Sunday, October 16, 2016

Teaching Leadership through Literature Circles

Teaching Leadership through Literature CirclesMy students just participated in Literature Circles for the first time this school year.  They had a blast!  I assigned the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio which is fantastic to promote collaborative discussions in addition to combat the problem of bullying with the promotion of empathy, something I think every classroom needs.  All week long the students read the assigned pages, worked on individually assigned worksheets that addressed various Common Core Standards such as summarization, referring to details to answer questions and inference, and use context to determine unknown vocabulary words.  Then on Friday, when everyone was prepared to contribute, we held the collaborative discussions.  

We had three groups with five to six diverse student participants in each group.  One member from each group had been selected as the leader and they had been prepped to lead the discussion.  So I explained the procedures to the students.  The leader was in charge and they would solve any problems that arised.  The leader had a discussion sheet that listed all the literature circle discussion jobs and how to go about giving the floor to them.  For example the leader would say, "Ok Discussion Director, it's time to ask a question."  And the Discussion Director would ask one of the open ended questions they had created while reading the assigned pages throughout the week.  All members would be encouraged to participate and respond to the questions, in addition to build on each other's opinions with agreements and disagreements.  They all had a sheet that listed various sentence stems which could help in case there was a lull in the conversation.  These sentence stems were also very helpful to the English Language Learners in my class.  
The collaborative discussions went fairly well, especially for being the first time they had done this activity.  I took the facilitator role and stood back and listened while the groups wrestled with governing their own discussion.  I sometimes sat and participated as if I was a member and gave my opinions and responses to the questions, modeling how to back my ideas with details and citations from text (that will be a lesson in the future and I always prepare them for up and coming rigor).  One group had a leader that was letting others run the group for him.  I had to remind him many times that he was in charge and to not let others take away his power.  He got better at the end of the discussion which encouraged him.  I also had to show another leader who had a very, very strong member in her group that was visibly trying to usurp the leader's authority with unnecessary questions and interruptions how to maintain the leadership role.  I directed the leader to the section of the sentence stem worksheet that dealt with holding the floor.  This leader began to take back her power in a strong, yet polite way by saying phrases such as, "As I was saying..." and "If you'd let me finish my thought..."  By the end of the discussion this leader was feeling great about her communication skills also when she took control of the situation and made it her group again.  I was happy to watch this because how many people get to see young students learning that there is power in their voice?  How many students who are not naturally born leaders get to learn and develop their leadership skills so that they too have the opportunity to to lead and voice their opinions?  
Also, as I listened to these discussions I was impressed with the thought, analysis, and application that these student used to express themselves and answer the questions.  This is just the first week, and I'm really excited with  where I can take them as the year progresses.  It's going to be a great year for Literature Circles!  I'll keep you posted!

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