Category Archives: Practical

Book Club Toolkit: Meeting Protocol

This post describes some of the policies and procedures of the book club, originally described in this earlier post.

Lucky for us, both of our 10th grade classes are staffed by Student Assistant Teachers, who had experienced the book club before, either as freshmen or seniors with Alexa Dunn or Matt Kay.

They gave us a lot of pointers in the planning process, including:

  • Let students set their own pace for reading (but provide guidance to keep them moving)
  • Make sure there’s follow up for the job sheets, or else people will slack (they were emphatic about this!
  • Don’t let the meetings drag on — if it feels like groups are wrapping up, end the session, even if it’s less time than you expected.
  • Keep computer use to a minimum — as evidenced in the photo, one student took notes on their laptop, but everybody else was on paper. This prevented the screen-as-shield effect on discussion.

Because many of our students had participated in book club last year, the introduction went smoothly. We suggested a “median” number of pages they would need to read if they wanted to move at a steady pace, and then students quickly got down to business selecting jobs and deciding on their page goals for the first meeting.

When the meetings happened, here are some unexpected results:

  • Students did police each other to get the work done, but not until after the first or second meeting — when it really sank in that a group was crippled if somebody came to the meeting empty handed.
  • After four meetings, some groups requested flexibility in how they prepared. One group elected to write letters to the main character. Another group chose to finish the book faster, and then watched the movie version for the last two meetings. We always allowed this.
  • Groups sometimes explored a particular theory over multiple meetings. This was great — each meeting allowed them to add new data that confirmed / refuted their idea. (Two groups reading “Passing” became especially focused on the possible gay subtext in the novel — and were then thrilled to see that they weren’t the only critics with that theory.)

Because they only had two options, several students (and sometimes an entire group) did not “love” their books. But the culture of the book club kept them more tuned in than they would have been otherwise–and also gave them space to discuss why they didn’t love it in a critical, productive way.

After the first couple of meetings, we introduced one more element, namely an introduction to literary theory and applying those “lenses” to their book club. More on that later.

A new daily tradition.

This is where I will be writing all year.

Last year, we had some hiccups with commenting on our public classroom blogs. After one class had published a round of personal reflective essays, I decided to go analog with our feedback, and we wrote notes of appreciation to each other — folded, signed, and hand-delivered.

It was an unexpectedly fabulous day in class, and did a lot to foster community. The writing was different than straight-up thank you notes; instead of showing your gratitude for something given to or done for them specifically, students were applauding something that they had simply observed. In a typing-heavy environment, writing them by hand was novel. And everybody delivering them felt a bit like an elementary school on Valentine’s day — in a good way.

Afterwards, I kicked myself for not grabbing a few cards and joining in. As an English teacher, I write tons of feedback, and never in red pen (or font) — but sometimes I feel like the moments for pure appreciation get away from me, moments of inspiration, resilience, or kindness that are observed but never mentioned. I get caught up in the grind.

So last week I ordered myself a year’s worth of notecards and envelopes. I plan on writing one note a day, every day we are in school, and then delivering it by hand. The goal is to appreciate everybody in the building at least once before the year is over. And some I will photograph and post here as well.

(In case you’re worried, I did the math: this year I teach 130 students, plus 22 advisees, plus 25+ on staff. Thank goodness the school year runs 180 days.)