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The Purpose of Reading

Think of a recent time when you sat down with something to read (maybe this chapter, perhaps?) you had a purpose, right?  You probably can’t think of a time when you read something without a purpose.  It might have been to relax for a while or maybe to learn a new recipe, but whatever the case, you had a purpose.

The same is true for kids.  They need to see a purpose in order to get something meaningful out of reading.  If you put a Literature Circles novel in front of a student and they don’t know the purpose, I guarantee you’ll have behaviour issues and the student won’t gain anything of value from the experience.
There are three main reasons for reading:
  •  You can read to perform a task, such as specific directions. For example, “Read until you get to the part where...”
  • You can read for enjoyment.
  • You can read to learn new information. For example, if you wanted to learn about sea otters.
Before asking your students to read, make sure that you give them a purpose.  Be specific.  You can (and should) do this before asking them to read anything, not just a novel for Literature Circles.

Some specific prompts you can use include:
  • Read until you find the solution to the story problem.
  • Close your book once you’ve made a text-to-self connection.
  • After reading, I want you to tell me
  • Read until you find out about
  • Put the book down once you discover the setting of this story.
After some time, students will begin to see the purpose and value of reading.  They’ll become more independent and have much greater buy-in for reading tasks.  You’ll see readers with more focus and engagement, and far deeper comprehension.

A Strong Class Community = Comfortable Communication

It’s no secret that classroom community is important.  When students respect and acknowledge each other’s unique abilities a feeling of positivity and safety exists in the classroom.  If you want your students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about novels during Literature Circles, classroom community is essential.  

One of my favourite ways to build classroom community is through a class agreement.  This is the backbone of management in my classroom.  Once built, we have a whole-class understanding that we’ll follow it.  If a student isn’t being respectful during Literature Circles, I always reference the class agreement.  This blog post outlines how I build a class agreement, and gives some other community-building pointers, as well:

Other ways to build classroom community include:
  • Encourage student questions, and follow them up with another open-ended question to further thinking.
  • Get to know your students interests so you can plan lessons/suggest novels that are more to their liking.
  • Hold a Circle Talk/Morning Meeting to allow students to share their excitements and concerns with the class.

Independence is Key

During Literature Circles, you’re not going to be able to sit with every group, every time.  Students are going to need to be able to have some independent working skills.  The good news is that if students see a purpose for the reading, and have a strong class community, they’ll feel accountable for their learning and independent working shouldn’t be of concern.

On days where I feel that students weren’t using their time as wisely as they could have been, I’ll often ask them to offer up a self-reflection of their work.  Using a sticky note, students can write a sentence or two about what they did during the work period, give themselves a rating out of 5, and set a goal for the next time.  Quick, easy, and accountable.


Model, Model, and Model Some More

How do students know what’s expected of them? Through explicit teacher modeling.  If you’re going to ask your students to make connections during Literature Circles, they need to have experience making connections before hand.  If there is a certain format you’d like them to write responses with, they’ll need to have that modeled too.  

You can model for students by:
  • Thinking aloud
  • Providing a visual
  • Working through the task together
  • Checking for understanding and remodeling points of confusion
  • Showing past student samples

Before you begin Literature Circles, decide on the task you will want your students to complete.  Are there any that require pre-teaching and modeling? If so, short stories and picture books are great tools to use when modeling strategies!

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