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

November 2, 2010

Literature Circles & “Fix-It” Strategies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 11:13 am

In today’s education climate, I do not think it is uncommon for teachers to be focused on the question, “How do I assess that?” Accountability, high-stakes testing, academic emergency, and NCLB are all terms that describe our current focus in education: testing. As a teacher, I believe it is important to have an accurate account of how my students are doing. However, I do no think that the account has to be quantitative. Standardized testing, even those that diversify from multiple choice questioning alone, takes something large and complex, student learning over the course of a year, and crunches it down to a simple test score. Sure, this type of assessment can be important (it’s something the students will see for temporary driver’s license applications and for college entrance, but it cannot be the only form of assessment being used, nor is it the only form of assessment of value. Literature circle offer plenty of time for assessment, but a time of assessment that the power that be seem to forget–teacher observation over an extended period of time.

I was quite impressed with myself, or I should say my former self, because a lot of what I did in my first years of literature circles is what Daniels suggests in his text. I used a simple rubric to gather a daily “assessment,” I collected notes on happenings within the group, and I sat down and both participated or simply observed. The idea of focusing on two “standards,” one social and one academic during literature circles is wonderful. I think it brings focus to the activity for both the students and the teacher, without taking away freedom in instruction.

Last year when I did literature circles is when I had the most trouble. It was completely my fault. My students told me that they had previously done literature circles (while I later learned was literature circles in name only). Because I believed they had the background, I spent less time building a literature circles community, a structure, or an organization. My students read at their own speeds, I gave them no direction or suggestion for focusing, and I did a poor job of being a participant and an observer. As a result, my literature circles became very task-like. In this case, my “fix-it” strategy would be to ensure that literature circles have a place in the classroom, with a defined structure and system of support. Most importantly, set cycles for reading a text, so my students do end up in la-la land reading a 150 page book over the course of 6 weeks.



  1. I agree that the standardized testing has caused many teachers to worry about how lit. circles can fit into their classrooms. I think it’s great that in your experiences with lit. circles you have focused on qualitative assessment. What kinds of social skills and academic skills did you look for specifically in observations? As far as the time in which your lit. circles struggled, I think we all have times in which things don’t really go as we had planned. I think it’s good that you got ideas out of the experience that you can now use in the future. 🙂

    Comment by Pam Herrington — November 2, 2010 @ 11:24 am | Reply

  2. It sounds like you had it pretty under control. I think that in the long run literature circles aren’t the place for heavy assessment as a big part of them is trying to teach kids to enjoy reading and to make meaning from the reading. If we assess that too much, I think we loose the enjoyment. That being said, I think that the thing literature circles do is make the kids learn to think and communicate meaningfully with each other. I believe that if they do that, they will be better at testing anyway.

    Comment by Abigail — November 7, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  3. I so agree with Abigail. I will try to come up with enough grades from other activities that I won’t need to grade lit. circle time. I don’t want to quench the spirit.

    Comment by Penny Raia — November 10, 2010 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

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