Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living and Reading

Today, I began a second installment of book club with my English 12 students. This was in response to the overwhelming popularity of our first book club foray in February.

This idea came to me intially as I tried to think of ways I could help my students become lifelong readers. How do we see those who are no longer in school "living" life as readers? Akin to those who continue to run long after they have graduated from PE classes, where in society do I see people reading for meaning and pleasure? The answer lies in the book club phenomenon that has swept the US and Canada (Egad! Oprah again!)

The book club offers an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to get together and debate, discuss and decipher books they have all read. Perhaps reading is not the end of the process but rather the beginning of the conversation that good books seem to generate. The book club offers so much for the English student: active reading, engagement, discourse, critical thinking, active-listening, questioning, being enlightened by the thoughts of others. But this is still all teacher speak.

Why do adults CHOOSE to be part of a book club, even though there is no looming authority figure or class assignment? …because it’s fun, and somewhere along the way, all that heady intellectual stuff also happens to follow.

Joanne Leblond, our teacher-library and I lead a brief book talk to introduce students to some books that have been fixtures on bestseller lists and/or are the darlings of critics. From there, students chose the book they would like to read and discuss. We tried to replicate as close as possible the ad hoc conversations about books readers often happen upon - these talks occur in hallways, elevators, during class, meetings and even between between bathroom stalls.
We toss the titles of books to friends and acquaintances all the time.

Oh, you’ve got to read….
Have you read….?
If you love…you’d love…
Oh, I’m reading such a great book right now...

Here is an excerpt of what I shared with the students

What we’d like to replicate here is the sense of excitement and buzz that comes from sharing a good book with a friend.

I don’t want this to feel like a course assignment because, for whatever reason, this robs books of some of their magic. I want the discussion to be organic and authentic.

I have set up a discussion board for each of the books that you can use to bounce around ideas or to ask questions or discuss anything you fancy. I will not be setting specific requirements for when and what you should be posting. I think a reasonable amount would be 2-3 posts/responses by our book club date. The learning will be intrinsic and very personal so post whatever ideas inspire or irk you and post at whatever time of day and at whatever point in the book you like. The point is not to post just to jump through the hoop; post b/c you have something to say or something to wonder or something to ask. Post because you want to engage with another reader. This is a community of readers we are creating.

I want you to enjoy the book and let its ideas wash over and through you. I want you to be a reader. Let's not talk about assessment until after the book club. If you engage meaningfully in this book club, you will be happy with your marks. My goal is to help you enjoy reading; how does one assess this? This is my dilemma. Just read and think and discuss and you will do well.
We will have two weeks to read your books and then meet in a location off campus (real life, right?) The meetings will be organic affairs where participants will drive and steer the discussion on a meandering but nonetheless meaningful path.

On the designated book club date, we lunched, sipped coffee, slurped Vietnamese pho and balanced tuna sashimi on chopsticks at eating establishments throughout the neighbourhood. I attempted to visit every group and in every instance, my English teacher's heart swelled taut at the sight of readers meeting socially over food and drink to talk passionately about their relationship with a book.

Can't wait to see what the second round has in store!

No comments:

Post a Comment