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Getting Started with Literature Circles

by Katherine L. Schlick Noe and Nancy J. Johnson

available from Amazon

In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a piece of literature in depth.  Getting Started with Literature Circles is a handbook for teachers who are just beginning to use this approach in their elementary or middle school classrooms. The book is based on our work with teachers in grades 1 - 6 during their first year using literature circles.
     The book is organized into eight chapters, each with a specific focus on one of the key components of literature circles:  goals, classroom climate, structure, selecting books, discussions, response journals, focus lessons, and extension projects.  Woven into each chapter are the experiences of classroom teachers, numerous examples from students, and strategies for assessment and student self-reflection.  Each chapter concludes with "What is worth worrying about and what is worth letting go?" and answers to some common questions about literature circles.

Why did you write the book . . .?

    We wrote this book as a companion to Literature Circles and Response, which we co-edited with Bonnie Campbell Hill.  Some teachers will find that this book serves well as a "prequel" to LC&R.  Others who have already read and used LC&R may turn to this book for concrete guidance as they make decisions about the components of literature circles.
     While "getting started" books can often be prescriptive, the goal of Getting Started is to be descriptive, offering a range of possibilities.   This book will serve as a handbook, addressing key components to beginning literature circles, as well as offering specific classroom examples and answering questions raised by teachers.  As such, it does not assume that readers have in-depth experience already.  We want the book to mentor teachers while honoring each readerís specific setting, students, experience, needs, and style.
     The major audience for this book is classroom teachers in grades 1 through 6, teacher educators, curriculum directors, librarians, and administrators who see themselves as instructional leaders.  Primarily, we expect that this book will be used by teachers and student teachers in their classrooms, teacher educators in methods courses, curriculum specialists in staff development programs, and librarians who are looking for innovative practices for the library.

Outstanding Features:

Handbook Format
    Each chapter stands alone, offering specific ideas that teachers can try immediately and then adapt with experience.  The format invites teachers to "dip" into a specific chapter; they do not have to read the entire book in order to begin

    The book balances the "how to" of literature circles with the larger issue of philosophy, goals, and expectations.  The book begins with creating a classroom climate for respect and collaboration, considering where literature circles fit within a balanced literacy program, articulating specific expectations for what students will gain from literature circles, and considering literature circles' benefits.    The chapters that follow include classroom examples and structural components set within this philosophical framework.

Classroom Examples
    We present a variety of possibilities for structuring and managing literature circles.  The book shows alternatives that feature different teachers' experiences.  The book prompts readers to consider commonalties, as well as adaptive possibilities.  It does this through forms and classroom examples, as well as teachers' voices explaining how and why these components work.  All of examples come directly from teachers who have recent experience with beginning literature circles.  The book presents strategies specific to its audience.

Incorporating Literacy Skills and Strategies
    The book includes discussion of how to weave in literacy skills and strategies as an integral part of literature circles.  The book offers focused teaching suggestions based on what students demonstrate they need as readers and writers.

Whatís Worth Worrying About?Whatís Worth Letting Go?
    Each chapter acknowledges the pressures teachers feel when they incorporate literature circles into their already full curriculum by including brief suggestions of what to focus on ("Whatís worth worrying about?") and what to set aside ("Whatís worth letting go?").

Frequently Asked Questions
    Each chapter contains a section answering common and recurring questions teachers ask about literature circle components.   The answers represent different teachers' approaches and thinking.

Book List
    Sample book lists organized by topic, theme, and genre are included in the chapter on how to select appropriate books for  literature circles.  This selection includes teacher recommendations of books that work well for initial literature circles.   The chapter also teacher resources for book selection:  journals, professional books, and web sites and computer resources.

Courses in which this book will most likely be used

    This book can be used effectively in the following types of college or university courses: Literacy methods for preservice teachers and graduate students, childrenís and young adult literature courses, courses for librarians and library media specialists, and courses on reader response.
 The book will also serve professional development courses and workshops for inservice teachers.

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