Literature Circles give students much of the control, increasing their stake and ownership of the class, and in turn increasing their understanding and success. Through independent reading and individual assignments, students are accountable for their own understanding of the novel, growing as independent learners; through discussions and sharing their assignments, students are accountable for their peers' understanding, growing as collaborative learners. Incorporating individual and collaborative work, literature circles are a culmination of all the skills we have worked with this year: speaking and listening, reading literature, language and vocabulary, and writing. By having specific assignments to complete, students have a framework that they can build upon for later independent analysis of literature.
Literature circles loan themselves thematically to "To Kill a Mockingbird" well, as the novel is about Scout learning for herself about society and how to be a young woman, but also about learning from and with the groups she interacts: Jem and Dill, or the Ladies Missionary Society of Maycomb, or her class at school, etc., not unlike the students learning independently and collaboratively, not just what's in the novel, but how to interact and participate in a group.
Additionally, "To Kill a Mockingbird" tends to be a high-interest, and readable, novel. As such, I can count on my students to accomplish their tasks and be drawn in to the story, crafting meaning as they read. Literature circles provide well for this sort of self-guided learning. As such, they are provided with class time to both read and discuss, as we have been working all year towards self-directed learning.
This high interest and self direction lends itself well to "To Kill a Mockingbird" being a project-based unit; in addition to literature circles, students are completing an independent, creative project to demonstrate understanding and mastery of the themes and plot of the novel. This creative project serves as a summative assessment for the unit.
As these lessons unfold, I will focus on one specific Literature Circle assignment with each group meeting, with footage of student discussion, an explanation of grading, and reflections on the students' work.
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I welcome students to "National Pet Day," and we open class with a warm-up discussion, asking students if anyone has a funny pet story to share. As with all Daily Holidays, my objective is to build a sense of community and trust in the classroom as they students share their ideas and react to each other. Giving students an opportunity to speak in class provides them the opportunity to qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections (SL.9-10.1d).
For the majority of class today, we review the directions for the literature circle assignment students will be completing for "To Kill a Mockingbird" (TKAM Lit Circle Directions) and the directions for the individual, creative projects (TKAM Creative Project Directions, TKAM Creatve Project Grade Sheets) students will be completing.
Given the depth and complexity of these project, I have found that simply asking students to read the directions overwhelms them, so we take the time to read through the directions together, often getting a volunteer to read and paraphrase each section (either literature circle option or creative project option). I stop at each section and ask the students if they have any questions, clarifying for them if they do. It's important to ensure that students have an understanding of the directions for both projects, to ensure they are on the right track, and so their group members will also be able to get the correct notes; there are five other students depending on them. I stress that while grades are individual for the literature circles, working as a team and contributing to discussion will be important to understanding the novel, crafting for their creative project, and preparing for pop quizzes along the way. (Pop quizzes, utilizing student work from the literature circles, will be used in order to keep tabs on student reading, incorporate good work from the students so the whole class can benefit from their model, and assess student understanding, allowing mid-course corrections if needed.)
The literature circle assignments require students to work collaboratively, discussing the novel with diverse (teacher-assigned) partners on a wide-range of novel related topics (SL.9-10.1), including specific details of plot events (RL.9-10.1), and how these details develop themes (RL.9-10.2), characterization (RL.9-10.3), and the narrator's point-of-view influences what we see in Scout's memory of 1932-1935 (RL.9-10.5). Literature circle assignment also require students to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words and their impact on the text (RL.9-10.4). In order to demonstrate and strengthen their own learning, students present their assignments clearly to their peers, in a manner that allows group members to take effective notes on the novel (SL.9-10.4).
The creative projects call for students to cite strong and thorough textual evidence, in the form of quotations and description of action in a scene from the novel (RL.9-10.1) in order to demonstrate understanding of one of the five central themes students will study and its development over the story (RL.9-10.2), as well as how the characters, especially Scout, advance the theme (RL.9-10.3). Student draw information from the text in order to support both their creative project and analysis and reflection to explain their decisions (W.9-10.9a), organizing information and referencing their imagery to make connections between their work and the text (W.9-10.2a), as well as developing their explanation with relevant facts, quotations, and explanation to air in understanding their interpretation of the novel (W.9-10.1b). These creative projects take the place of an overall test on the unit; while still measuring student understanding, the project provide additional variety, call for critical thinking as well as time- and resource-management, and allow students to take ownership for their project.
I post students' literature circle groups on the board by projecting a seating chart. These groups were randomized (with a few minor changes to ensure gender balance and separate known distractions), using a "shuffle" function in the seating chart of our electronic grade book. I opt for randomization in order to provide students the opportunity to work with a diverse group (SL.9-10.1), and not fall into chatting with their friends as they discuss the novel. Students are asked to pull their desks together into groups of six, and find the members of their group.
Students are asked to respond, individually, to a the first of regular journal questions (W.9-10.10), posted on the front board:
"To Kill a Mockingbird": Journal #1, “Lessons Learned”
What was the most important lesson that you learned as a child (let’s say before 5th grade)? Describe in detail: how did you learn this lesson? Was it painful? Was it easy? Is what you learned still important to you today? Why or why not?
Fun Fact: How old were you in fifth grade? Probably ten to eleven. Age (at the start of the school year) is roughly grade + five. Right now, you’re in grade ten (sophomore year), and the majority of you are fifteen to sixteen.
Students are given no more than five minutes to respond to this journal reflection, as this is a "first-reaction" style question, and will serve as an ice breaker in their groups. This question ties into the theme of "Adulthood and Growing Up" which we will be exploring as we read the novel (RL.9-10.2).
When time is up, students are asked to share the lessons they learned. This serves as an icebreaker within the group, and students have the opportunity to hear their peers, making connections and seeing if they share similar experiences (SL.9-10.1d).
As students discuss, I circulate the classroom, listening and making mental note of the lessons, in order to connect the students' experiences to Scout's. I provide each group with a copy of the Lit Circle Roles Sign-Up, and ask them to begin establishing norms for discussion and establishing individual roles as needed (RL.9-10.1b).
With two minutes remaining, students are reminded to begin reading and select their creative project for our next class (Monday). I ask them to turn in their role assignments and return the desks to rows for the next class.