issues where I couldn't add students onto the site. They could see it and they could understand what they were looking at but couldn't access it to edit. I asked students to give me their emails and for those who didn't have one to set one up. Part of the issue is that we do not have our students gmail accounts enabled within our GAFE platform - something I've been trying to change since middle of last year. 

On Wednesday, after the happy arrival of the new projector the night before, I was able to show them how to edit the pages on the site. For those that continued to have issues logging in or accessing the site - I logged them in with my password. Some students were able to enter their work - others still not.

We discussed some of the digital citizenship skills that they needed to be aware of when using the site also and when using the COWs.

Still though - some were having basic issues with understanding what it was I was trying to get them to do. A lot of my time was taken up by students who simply refused to even try and others who had continued technical and comprehension issues.

Finally, by Thursday of this week - our last session for Y11 for the week - I had finally accepted the fact that the way I was trying to get them to do it wasn't working. We hadn't set up collaborative skills and while I was trying to be patient with them - it just wasn't working. Knowing that it does work and it wasn't really the student's faults I had to really critically examine what was working and what wasn't.

Some students had figured out what I wanted them to do because I had worked with them one on one. Other students just didn't know what it meant to analyse a text.

So I went back to basics. I had apologised throughout the week with the issues around the technical aspects (because by Wednesday afternoon I'd realised that the reason they couldn't access it they way I'd set up the settings with was because they didn't have school emails for GAFE to work right) and also because I hadn't set up the collaborative skills side too.

This time I wrote up the different books we were all studying and went through four different areas of possible exam questions. We brainstormed the different themes, main characters, symbols and settings. We talked about the fact that each one has significance and needs to be further developed.

I set up the four aspects into a grid with the texts - with the idea that students would put their name by a different area they were going to work on today. I added quotes up as well.

Pic -

Finally - I think they were starting to get it. With our amazing teacher aide Marie, I was able to move around the groups a hell of a lot easier because she was working with the one student who was obstinate and needed full on one on one to motivate and continue working.

At first I was going to get students to do their analysis just in their books as originally planned - but agreed to have some students working on the COWs again. Somehow - the settings I'd changed again and again made it so there were no technical issues other than server logon issues which were fixed by the lifesaving blue ethernet cable.

Moving around the different groups, each student had a particular focus. It's easier to recognise the students who haven't done enough reading because they sit there idly not being able to contribute or work individually. I was able to work with one particular group more easily where we wrote on my DIY whiteboard table (clear duraseal on the table) and were able to identify a more focused understanding of the two main characters in Divergent.

I still have two, maybe four groups who I need to further push but we're finally getting somewhere.

I just wish I'd thought that through a bit more clearly but am glad that it was only a week of technical issues rather than the entire unit of struggling.

Because Thursday was a definite hum.

Explaining to Marie the reasons why I'm doing literature circles with this class reminded me too it's not just about offering options. It's about 21st century pedagogy. The need to practise my knowledge around building collaboration and individual learning skills. The need to enable our students to be ready for a new and exciting life ahead of them. For them to be ready -we practise til we're right and then continue to hone our skills.

Am incredibly thankful to the MLE Collaborative group on Facebook, to the collaboration korero we had on both #EngChatNZ this week on Wednesday night and the #DojoChatNZ as well. To my amazing Y12 students who worked with me collaboratively straight away and to my problem solving brain who hunted for different links and idea generating tools for my classes.

Looking forward to next week now! :)