Back to (After)School – Rethinking a School Book Club

Our school reading specialist and I decided to revisit our middle school student book club. We took a year off from it for several reasons, not the least of which was lack of interest by students and us. It had been run like a traditional book club, everyone reads the same book and meets twice a month after school to discuss the book. Our problem was that our after school clubs meet for an hour and a half, and that time was too long to just discuss a book and choose the next one. We tried having everyone read a book by the same author to give more choice. We found a similar, disinterested reaction. Our students were happy to talk about the book for about half an hour, but wanted the rest of the time for social chat. We tried coming up with some related crafts to fill the time. Everyone painted one of the standard ceiling tiles with a reading theme or based on a book. This was a hit and made for a colorful library ceiling, but that only covered two meetings. We tried to make the book club available 24/7 through an Edmodo group to develop stronger relationships with our students, and get everyone to share what they were reading.The students found it to be just an extension of what some of their classes were already doing – it was too much like school. Our attendance dropped off, resulting in no book club for the last school year. We needed to regroup and rethink what a book club looks like for middle school students.

In the meantime, the library has had some spontaneous, pop-up or “lunch bunch” book clubs. Groups of four to six students create their own book club by reading the same book and meeting during lunch to read and discuss it. These clubs may read only one book and disband or choose to read several throughout the school year. Lunch bunches are not formal and are student led. Usually, student visitors will notice a lunch bunch eating and meeting in the library and then form their own with their friends. We just monitor to make sure the noise level is appropriate and suggest books when the club is stuck for ideas. It is very hands off for adult participation. A way to inspire students to create their own lunch bunch is to create a display of books that have multiple copies for a lunch bunch club. We hope our lunch bunches will meet again this year.

It was encouraging to see our students start their own mini-book clubs. Now we feel there will be interest in an after school book club for this year. The reading specialist and I have had many conversations about what we want and what we don’t want for our students. While crafts can be fun, they can be expensive with little to no funding from our school. We also felt like a book club is not also a craft club, since not all of our students liked participating in the crafts. The common theme of the lunch bunch groups was student choice and student led. We want to inspire our students to set and work towards a reading goal, but leave choice in their hands. Some of our faculty had participated in a book study of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Using the 40 book challenge from that book as our inspiration, we are going to create a reading challenge, suggesting some genres for students to try, but leaving at least half the choices as free choices. If several students want to read the same book at the same time, they certainly can. If others are not interested, they can read what they choose. We will spend the first 20-30 minutes of our meeting discussing what we have read, leaving this part up to students to lead. We would like students to have a running list of books they want to read, since we hope they will get ideas from this discussion. Our school is lucky to have Chromebooks for every student and we are a Google Classroom district. We will show students how to create a Google Doc of books they have read and another one to list books they want to read. Students are free to choose another method, such as their own notebook or an app on a device.

We will spend another 20-30 minutes showing students the many tools, websites, and apps that are available to readers, such as YALSA’s Teen Book Finder, Goodreads, Overdrive which is available through our public library, International Children’s Digital Library, awards lists, and others. We plan to show YouTube book trailers to help grow student to-read lists and will assist students who want to create their own. We want to show publisher preview webinars to provide students input on what is ordered for their library. Since these are things that we have difficulty squeezing into academic lessons, we will show one of these at each meeting.

Most importantly, readers like to read. We are going to reserve at least 30 minutes of each meeting for just that, reading time. Students can bring their own blankets, pillows, cushions – what ever they need to be comfortable and we can store these items between meetings at the request of students. They will be allowed to listen to audiobooks or music while reading, if that is their preference, just as long as they are reading and not disturbing others.

Many of our students participate in sports or other after school clubs. This may prohibit them from participating in book club, especially since many of these activities are seasonal. In order to provide flexibility, we are also going to have the book club meet before school. Students can choose to attend either or both meetings. We are pretty excited to see how our book club works this year. We hope that our students will be as well.

About Lisa Castellano

Mrs. Castellano is a Library Media Specialist at Larkspur Middle School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is also a reviewer for School Library Connection, president of Virginia Beach Library Association, and a member of AASL Best Apps Committee. Follow on Twitter: @castelfam7625
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