Society has always approved of vigorous discussion regarding books. Book clubs, reading circles and literature groups, are places where people, mostly adults, meet to discuss classic novels or the latest best seller. These discussions facilitate a shared understanding of the text, which increases comprehension, pleasure and aesthetic motivation (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.108). Known as a reader response method, literacy circles seek to challenge the reader to interpret the text through their own lens, such as their perspectives, knowledge and viewpoints, to make meaning from what they are reading (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.108). As a response strategy to literature, literature circles require the reader to critically analyse the text and justify their reasoning (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.108).
Whilst discourse does occur in disciplines that participate in research and further study, it is rare for the general public to meet and discuss information texts or nonfiction. This can prove to be detrimental as much of life involves the interpretation or making meaning from texts (Daniels, 2002; Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.108). There are two main benefits for including literature circles within a high school classroom. The first and main benefit is that it is an excellent literary strategy that captures how a reader responds to a text. The other main reason is that it fosters collaborative learning (Bedel, 2016).
High school literature circles (LC) are structured similarly to adult book clubs. They consist of small groups of students sharing discourse about a specific text (Daniels, 2002). Bedel (2016) describes literature circles as places where students are able to practice their communications skills and improve their reading strategies (p.96). Predominantly used as a tool to investigate fiction, LC can also be used to investigate narrative nonfiction, news articles, journals, reports, essays, exposes, memoirs and information books across all disciplines (Daniels, 2002, p.7). Daniels (2002) cautions the use of reference books and school textbooks within LC as they are not suitable (p.10). Their prescriptive nature means that they forgo narrative and literary features, and are overloaded with content (Soiferman & Straw, 2016, p.10 ). This means that the minimum requirements for a text to be included in a high school LC are that it is engaging, of good quality and provokes vigorous discourse (Daniels, 2002, p.8). Since most high school students find their school textbooks of little interest, they can be excluded quite easily by those benchmarks. After all, who gets emotive over a review of differentiating quadratics?
Literature circles are based upon Rosenblatt’s reader response strategy. It acknowledges that readers make meaning from text with their own background acting like a lens and that every reader will have a different interpretation (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.110). Its constructivist approach is why LC are so effective in classroom practice. It appreciates each student’s input as a valid contribution to collaborative learning, and makes the students active agents in their learning, rather than passively absorbing the teacher’s response as gospel (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.110). There is also an increased immersion in the text when students are reading aesthetically, as LC requires the students to consider diverse reasons and perspectives, and utilise background knowledge or experience (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.111). Recall why LC do not work with information texts such as textbooks and reference books? It is impossible to breathe life into reference encyclicals (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.111)!
One of the greatest benefits of literature circles from a classroom teacher’s perspective is that it is an appropriate reader response strategy for a diverse classroom. LC is able to meet the cognitive and developmental needs of the differently able learners, as all contributions and interpretations of literary works are welcomed equally (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.109). LC also have low technological requirements. Whilst some teachers can choose to use digital technology such as wikis and forums to conduct their literature circles, it is not required. LC can be run in a classroom, an oval, a garden or online. All this reader response strategy requires is an engaging text that meets literary standards and a group of students willing to participate.
Literature circles are adaptable for all levels of high school, and across all key subject areas as all they require for effective practice is that members of a group have to read the text. This can prove problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, that it may be financially nonviable to purchase multiple copies of the same book (Daniels, 2002, p.11). Whilst some schools have a book hire scheme in place, they may not include the titles required. A suggestion is to locate an online version that students can access on their devices. Another reason is that some students may baulk at the idea of reading a whole book. This is a very common occurrence in high schools and some teachers seek audiobooks as a suitable alternative. Finally, some students lack the ability to read due to illiteracy, learning difficulties or have another first language. But both Cornett (2014) and Bedel (2016) disagree and state that literature based learning has higher success rates in students with low literacy than when it is not at the core of learning. Journal articles, essays and book extracts are suitable alternatives to large novels, but picture books, either fiction or nonfiction, have a high success rate due to their engaging format and brevity. There is a plethora of sophisticated picture books available for most subject areas.
Efficacy within literature groups is dependent on the functionality of the group of students working together to achieve a collaborative goal (Bedel, 2016, p.97). Due to the student driven nature of LC, participants in LC must be willing to share their individual connections to the text as well as any feelings or judgments they have in order to make meaning from the text (Daniels, 2002, p.13). Efficacy within groups is measured by equal participation in discourse, ability to reflect upon the author’s intent and purpose, as well as identifying the effectiveness of the literary devices used within the text (Daniels, 2002, p.13). As a valid reader response strategy in high schools, LC increases the comprehension and connections a student makes between themselves, the text and the world.
Reader response strategies like literature circles, book bento boxes and book trailers, all require the teacher to be a facilitator of learning rather than an instructor (Woodruff & Griffin, p.109). This means the role of the teacher is there to support and guide students as they understand the text and derive the author’s intent (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.111). Sometimes a teacher may need to intervene if students need redirecting, or encouraging if the students persist in viewing the text from a single perspective (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.111). The other task of the teacher is to possibly assign roles within the literature groups. In traditional LC, each student has a specific task that increases the effectiveness of the collaborative learning group (Woodruff & Griffin, 2017, p.112).
Literature based learning has proven educational benefits for students of all ages but specifically for high school students. Unfortunately, the persisting trend towards nationwide standardised tests is making it difficult for teachers to use literature based learning in their classrooms. But why is there such a disinclination from state education department heads to embed literature across the curriculum? Teachers are often dealt with the short end of the stick as they are forced to teach using dry and content overloaded texts to students that are disengaged and disinclined. They are continuously looking for ways to make their practice more engaging and relatable to the students but are hampered by education boards that fail to realise that it is not how students are taught but what they are given to read that makes the difference. By embedding literature across the curriculum and utilising reader response strategies like literature circles, student’s learning is fostered, as is their ability to work effectively with their peers. Teachers should be encouraged to use literature circles as a method of investigating and analysing texts across all disciplines, as it meets the needs of the student and promotes a life long love of reading.
Bedel, O. (2016). Collaborative learning through literature circles in EFL. European Journal of Language and Literature Studies. 2(3). Retrieved from http://journals.euser.org/files/articles/ejls_sep_dec_16/osman.pdf
Cornett, C. E. (2014). Integrating the literary arts throughout the curriculum. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts: arts integration for Classroom teachers (5th ed,) (pp144-193) USA
Daniels, H. (2002). Expository text in literature circles, Views from the Middle. 9(4). Retrieved from http://oldmoodle.escco.org/file.php/1/READING/expository_text.pdf
Soiferman, L., & Straw, S. (2016). Reader Response to Literature in Early, Middle, and Senior High Classrooms. ERIC ED569175. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED569175.pdf
Woodruff, A., & Griffin, R. (2017). Reader response in secondary settings: Increasing comprehension through meaningful interactions with literary texts. Texas Journal of Literacy Education (5) 2 pp.108-116. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1162670.pdf