Sunday, May 10, 2009

Talking about Books Using Book Clubs to Foster Adolescent Literacy and a Love of Reading in Class, Outside of Class, and for Life

Presenters: Deborah Appleman, Carleton College
Carol Jago,,

Deborah Appleman is professor of educational studies and director of the Summer Writing Program at Carleton College. She also serves as the Associate Director of the American studies department. Professor Appleman is on sabbatical for the 2008-2009 academic year. She is teaching college-level language and literature courses at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater for inmates who are interested in pursing post-secondary education. (Inmates can earn an associate's degree while incarcerated.)

Carol Jago is a teacher with 32 years of experience at Santa Monica High School in California. The author of nine books on education, she continues to share her experiences as a writer and as a speaker at conferences and seminars across the country.

The speakers were so qualified to deliver this presentation as you can tell from some of their published works above. They inspired all of us to start a club before school, after school and even on weekends. The conversations they shared of the students were so empowering. Below is their suggestions of kick starting a book club. Check it out!!

Opening and Closing Questions
Getting Started: Some Suggestions for Opening Book Club Conversations
"Book Club is not my classroom. Book Club is not my classroom. Book Club is not my classroom." I love discussions with students about books and ideas where ever they happen, but I have to remember that the Book Club is designed to be a different experience than students have in class.

Here are some questions to get you started. Many of them are like the questions we ask in our classrooms. Maybe the difference is that since we have only a half hour or so, we really need to stay on the sidelines. One or two of these and kids will take off on their own. (In some cases I've tied the question to one of the books we've read.)

Questions about characters:
How does Susie (or_______) surprise you? Lovely Bones
What seems to be _______'s most important characteristic?
Does this character seem familiar? How is he or she like or unlike you? Getting In
What does it mean to be a winner? --in this book? To you? It’s Not About the Bike, In These Girls Hope
is a Muscle
What would it be like to have to fight so hard to learn? What was it like for these boys? Balzac and the
Little Chinese Seamstress
How (or why) has the author used a figure from popular culture to explore philosophy? Is he effective?
Simpsons, Tao of Pooh
Who do you like best (or least) in this book?
Who is the most important participator in the story?
What does _______ (main character or someone else) believe?
Questions about conflict:
What is the most important problem in the book?
Why is the story resolved in this way?
Would you have done what the character did? Did you like (approve of, disapprove of) the decision of
What does _______ have to say in this book (a character or the author)? What do you think about that
What are the "rules" of this world? Would you like to live there?
What idea or character do you think the other is most interested in? Who or what were you most interested in?
Was the book interesting (entertaining, important)? Why or why not?
What made the book worth reading? Worth discussing?
What did you find important in the text? (Or surprising? Or reassuring? Or troubling?)
How did you feel about a character, the end, a decision the character made.
What does mean to you. (Heaven if you read Lovely Bones, for example. Or getting into college if you read I Getting In. Or winning if your read Lance Armstrong or In These Girls Hope is a Muscle.)
Possibilities for students to bring to book club
Bring one important question that has to do with a character (or the problem, or the end of the work) to
talk about.
Bring a line or passage you really want to talk about to Book Club.
Transcript Excerpts
Deborah Appleman, Carleton College
Deep Talk- Discussing the Tao of Pooh
In book clubs, students seem willing to offer their perspective on themselves, on high school, and on life in general in ways
that feel more authentic and more substantive than what sometimes happens in class talk. Consider, for example, the following excerpt from a discussion of The Tao of Pooh:

Student 1: Well, I really enjoyed, like on page 112 of the same chapter that talks about how “enjoyment of the process is the secret that erases the myths of the Great Reward and Saving Time.” It just like shows, like, every year we go through Christmas and you just anticipate the gifts, but then once it’s over you’re just back where you started.
But that anticipation is the part that is the most fun. So it’s kind of not necessarily the reward, but the time before it.
I like that idea.
Like everyone just goes through high school and tries to get good grades, so that they can get into a good college.
But high school is four years of your life that you could be enjoying. Obviously, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying necessarily, but if you focused more on enjoying the process of your life… That doesn’t mean don’t work, but it just means, like, enjoy where you are right now. I think, you know, that people would be a lot happier.
Student 3: I thought Katie brought up an interesting point about how he shows contrast between Pooh and the Chinese proverbs. On page 68 and 69 when he’s talking about the Wu Wei, he says, “Literally, Wu Wei means without doing, causing, or making,” and then he kind of talks about that. Then, right at the bottom, he says, “Let’s take an example from the writing of Chuang-Tse,” and then right after that on the next page he goes, “Now look at the most effortless bear we’ve ever seen” and then he goes through examples of Pooh. I think it’s cool how he can, like, show the contrast and show the parallels between those two. I think it’s interesting.
Student 4: Well, what you where saying about high school, I though that was one of the most interesting things too.
And my favorite passage was, “ ‘It is today, sweet Piglet, my favorite day’ says Pooh” and that everyday could be his favorite day. And he just enjoys it. That would be incredible to embrace, and that’s what I like best about the book.
Flying On Their Own: An excerpt from the The Kite Runner conversation
What follows now is an extended exchange between two students. This exchange is particularly noteworthy for those skeptics who might be tempted to conclude that book club discourse merely changes the setting for participants who always dominate, in almost monologic turns. As Marshall (1991) points out, most classroom talk is comprised of student-teacher turns. Here
there is a sustained exchange with no mediating adult.
Student 1: I mean, didn’t he try to put him in the orphanage after he saved his life? It’s just ridiculous how much he
owed this boy and he still did that.
Student 2: But wasn’t the whole point of putting him into the orphanage that he could help him to escape?
Student 1: Yeah, but I mean, come on, you can’t have children and your wife really wants a kid an you find a blood
relative, this little boy, who is sweet and you owe him a ton, I mean…
Student 2: He was trying to get him out, though.
Student 1: No, that’s good, but after his friend like came to Pakistan…
Student 2: But how’s he supposed to know before that he was a relative…
Student 1: No, but once he knew, he’s like, ooh, I just made the decision…
Student 2: But how would you react to that?
Student 1: I know it’s scary, but…
Student 2: It’s one of those situations that its hard to know. It’s hard to judge his moral decisions in that extreme circumstance that none of us has ever had to experience.
The conversation then resumes with other participants.
Student 6: Personally, I think Amir was kind of afraid to take Hassan’s son into his home because that would be a constant reminder of everything, all the things that happened in his childhood. And how much Hassan suffered for him, because he looked exactly like Hassan. I mean, don’t you think it would be kind of hard to go back and accept
this child who would be a constant reminder every day that you let Hassan get raped. I think that would be really hard. I think he had the chance to redeem himself, but it was just really hard.
Student 7: Do you guys think it made it more believable that he first didn’t think he should take him back, or do you think it would have been more believable if he had instantly though this is my future son.
Student 4: Well, it kind of goes along with how he isn’t really an adult yet. Well, he is an adult, he does go to Pakistan and decides to go into Afghanistan, but still he’s not, like, all the way there yet. I think he doesn’t want to be reminded of what he did and doesn’t want to take him home now, but once his journey is over, ideally, he should take Hassan back. And he should have to look at him and deal with what he did, and he just kind of owes him.
Student 2: I agree, like, I don’t want to sound too harsh, ’cause I did like the book. I think you are right. I think he was afraid of that reminder, but that is kind of weak. He saw what the orphanages were like, but if he couldn’t look beyond himself in that extreme of a circumstance, then that’s not that good of him. But, that said, I don’t think the author was trying to make him an awful person. It think a lot of it was to keep things going.
Student 6: And also, he’s only human too. It’s so much easier for someone on the outside, and most of us will never
be in that situation, hopefully. I think that just helped his character development, because at first you hate him because you know that he should take this boy back with him. And he doesn’t. But I think it is important to remember that Amir is only human, and that’s just something to keep in mind.
Student 8: I think Amir is portrayed pretty realistically in his selfishness and his fear of the unknown. Amir is really grappling with his past and his life.
Student 1: I think this book gets a lot of its effectiveness because Amir can’t really be blamed for all his shortcomings. He’s living an easy life, even though he’s growing up in Afghanistan. For us that’s, like, rough. But
he’s got this nice house, he’s an only child, his father takes him on trips, he gets to escape to the U.S. even though
that was kind of hard. I mean, you know, basically, even though he’s had life probably a lot more rough than we’ve had, it’s easier to understand him because, I mean, personally, I’ve had everything in life handed to me, like, on a
silver platter. Like, I have everything. And I think Amir kind of has that same kind of thing going for him and that kind of is what makes him who he is. If we think about it, we can see a lot of ourselves in him.
I think maybe that is why I have so much scorn for him, because I see exactly what I hate, not hate, but what I don’t like in myself, and what people maybe see in the mirror, and it just makes you think because there’s always something worse, there’s always somebody worse off. I think, reading the book we all kind of thought, just go into Afghanistan, even if you die it’s worth it. But, like everybody says, if you are faced with that decision, what are you going to do?
Teacher: But what do you do with the circumstances that you’ve heard? That’s what you’re talking about. Like, not to your credit or your fault that you are here and he is there? What do you think the book suggests about that?
Student 1: I don’t think Amir shows what we should do, rather more what we should try to avoid. Not that he screwed up entirely. But, um, I think Amir did do some good things. I’m gonna follow my dream and be a writer. He didn’t let his father make him do something he didn’t want to do. And he did take advantage of his opportunities as far as, like, education goes. But I think he lost sight of a lot of things, and I think that is what happens to everybody.
Student 7: Amir was really just able to accept things without standing up for others. And you need to balance those two. You need to be able to stand up for yourself, but Amir was really stunted ’cause he wasn’t able to stand up for others. So I think you need, like, both, in order to be the ideal person.
Student 5: But I think the book is saying there is no such thing as the ideal person. Because, the Hassan boy listens to everyone and obeys everyone, but he can’t stand up for himself. And Amir can’t stand up for others. And at the end he realizes that Baba made mistakes too. So he talked all about this human nature stuff, everyone makes mistakes, so that is really an inherent theme in this book.
Student 6: I think this book isn’t about courage but is about regular people who have human flaws, and they all make mistakes and I think this book is about how they try to deal with these mistakes.
Student 1: Then, what’s it really telling us to do? You know, Amir is really just trying to forget about it and leave, but it keeps coming back to bite him. So how do I compensate for all the chances and luck that I’ve been given? Like, what am I supposed to do?
Student 6: You have to just do to the best of your human nature. You can’t always do what the ideal person reading the book of your life would do. But, like, you just have to try, ’cause once you do something it’s done, you can’t go back and change that.
Student 1: Still, at the time you could change it. That’s what kind of irks me. I’ve always thought you can have your past and you can make mistakes but you have to get over them. So in that respect, I’m Amir, you know I was just trying to like, okay I screwed up, I was 12, trying to get over that, but in that respect, I am stuck.
Student 8: I think what you were saying about what do I do to compensate for all the things I have in my life… I am now just thinking about when you make a mistake, no matter how much good you do afterward, it doesn’t necessarily make the mistake you made any easier to deal with or more justified.


dayle timmons said...

There is no question that children need to be able to talk about books before they can write about them. I think that's one of the lessons that we learned early on from Lucy Calkins. I will never forget the videotapes of her little NYC kindergartners having book talks with a depth that surprised me in those earlier years. Now we see that every day!

Mrs. Rachel Bridges said...

It is amazing how interested students become in the process of talking about books. They enjoy at a very early age thinking deeper together!