Last Thursday (January 20) my students had their first memoir book study discussions. This year’s students made it very clear prior to the beginning of the semester that formal book clubs were not their cup of tea, and they preferred to not go that route. So instead we just mix and match people who are reading a certain book (this is in my 4th and 5th period groups where students are reading more than one book), and we also have cross-book discussions as well based on common questions.
For students who are more skilled at discussing, I like to do ConverSTATIONS because it allows me to group 4-5 students per discussion table and rotate members. If larger groups are too much for a group of students, you can still have discussion rotations, but you can put students in “knee to knee, face to face” pair discussion rounds (trios can work too if you have an odd number of students). I like both formats and both have benefits; with larger groups, you get more perspectives. However, you can rotate a little more quickly with pairs and students still get to hear lots of voices in the room. In addition, pairs are wonderful to force engagement and focus, and pairs are less overwhelming for those who may be easily distracted. Whatever variation you use with students, I typically do 4 minute discussion rounds (a little more if there is a particularly complex or more involved question). I review each prompt for each rotation and give students at least 60 seconds of silence before discussion begins so they can process the prompt.
We always begin by reviewing manners/etiquette/expectations:
Depending on the class, I may use the same questions in all sections, or I may change 1-2 prompts if I think a certain prompt is a better focal/discussion point for a specific class. I try to tie our questions to at least one of our essential questions, and I choose questions that speak to all books that are part of the overall book study. This works not only for memoir book studies, but regular fiction and nonfiction book studies as well.
While all of my classes did well, I had three sections that really stood out and excelled beyond my expectations with their engagement, level of thinking evidence in their discussion, and their emotional + intellectual investment in each of their “book chats.” I am excited for our next round of book discussions this Friday, January 28; we’ll be doing partner and trio work using the 4Cs thinking and discussion routine.
I ended with a digital reflection ticket in Google Forms, and students reflected on their work as well as the overall learning experience.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I am extremely proud of my 8th graders for the high quality work they did in their discussions!