Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Literature Circles and Analysis

First published on Livejournal

Who would ever have thought kids would be analysing my fiction? :-)

I have a year 8 class, a very good one for the most part - there are two or three lazy students who have recently started to realise that I have to write reports and guess what, I have nothing on which I can report, but most of them are very good students. Can't believe my luck this year and will enjoy it while I can. Next year i think it will be back to normal - some terrific kids, some average and a few horrible.

We have to do Literature Circles this year instead of the class novel and I'm the first one on our campus to try it. I have been struggling to figure out how it works, but yesterday Cristina, the school's expert on the subject came over and did my entire double period with them to get them started. I'd made a start on getting them to choose novels. They had to choose three in order of preference, something I hadn't understood when I first got the instructions, but now do - when you get one kid asking for a novel that has to be read by a group, it's just not possible. So they can have their second preference. Not all of them got their first choice, but it's interesting to note that they've more or less fallen into groups according to what they can handle, after I told them that they should choose not what their friends wanted but what they wanted. Some of them did end up in friendship groups, but they were the capable ones who could handle the harder novels.

One student was so keen to start, she went and got a copy from the local library! I told her that was up to her, but she'll end up having to read it again if she and the others are to discuss it a bit at a time. Fortunately, she hasn't read that far into it yet.

Before they could begin, they had to have a practice session using a short story they'd all read, with the lady who was being our guest speaker.

I chose my own story, "Mega-Wombats And Demon Ducks" from the Worlds Next Door anthology, not just because I am so familiar with it, obviously, but because it was at a reading level even the lowest-level readers could handle and it didn't come across as a simple story. I got them to read it in class a week ago, then brought the copies to the class.

Cristina took them through the various roles that Literature Circles have. Basically, it works as a discussion like a Book Club one, but with everyone having a job to do to contribute to it. She used bits from the story to get it started. My jaw dropped as I listened to my students getting into passionate discussions about various aspects of the story. And this was just the practice session! One girl turned to me and said, "Miss, can you please write another chapter of this so we can find out what happens ten years down the track?" She and another student were arguing about what might happen to the over-the-top computer program in the story, devised by a small computer genius. Nothing I could say would convince her that the little girl would be bored with it and have devised plenty more by then, as small children do - get bored, I mean. So I promised to write a sequel at some stage if they'd get on with discussing what Cristina had asked them to.

I am so, so glad that they didn't hate the story! :-)

Thing is, the kids are used to my being a writer. They know that Miss writes books and that they can borrow them from our library. One new teacher told me that she'd been startled to find my name on a book cover and the students had said casually, "Oh, yes, that's her, she writes books." So it's just a case of deciding if they like THIS one or not. And I think they did, and enjoyed the practice run.

Let's see if I can handle it without Cristina.

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