Five years ago, Maria Weeks, the Library Media Specialist in my school district, came to me and asked if I wanted to co- facilitate a summer reading book club of children’s literature for teachers and staff. I loved the idea and together we created a virtual professional opportunity where teachers read books, discuss them online and receive professional development hours for it. Over the years, our club has gained popularity and brought together a diverse group of school staff including elementary and middle school teachers, reading teachers, speech teachers and educational aides. Read on to learn more about this professional learning experience and how it has evolved through the years to better support a culture of literacy in our school district.
From the beginning, Maria and I created a reading list of popular and current award winning books representing a range of genres. We always include graphic novels, novels in verse and fantasy in addition to realistic fiction. This past year, we committed ourselves to creating awareness around ensuring that students read books that serve as windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors as defined by Rudine Bishop. This summer, we included books such as Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina and A Bike Like Sergios by Meribeth Boelts, which provide our students with windows into other ways of living and being.
Including lower level Texts and Giving Teachers Choice
The first few years that Maria and I organized this group, we selected books meant for Grades 3 and up. More and more teachers asked if we had any options for lower elementary students. So, last year we added picture books and lower level chapter books. Then we sent out a google form asking teachers to select the books they wanted to read. We saw a great increase in participation!
Teachers get to keep the books!
Originally, we borrowed books and teachers picked them up for the summer. Last year, we realized that we could use money from the Scholastic Book Fair to purchase books for teachers to keep! We loved the idea of teachers having the books and then adding them to their classroom libraries. Not only did this increased teacher motivation to join our group, it also increased the number of teachers using the texts to read aloud and book club books.
A pile of copies of Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a summer book club selection, greeted me as I walked into longtime summer book club participant Mrs. Birge’s classroom. In addition to these books becoming whole class read aloud texts and book club books, this teacher club has lead to the following results.
- Teachers read books they would not have normally read.
- Staff members, who do not always have opportunities to work together, connect. This club opens up opportunities for collaboration.
- Participants discuss books and consider one another’s perspectives. Not only does this help us consider instructional possibilities for text, it also enables us to connect as individuals and not just colleagues.
- Being that our members play different roles in the school and bring their own unique personal histories to the group, we have opportunities to consider books in different lights.
- Teachers have the opportunity for meaningful discussion about handling books with tough subjects. For example, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge is about a boy searching for his deceased mother. We contemplated the question: How do we handle this content with sensitivity and care when we have students who experience profound loss?
- Teachers have hands-on experience using digital tools they can use with their students. To discuss books virtually, we have used Padlet, Slack, Google Community and Seesaw. Classroom use of these formats have increased after this summer experience.
- Students see their teachers as learners and members of a book club!
When launching reading workshop, teachers who participate in this summer book club tell their students about it. This creates a common ground where students begin the year seeing their new teacher as a reader, learner and member of a book club! In schools with a strong culture of literacy, we all read, discuss and share books!