Synthesis for Session 7: Preparing for Our Nonfiction Collaborative Critical Inquiry

19 10 2011

Beginning class with a poem is a tradition that I’d like to encourage you to consider for your own.  Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins founded a site called “Poetry 180” — a poem a day selected for high school students.

I wondered if anyone had written a poem about book clubs and true to my theory that someone has written a poem about almost everything — I found this lovely poem by Joy Huott (1993) on GoodReads:

The Gift

Each month we gather together, looking
forward to sharing our thoughts.

We face each other, having come willingly,
to express ourselves
and to share the joy
we derive from reading.

We are each different and that is the draw,
the draw of diversity,
the difference of opinions,
the variety in personality…

Like multi-faceted gemstones,
open to receive each other’s glitter,
non-judgmental and seeking the good,
delighted by each other’s offering.

This openness is our gift to one another.


Unfortunately, none of us, with the lone exception of my participation in the Eva Perry Mock Printz Book Club, have ever been in a book club. Meg, I know, spoke for most of us when she said that she “wished” that she had been in a book club.

My participation in the Eva Perry Club has convinced me that we’re missing out on a valuable experience for our teens if we don’t provide book clubs in the English Language Arts classroom. I’m recommending that we incorporate both the common book clubs where clubs are formed by choice around certain books and the more independent model with teens selecting, reading, and sharing books of their choice. I think there’s a need for both. The common book clubs serve the goal of helping students engage in collective learning where they learn to work creatively and collaboratively together toward a common goal of curating resources about the book and facilitating an experience for the class that shares their own response to the book in some way. So these are more structured. While the independent reading book clubs are wide open just as the Eva Perry Club is. Teens choose their books, read at their own rate, and then share their response in a whole class discussion.

Two teen girls in an online book club

Did I mention that these book clubs can and should be blended so there are actual and virtual components? For example, the common book clubs may work both synchronously and asynchronously online as well as in class. The independent reading book clubs may also include an asynchronous online forum where readers can share their responses.

Both book club types are included in the “Evolving English Language Arts Classroom” model that we’re exploring. Aronson (2003) encourages us to open up literature so we offer teens a diverse collection. So what is literature is expanded to include the Web and everyday reading sources while we’re also opening up the types of literary experiences in the English Language Arts classroom. You’ll see both types of book clubs plus the traditional whole class and a classroom library for reading for pleasure, pure and simple.


Our Change Project combines both the common book club and the independent reading model. Common book clubs have been formed around nonfiction books that touch on the need for social justice or other positive social change. The two books selected are Jeannette Wall’s ALEX winning book, The Glass Castle, and Susan Kuklin’s gritty No Choirboy selected as a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults.

Another important part of the class was the screening of the Middle Creek High School mini-documentary on “Creating an Actively Literate School Culture” (videotaped in 2007). We see four important cultural elements at Middle Creek: first, an extremely enthusiastic, cheerleader of a librarian who created strong relationships with students and teachers and opportunities for them to become more literate together; second, a mock Printz Book Club; third, a teen and teacher YA lit club; and fourth, a literature in the content areas effort represented by Earth Science Teacher, Johnny Gatlin’s integration of a YA novel, Karen Hesse’s Newberry-winning Out of the Dust, to help students understand the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The librarian served as a co-teacher on the project.

“Becoming a lifelong reader” has become almost cliche and is usually associated with helping students to develop a “love for reading.” Reality is that students will invest time in what they find adds value to their lives, and reading can serve as both “escape and empowerment” (Eva Perry teens'”Why I Need My Library video). Vivian Howard, a Canadian researcher publishing in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (2011), describes pleasure reading as helping “to prepare young adults for adult roles in an information society.” She shares findings from the National Endowment of the Humanities that adults who read for pleasure are more civic-minded and involved in civic affairs while also participating more in their communities’ arts and other cultural opportunities. Reading for enjoyment is strongly correlated then with an improved quality of life for all — not just the individual.

The Change Project continues with nonfiction presentations next week, and we also culminate our collaborative critical inquiry into nonfiction and its role in the curriculum.

Aronson, M. (2003). Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era. Oxford, UK: Scarecrow Press.

Howard, V. (2011). The importance of pleasure reading in the lives of young teens: Self-identification, self-construction and self-awareness journal of librarianship and information science. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 43(46). [Available through NC State Libraries. Simply search for title on library homepage.]



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