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Julie Angermeyr

© 2001

Action Research

Literature Study

I begin each school year eager to improve upon the strategies that worked well the previous year, and anxious to implement a practice that will enrich the learning for my new group of fourth graders. I use a balanced approached to literacy in my reader's workshop; providing time for independent reading, whole group instruction in the anthology, guided reading, and read aloud. The reluctant readers tend to receive most of my instructional time and support. I often feel a sense of frustration that the groups I tend to neglect are the more advanced students. I know that while they are capable and competent learners, I still must look for methods of expanding their comprehension of text. I realize I need to find a way to challenge all of the readers in my classroom through small group conversations, using questioning, making connections, writing in response to reading, constructing meaning through dialogue, and thinking critically about text.
I am interested in literature study, also known as literature circles, book club, or literature groups, as an avenue to deepen my student's understanding of text. Literature study enables students to select titles, read and think about literature, collaborate with peers to reflect or analyze literature, make connections, and write in response to reading.
The researchers cited in my resource section agree that the groups must be student centered, heterogeneous, have an established format, structure, roles, expectations, and a system for evaluations. Through initial demonstrations and modeling the exploration of literature, the readers will construct their own meaning, raise important questions, learn to think critically, and talk about the connections to self, to text, and to world. The shared conversations, talking in small groups, collaborative problem solving, active listening are desired outcomes of literature study.

The Plan
It is my intent to use the ideas of Regie Routman, Harvey Daniels, along with Fountas and Pinnell for implementation of literature study. The authors have similar guidelines for structure, grouping, text selection, questioning, routine, discussion, my role as the teacher, and self-evaluation.
Key Features of Literature Study

  • students choose their own reading materials
  • small temporary groups based on book choice are formed
  • groups read different books
  • groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule
  • kids use written or drawn notes to bring to the discussion
  • discussion topics come from the students
  • group meetings are open, natural conversations about books
  • students have rotating roles
  • the teacher is a facilitator
  • evaluation is conducted by teacher observation and student self-evaluation (Daniels)

First Steps
Day 1: I plan to begin by reading a book aloud to the entire class. Each student will have a copy of this book during reading and discussion.

Days 2-5: For the next few days students will practice one role per day using short stories for text. Students will be divided into groups of 5, each member practicing the same role. The whole class will meet to debrief and clarify the role.

Days 6-10: The student assumes roles within their group while reading a short novel (about 15 pages per day). Groups of 5 students with different roles will practice their role using their role sheets. Each day will be divided up into two 30-minute sections; reading time and group time. The roles will rotate daily during this week of modeling literature study. The whole class meets daily to debrief and share. At the conclusion of this two-week period, we will have a whole class conversation and reflection about the learning that has occurred. At this point, students should be ready to form literature groups, assume roles, and understand the expectations.

Forming Groups

  • Groups are heterogeneous
  • About 4-7 students
  • Each student has his own copy of the book
  • Groups spend 20 minutes of one day reading; 20-25 minutes of the next day writing in response journals or involved in book discussions
  • Calendar or schedule of pages to be read, discussion dates, and role assignments

Task Roles
Discussion director-reader asks Ôfat' questions about the story to explore feelings and perspectives in discussion, moderator, and makes sure each group member participates in the discussion. (Brandts)

Passage master-the reader finds funny, interesting, confusing, or important parts of the story to reread to the group. This helps the students dive back into the text to enjoy, clarify, or confirm. (Brandts) IllustratorÑreader draws a favorite scene from the story. The drawing can involve characters, the setting, a problem, an exciting part, a surprise for discussion, a picture that conveys an idea or feeling related to the text. (Daniels A3)

Connector-finds connections between text to self, text to text, and text to world.

Summarizer-prepares a brief summary of the reading that conveys the key points, main highlights, the essence of today's reading assignment. (Daniels A5)

Teacher as facilitator-help students make connections, notice literary elements, pose deep questions, push their thinking. Gradually release control to the students once the students know and understand the guidelines. Then move from group to group without speaking, taking notes on how groups are functioning; learn to speak without controlling the conversation.

Evaluations of Literature

  • Conversations
  • Oral self-evaluations by groups
  • Teacher observation notes
  • Written self-evaluation notes
  • Resources

Colleagues who currently use literature circles or literature study in the language arts program.

McGrane, Lynn. Literacy Trainer in Independent School District 196. I hope to invite Lynn into my classroom discuss my plan for implementing literature study. I would then like to have her model the initial group or observe me demonstrate the process.

Brandts, Lois R., Dixon, Carol N., Frank, Carolyn R. “Bears, trolls and pagemasters: Learning about learners in Book Club.” THE READING TEACHER, Vol. 54, February 2001.

Bond, Teresa Fluth. “Giving them free rein: Connections in student-led book groups.” THE READING TEACHER, Vol. 54, March 2001. Pages 574-584.

Daniels, Harvey. LITERATURE CIRCLES, Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom. Stenhouse Publishers, 1994.

Fountas, Irene, C. & Pinnell, Gay Su. GUIDED READERS AND WRITERS GRADES 3-6 Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Heinemann, 2001.



Creative Writing

Milking Time

The rooster crows, stretching his regal feathered neck and his deep red comb toward the first rays of the warm summer sun just as they begin peering over the barn. The mourning dove sends her soothing song, the screen door slams as Grandma goes to the pump for water, and Grandpa grabs his hat off the porch hook. It's milking time.

I grab onto Grandpa's weathered hand, feeling the smooth space where an auger has taken one of his fingers. Grandpa, clad in his familiar blue and white striped coveralls and his engineer hat, whistles a reply to the whip-or-will as we head down the hill to the barn. Riley is herding the cows into the barn through the pasture door, their gentle mooing reminding him they know the routine, and not to nip at their heels. The dark coolness of the barn washes over me like a welcome rain. I let the air settle around me, and my eyes grow accustomed to the dark. Grandpa takes the pitchfork and begins tossing hay for the cows to chew on. They head for their stanchions and begin muzzling in their pans for water. Grandpa walks down the rows and closes the stanchions. He grabs the three-legged wooden milking stool, and gives Riley a pat on his head. Midnight drops from the hayloft, covered with the smell of fresh hay. She pauses to arch her back, yawn, and quietly slip over to sit by the milking stool. The aroma of hay mingles with the animal smells. The cows snort and settle in before being milked, a swallow swoops over our heads as she leaves her nest in the rafters, and the cows swish their tails to ward off the pesky flies.

Grandpa speaks softly to the cow, patting her haunches. He places the milking stool near her side, sets the pail on the floor, and gently begins to pump the warm milk into the pail. The first few squirts of milk sound like beads being dropped into an empty jar. Once the pail begins to fill and grandpa has squeezed all of the milk from the first cow, he begins to move down the row to the next one. Riley and Midnight trail at his heels. They are both rewarded when Grandpa sends a stream of milk to the floor near their feet. The quiet lapping gives way to the sounds of rough tongues licking all traces of milk from the cement floor.

When the pail is full, Grandpa dumps its contents into the silver milk pail. Some of the milk sloshes over the side and is quickly cleaned up by Midnight. She once again races to take her spot by the pail, her tailed curled tightly around her paws in anticipation. The milking is nearly complete. Grandpa lets me sit on his stool while he kneels down beside me. Wrapping his strong hand around mine, we carefully aim the stream of milk toward the pail. I'm a bit nervous about the cow's foot near me and her tail that swishes to close to my face. She must be a little concerned because she tries to turn her head to see what is going on. I see the worry in her huge brown eyes, and like Grandpa, I try to reassure her by patting her big round belly.

The milk cans are full and sitting like quiet silver sentries near the barn door. The milk truck will soon make its way up the lane and take the milk cans off to the dairy. Grandpa and I head back up the hill to the farmhouse lugging a pail of fresh milk brimming with white foam. The rooster is quiet, the mourning dove sends her sorrowful song, and the swallow returns to her nest in the rafters. I grasp Grandpa's hand, tracing the empty space between his fingers, and think about what I will eat for breakfast.