I begin this lesson by explicitly describing to the students exactly what is expected of them during the discussion. I also show them the order of role sharing they are expected to follow. The most important expectation, the one that I find I am continually reminding the kids of, is that they should be adding annotations as their group mates are sharing key information and ideas with the group. This helps each student hold one another accountable as they collaborate to build a broader and deeper collective understanding of the novel they are reading. I do this before each literature circle we have, even when the kids are tired of hearing me talk about it. There are somethings that you simply cannot be reminded enough about, and I feel this is one of those things. There is such a high level of interdependence in this process that the kids need constant reminders that their ideas and efforts are integral to the success of their peers and not just to each of them as individuals.
I find this process, when done consistently with quality and fidelity, to benefit all students greatly, but most especially my struggling readers, special education population, and English Language Learners. This also frees me up to provide support where it is most needed.
I do not technically split the discussion into two sections, but have done so in order to facilitate the expression of focus areas of the lesson. As the discussions get underway and for the entirety of this time, I move from group to group, spending a few minutes with each, listening to and evaluating their discussions. I work hard to provide increased presence and accountability in order to continually reaffirm the need for each student to put his or her best foot forward each and every time they meet to discuss. It also allows me to impart my own thoughts and ideas when necessary or helpful. I also like to use this opportunity to remind the kids to go back to the text as often as they are able, rather than simply speaking in generalities. The students who have worked hard to effectively annotate most often feel very confident in this process, and the ones who have not committed themselves to this as thoroughly tend to regret it a little as they take longer to find things during the discussion. After the first time we have a literature circle, I typically see improved efforts in the second group of students, while the first group continues with their efforts, feeling validated.
During this portion of the lesson, I continue moving between the groups, observing, listening, and offering insight when needed.
At the conclusion of the discussion, I have the students complete a written plus/delta where they analyze and evaluate the quality of their group's discussion and efforts overall as well as their own independent participation. They are able to write about specific individuals or instances, or they may remain more general. The idea is that we work to continually improve each time we do something in our classroom.
This entire process is repeated each of the four times we have lit circle discussions. Each and every time, I make sure to give them a full rundown to start in order to clearly establish and remind them of what is expected. I also hand back the plus/deltas to start the following discussion as a reminder for each student about what they want to make sure happens again, and what efforts they need to make in order to improve on from the last discussion. This informally allows the students to set goals for the discussion, rather than proceeding aimlessly and with no way of measuring growth or determining a level of success they are able to reach.