The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

October 25, 2010

Literature Circles Reflection

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 9:58 pm

I began using literature circles during my very first year of teaching. I continued to use them for the next couple years, until I began working on my PhD full-time. Reading about literature circles without the pressure of doing literature circles in a classroom has given me the time to reflect on my past experiences, as well as to imagine how I would do it differently in the future. 

In some ways, I feel a little like Goldilocks when I reflect on my literature circles experience. During the first couple years I had too much structure, leaning heavily on roles, worksheets, and after-reading activities. In my last couple years of teaching, I neglected to put a strong enough structure in place to support my students during their literature circles experience. If I were to do it again, I am confident that I could create a structure that would be just right.

One of the biggest mistakes I made with literature circles was pacing. In my early years, I designated reading assignments for my students, and in the latter years I let my student groups select their own reading assignment, but without putting a firm end to the experience. The result was having students drag 200 page novels over the course of a month or more. As suggested in the literature circles text, I would limit a novel cycle to around 3 weeks.

In addition, I liked how literature circles were fit into an entire year’s curriculum. During my first year of teaching, I learned about literature circles and added it to my class organization (or lack thereof, I was a first year teacher after all!). Last year, literature circles were a regular part of my classroom organization, but in structure only. While literature circles are designed to be an efferent reading experience, I also think it can be used tactically to address teaching standards (for example exposing students to particular themes or genres). Using literature circles as a big-picture, balanced curriculum activity really made me want to jump back into the classroom.

Also, I would definitely restructure my literature circles training. I liked how real texts were used to demonstrate how to complete a literature circles. As stated above, with my first couple groups, I over-taught and over-controlled the format and teaching of literature circle structure, and in the latter years, I totally under-taught the structure.

What I really enjoy about this text is that Harvey Daniels emphasizes that teachers can make literature circle their own, adding or subtracting elements as they see fit. Reading examples of literature circles and comparing how they are implemented differently makes the task of creating them in the classroom much easier and less stressful.

My perfect literature circles situation would begin with the planning out of my curriculum the summer before the school year starts. It would be a regular part of the curriculum, with a break between cycles to put extra emphasis on independent reading (though independent reading would still be a vital part of the classroom during a literature circles cycle). I would select a bank of texts for the first couple cycles, based on thematic issues or genre. After the first couple cycles, I would present the next genre/thematic issue and ask students to research possible appropriate texts, to create a bank for proceeding cycles. Beginning my literature circles, I would spend a couple class periods working students into the literature circles frame of mind, which would include mini-lessons, examples, and practice. After the students have gotten the structure, we would go to meeting weekly for an entire class period.

This activity makes me yearn for the classroom….



  1. I like how you compare yourself to Goldilocks in the sense that you’re trying to get the process of literature circles to be “just right”. I think it is really difficult to try to figure out what the best amount of structure really is. I haven’t used lit. circles in my classes yet, but the experiences that you describe are helping me to think about how I might plan lit. circles for my curriculum. Have you figured out which themes or genres you will focus on for the first round, once you get back in the classroom?

    Comment by Pam Herrington — October 25, 2010 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  2. It is nice that you have experience with these circles so that you can say realistically what you would like to change. And you will be back in the class soon enough. Enjoy your time in research.

    Comment by Penny R — October 26, 2010 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  3. I am anxious to hear from you on some of the problems that I am having because you seem to have a pretty good grasp on literacy circles. I agree that the ideal would be to plan the year out the summer before, but I don’t ever know for sure what I am going to teach until a day or two before I start. I have thought of wokring out things (such as these literacy circles) ahead of time, but I am always afraid I will spend a lot of time planning only to be squashed and stuck teaching something else. Do you think that by reflecting back, you will get a good idea of how to get the literacy circles just right? Or do you think it differs from group of kids to group of kids?

    Comment by abigail stiles — October 28, 2010 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  4. Rachael, I like the idea of selecting books around a theme and then moving to allow students to help develop a list for a theme. Great idea.

    Comment by Lacy Anderson — November 1, 2010 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  5. I like the idea of planning literacy circles in advance. Have you ever worked at a school where that was possible? At the school I work at we don’t really know for sure what we are going to teach each year. We might get an idea, but it would be difficult to completely plan over the summer. That being said, I think a general plan could be made, and that would definitely make things easier. Though it seems the little snags we meet along the way are the ones that really make things difficult (for instance, I have been having a problem with small classes and attendance).

    I think it is interesting how you have reflected that you used too much structure, then not enough. Have you had time to practice with students in the “just right” phase?

    Comment by Abigail — November 2, 2010 @ 9:32 am | Reply

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