A literature circle is comparable to a students’ adult book club, but with greater structure, expectation and rigor. The aim is to boost thoughtful discussion and a love of reading in young people.
The true intent of literature circles is “to allow students to practice and develop the skills and strategies of good readers”.
Assessment and Evaluation of Literature Circles
Most teachers assess and evaluate what students do in Literature Circles. This may involve one or several of the following assessment(s) and evaluation(s):
- Self-Assessment: Students should be involved in monitoring and recording their own level of response and engagement with their book and participation with their group as they meet each session. Usually, formal checklists are used for students to keep track of their progress.
- Peer Assessment: Students can also be empowered to assess their fellow group members over the course of their book talks. As with self-assessment, checklists or other rubrics can give structure.
- Observations: On-going teacher observation and active participation in group discussions is vital in assessing student progress both individually and in whole group. Daniels (1994) notes that most assessment should be formative, making sure that students are provided with timely feedback to learn more effectively. Observations can meet such formative assessment criteria.
- Conferences: Face-to-face conversations between student and teacher can help to “access, track and monitor student growth” (Daniels, 1994, p. 160).
- Portfolios: Collections of student products, collected and assembled in a meaningful fashion, give the chance for reflection, discussion, response to the book, and displaying a student’s best work. Portfolios can take on many forms, ranging from writing, art, video/audiotapes, learning logs, student journals, personal responses etc. (Daniels, 1994).
- Extension Projects: Extension Projects can take the form of many creative and artistic student products, from book jackets to visual media or printed forms. Projects provide readers with “additional ways to revisit what they’ve read, continue the conversations (and the discoveries), and create even more meaning” (Schlick Noe & Johnson, Literature Circles Resource Center). More conversations about the books usually arise out of sharing of these projects with the group and the whole class.
- Student Artifacts: Response logs, role sheets, and other process material that students have compiled over the course of the Literature Circle meetings can be also evaluated providing “a rich source of insight” (Daniels, 1994, p. 164) for the teacher to evaluate growth and progress of students.
Key Features of Literature Circles
- Children choose their own reading materials.
- Small temporary groups are formed, based on book choice.
- Different groups read different books
- Groups meet on a regular predictable schedule.
- Students use written or drawn notes to guide both their reading and discussion.
- Discussion topics come from the students
- Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations. Often the conversations digress to topics relating to the students or loosely to the books, but should eventually return to the novel.
- The teacher serves as a facilitator, observer, listener and often a fellow reader, alongside the students. The teacher is not an instructor.
- Students are given roles or jobs to complete for each group meeting.
- The teacher should model how students should facilitate each role or job.
- Evaluation is by teacher observation and student self-evaluation and should also include extension projects.
- A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.
- New groups form around new reading choices.
Discussion prompts can be given by the teacher to stimulate a direction for the students’ responses, such as “How does the setting affect the characters?” “What are alternative solutions to the character’s conflicts in the text?” “What connections can you make with regard to the character’s situation(s)?”