When you find yourself reading a good book, whether you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what a character will do next or amazed by the poetry of a descriptive passage, you probably want to share what you’ve read with someone — not write a book report or build a diorama, as students are often asked to do.
“There’s an excitement around sharing words,” says Harvard Graduate School of Education senior lecturer and Jeanne Chall Reading Lab director Pamela Mason, whose work and research focuses on developing culturally responsive and effective literacy and reading instructional practices. “Children have a right to those experiences, and they want those types of experiences. That’s what makes learning fun and engages them in school.”
So how can educators encourage natural discussion and enthusiasm for books in the classroom while also ensuring students understand what they’re reading and continue to grow as readers?
Why Literature Circles?
Literature circles — a small group of students that gathers to discuss a book, much like a book club — are not a new idea, and in fact, remain quite popular because they are incredibly effective. Indeed, many studies of developing reading comprehension, including those by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Catherine Snow, have emphasized the positive impact of having kids talk about what they read.
Talking about reading also helps build a classroom culture around books. “It’s motivating,” says Mason. “We’ve found from the research that, regardless of what you read, the more you read, the better you get. And the better you get, the more you like it. The more you like it, you feel competent at it, and it’s this virtuous cycle. [Reading becomes] something I do, that my friends do.”