This was part of the January, 2019 parent letter sent prior to the Social Issue Book Club Unit:

Why Book Clubs? If it is one thing that 6th graders are good at, it is talking! This unit will encourage students to use this skill in the company of two to four others who are reading the same book. Through talk, ideas and perspectives can be shared around weekly book club discussions to push our thinking. 

This is part fo the April, 2021 parent revised letter to be sent prior to the Social Issue Book Club Unit:

This unit encourages students to use their reading and discussion skills in the company of two to four others who are reading about a similar issue.

I wonder….will tthis year’s students start talking? Some, from home, do now but mostly with their cameras off. Some, attending my class in person one block a week, do now but it is hard to hear them clearly through a mask. Yesterday I tried using the TEAMS feature called Breakout Rooms for those at home while those in person, I arranged seating so they could talk in groups of 3-4 spaced 6ft apart.

“How did that go?” I asked after a 5-minute talk break where I asked them to share with their group what was sticking with them from their reading. “Great, we all talked,” a Room 1 student volunteered. I thought to myself, maybe this can work. Maybe in April, these students this year can learn that talking is something they are good at but just out of practice.

End of our Reading Celebration

At the end of our Reading Celebration today, I said something like this:

Readers, I want you to have this poem as a bookmark to use as a reminder of this unit. As I read it aloud, think about why I think this poem matches some of the things we discussed during the unit, things like:
* how when reading we stopped at the trouble in our stories and noticed the relationships between the characters involved in the trouble.
*how we noticed who has the power and its effect on the trouble,
*how we named the groups the characters belonged to and the social issues that sometimes come about because of these groups
*and how we identified moments when characters were victims, perpetrators, bystanders and upstanders.

Then I read aloud the poem, emphasizing the pronouns:

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What are you thinking, I asked. Their replies:

“I think she’s short.”

“I think he might be blind, like the grandfather in As Brave As You”

“Maybe she’s in a wheelchair so he didn’t see her.”

“I think he is the kind of man who is only seeing his world and doesn’t care about anyone else.”

“Yeh, he’s too important and is acting selfish.”

“I think if the man hadn’t said “Oh my God” then he would just be rude but since he said that, he isn’t so rude.”

“I think the cashier is an upstander.”

“I think if the poem was longer, he’d become an upstander, too and let the lady go before him in line.”

I ended by telling my wise students something like this:
WOW! When I read this poem by myself, I focused on a man not seeing a woman and thought about the women’s movement and the social issues related to gender bias. But now discussing it with you and listening to your comments, I realized this poem could be about so much more. And that’s why I hope all of us keep reading and discussing in clubs. We are better readers when we can do it as a book club! Promise me you won’t only form a club when a teacher tells you to. Read and encourage your friends to read the same stuff and then talk about it.

Finally, my hope is that as we go forward, we rewrite the last line of the poem, “I really didn’t see you” and instead resolve to really seeing all the yous we encounter each day. Let’s try to do all we can to see each other and to stand up for each other.

NOTE: If you’d like to read more about the Social Issues Reading Unit I taught, click HERE for more on ending,
HERE for prepping for celebration
and HERE for Book Tasting.

Study Groups

When I teach a lesson as a Reading 6 teacher, I teach it one day – A Day – 5 times. Then on B day, 3 more times. Yes, 2 of my periods, called Mods at my school, are full year reading class so they come daily. Then the other 3 Mods are a semester class, every other day and on the off day, they learn a foreign language.

So today I taught a lesson for the 6th, 7th and 8th time today. It was Session 14 in the new Social Issues Book Club unit, part of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading in Middle School. They suggest to have the kids reflect on this video on vimeo called Bystander, using the words victim, perpetrator, bystander and upstander.

I wanted the students to have the 4 words defined and name a character from books we’d read during this unit that acted like the word so I could see them apply the definition before viewing. But I also wanted this task to go quickly so I made it a competition.  “The first book club that adds these 4 words to their notebook, defines them and adds an example of a character acting as the word, gets a prize. As you work, you may share ideas/answers with your club members. Work together and let me know when all in your club have the task completed.”

Boy, did making it a competition motivate middle schoolers! “I’ll look up victim. You look up perpetrator,” I heard, “I think the dad in Stray is an upstander. Who’s a bystander?” There isn’t really a perpetrator in The Lemonade Club? said another. “Sure there is – cancer!” was the clubmate reply.

As one group announced they were done, I gave each a peppermint treat and told them to get up, take their notebooks and help the other groups finish. Within minutes, all in the room were done and ready to watch the video.  The video discussion was just as lively. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s Slice.

Just before showing the video, I congratulated all. I told them how proud I was to see their book club working well together to get the task done. Then I gave them a tip that I learned from Mary Ehreworth at TCRWP this past summer – teach middle schoolers and high schoolers to form study groups. My tip sounded something like this:

“Readers, what you just did just then was so smart. You formed a study group and got the work done and done fast. Because you were talking and teaching and writing while completing the task, you really know these words now. In 7th and 8th grade, in High School and in college you will be given tasks to do and there will NOT be enough hours in the day to do it all. I encourage YOU to form study groups. Ask a few others to form a group. Pick a place to meet after school. Divide up the work and share answers. It isn’t cheating. It is a smart way to ensure that you get all the assignments done and learn well.” 

Today, as my 8th group collaborated together, I sat back and smiled. I wish someone had told me to collaborate more when I was a student in Middle School. High School, and College.

Did you form study groups when you were in school?
Do you encourage your students to collaborate together?