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Better Book Clubs: In and Beyond the Classroom

Posted by admin on May 23, 2023 3:47:33 PM

In this episode of Teacher's Corner, Sara Kugler, author of Better Book Clubs is interviewed by her friend and colleague Grace Choi, an educator in northern Virginia. Listen in as Sara and Grace share their perspectives on the benefits of book clubs both in and beyond the classroom. Whether you're a book lover, a book club pro, or just curious about getting started with book clubs, you won't want to miss this.


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Nate: This is Teacher's Corner by Stenhouse Publishers. In today's episode, Sara Kugler, author of Better Book Clubs, is interviewed by her friend and colleague, Grace Choi, an educator in Northern Virginia. Listen in as Sara and Grace share their perspectives on the benefits of book clubs both in and beyond the classroom. Whether you're a book lover, a book club pro, or just curious about getting started with book clubs, you won't want to miss this.

Grace: Hi everyone, I'm Grace Choi. I am a literacy resource teacher and coach here in Northern Virginia, and today I'm so excited to be talking with Sara, author of Better Book Clubs: Deepening Comprehension and Elevating Conversation. Hi, Sara.

Sara: Hi, Grace.

Grace: It's so good to be here together today talking about your work. And I'm so excited about this because I have just learned so much from you over the past many years just from professional development that you've led and projects that we've been able to work on together. So I'm so excited to have your book, this physical representation of your thinking that I can refer to again and again, and share with others. So selfishly, I'm really excited to have that. And just because I love book clubs so much, and I feel like especially during the pandemic and during that quarantine time, book clubs were such a lifeline for me and for my kids. I just remember my son who was 10 at the time, and he was in fifth grade. Like most parents, we were trying to find a way to have some structure in our day and keep some sort of connection between home, and school, and friends.
And one of the things that they had done just before school shut down was they had finished up a book club on Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. And so very naturally one of the next steps that we could do is some parents and I set up a little virtual platform, and they decided they wanted to read another book of Kwame's book, and they just kind of got it going. Once we set up the space for them, they knew how to get the up and running because of all the work that they had done, not only that school year, but in the years past in second grade, third grade, fourth grade. And that's because of so much of the work that you've done with schools, and teachers, and kids here in our district. So I'm so excited that this gets to go out into the world.
And then also for me personally, you know what an extrovert I am, and how I always need to be around people and talking. And so being in quarantine was really hard and one of my neighbors decided to start an outdoor book club in our backyard. And that was the best part of being home for so long, and having this book that we would read together, and get together every month to talk about. And to have that connection was so important. And it was one of the very few things that gave me hope and something to look forward to during a really bleak time when it was hard to connect with others. So I'm obsessed with book clubs. I know you are too, and I'm so excited that we get to talk about it today.

Sara: I feel like we've talked a lot about how book clubs are so important in our lives outside of school that we've both been members of book clubs forever. And I have this vivid memory of during the shutdown, one of the things that was keeping me afloat emotionally was that I just asked a teacher, "Can I just keep meeting with one of your book clubs?" And it was one of the most meaningful things that I was a part of. I felt so connected to those kids. And there were a lot of things that felt like that year, that they weren't going well virtually, and we couldn't do over the computer. And yet book clubs felt like very natural to do.
And yet at the end of the school year, at the end of 2020, they asked to keep going over the summer. We met throughout July and August, this group of fourth graders and I, through July and August twice a week. And we just found online books and did that. It's really a special thing that it works in the classroom, it works in person, it works virtually. It works outside around a campfire, which is how I did it a couple of times that year.

Grace: Totally. And it's so much more than just about that one book that you're reading.

Sara: Well, it just makes me think so much about the club identity. The book club that I first started when I first got out of college, we had this very strong identity. We were all 22, 23 years old. But we named ourself after the first book we read. And we had all these rituals. I mean, people dropped out of our book club because we were too ritualistic. But some people might call that type A. But we had such this strong club identity and so much of... I feel like the work I'm trying to do is trying to teach kids how to feel a part of that.

Grace: Yeah, yeah, totally. So you talked a little bit about your own experience with starting book clubs as a young 20 something. Tell me a little bit about how you got to this work as an educator.

Sara: Well, when I really think about it, I think about my mom who is still to this day, part of a book club that she joined when I was five. So for almost 40 years ago. She's still part of it. It was all the kids that went to preschool together. All the parents started a book club. They still meet once a month. It's pretty wild. So I think I grew up understanding how a book club could create community, be an intellectual place. And I have all these visions of the week before the club, my mom would stay up late into the night to try to finish the book, which is also realistic. And that became a part of my identity after college. After college, I really missed reading for pleasure or just reading it all because I was a new teacher. And so, I just asked a bunch of my friends if they wanted to start a book club.
And then I think one of the themes in my teaching life is that anything I'm doing has to have legs outside of school. I'm not really interested in doing something that they're only going to use in third grade. It has to be generative enough that it's going to work outside of the context of this classroom. It has to work outside of the walls of the school. And so the idea of book clubs in a classroom always felt very meaningful, very authentic, because it was something that happened in the real world. So there are book clubs like you and I are part of that are just for pure enjoyment. But there's a million jobs where you need to read a text or understand an issue, and then sit around and talk about your ideas. It's just a skill that has legs everywhere. In colleges, students are sitting around talking about what they just read. That happens in schools. A bunch of teachers will read something and talk about it.
So it just felt like this is the format that is the most authentic we can get. That's how we should be teaching deeper comprehension. And also how we could start talking in more meaningful ways. And then of course, I had some great mentors that showed me how it might look in a classroom. Colleen Cruz was one of my mentors who really helped me get it set up when I was a third grade teacher. And coming to Fairfax County, that was just such a fun place to experiment because there were so many of us who wanted to figure this out. So that's kind of how I ended up here.

Grace: So tell us a little bit about how this project, this book came about.

Sara: So it's something that I would say I experimented with sometimes successfully, sometimes not successfully. I just wrote a blog post about the unsuccessful times recently.

Grace: I read it. It's good.

Sara: That's on my mind. But I was always experimenting with that as just a format. I don't teach book clubs. I use book clubs to teach as a classroom teacher. And then I think when I started designing, I was designing these big conferences with some of my colleagues in Fairfax County with you. And we were really designing a conference about how to differentiate reading in small groups. And I was in these classrooms where kids were devouring chapter books, and obsessing over series or authors, and handing them a 24-page book and calling that reading instruction, it just did not feel right. It's not what they were reading outside of small group reading instruction. It's not what they were reading outside of guided reading.
And it just got me thinking, we can't just be teaching reading in these books that are just written for school. We got to be teaching reading in the books that kids really want to read, that they're reading when they go to the library, that they're reading at night, that they're reading outside of our lessons. So with the help of a bunch of reading teachers from around the county who experimented with me, we started playing around with this idea of how do you teach all of that good work? How do you teach interpretation? How do you teach inference? How do you teach analysis? How do you teach academic discourse in the books that kids will naturally be reading? Which are chapter books, series books, graphic novels and that landed me to some of the ideas that are in better book clubs.

Grace: Yeah, I love that so much. And that goes back again to that authenticity. And I always think about how neither you and I are athletes, but we have children who are. And from going to watch their practices and their games, we know how much they learn from doing the thing in a scrimmage in a game versus just doing drill after drill. It all kind of comes together when they're scrimmaging, when they're playing a game. And it starts to make sense. And they get to use all those things that they've learned in those drills in flexible authentic ways.

Sara: Oh my God. I mean, you and I could do a sports analogy for really anything. But yeah, I could riff off of this for ages now. So my husband also didn't really play a bunch of sports, but he's now coaching. And so we just kind of shop in terms of teaching/coaching. And one of the things he learned by getting trained in coaching is every practice has a play practice, play structure. So basically what that means is, every practice has to start with a scrimmage where they just get it going. The coaches kind of stand back, and observe, and watch kids in the act of playing the game very authentically, so that they can make decisions about what to teach. And then they pause the play. And they set up some sort of little drill that gets the kids to practice one little part of that thing. They do the drill for 10, 15 minutes and then they go back to play, okay, let's put it back in action.
And I was like, this is great teaching. This is book clubs too. You want to watch kids in the midst of discussing or you want to watch kids in the midst of actually reading. You want to teach them something little isolated thing that they can apply right away, and then you want to get them back to it. And there's so much that we can learn from sports coaching that also applies to great instruction, right?

Grace: I love that. So talk a little bit about the benefits specific to a book club versus other forms of small group instruction.

Sara: Yeah, I think the one that's the most meaningful to me is, if we get it right, there's a sense of community and belonging that feels the most important. I don't know what it is, but just saying to a group of kids, "Your book club is meeting today," has a different feeling than saying, "Guided reading group B, come on over." There's something different to it. So there's this sense of community. I think in my mind, when I'm really going for book clubs, there's more of a sense of ownership and independence on the kids. It doesn't mean that I'm not teaching. Of course, that whole play practice, play metaphor works, because I'm doing some teaching. But there's something about kids having more ownership where they're responsible for starting the discussion. They're responsible for keeping the discussion going. If it flops, I'm not jumping in the second that there's silence to save it.
So there's something about independence and building a sense of agency. And then there's also this whole thing about choice that, and I think this is the trickiest one, so I'm constantly trying to work with it. But I've been bringing my book clubs to our book room and saying, "Hey, look at these five books. Do any of these look good?" Or even our sixth graders, they just have this rotating schedule where the sixth graders come, and shop for their own book club, and they know how to use the checkout system, and they go back to their classroom. That sense of choice, I think, is so powerful. Because it also means that kids can pick their books and go, "This is boring," and abandon it, and that's okay too. And then they pick a new book. That is also authentic.
So those feel kind of qualities that aren't always present in some of my other small group instruction that sometimes feels a little bit more teacher led, feels a little bit less like, "I need you to be reading this type of text, so I'm going to choose it for you." So yeah, it feels like a big shift. And I think kids feel that too.

Grace: Yeah, it feels so much you're teaching readers versus teaching reading.

Sara: Yeah, I think that's true. And I think there's a place for both of it. I don't think they know that I'm teaching reading. I know that I am. But yeah, it feels so catered to those kids. I'm just telling you this one story, which is in a second grade class now. And I'm doing a book club with two groups of kids. Two groups of four kids. And I've never had this before, but I ran into some of the kids at a neighborhood basketball game. And I ran into some of the kids' parents at Kiss and Ride at the end of the day. And the parents said, "Are you the lady who's doing the book club with my kid?" And I was like, "Yeah." And they were like, "Can't stop talking about it at home." I've never had a kid go home and be like, "Guided reading, phew."
Although we do need that kind of instruction or... Ugh, my phonics teacher, what a dream. We need good instruction around those things too. But these kids are going home and being like, "I'm in a book club," and there's something that feels special about that to them.

Grace: Yeah. And it's like it's very much building their identity, and it is so much more sophisticated in terms of the way that it's packaged, but also the work that you're doing.

Sara: Yes.

Grace: Sara, tell us a little bit now, who might this book before in terms of teachers? What are the different entry points for teachers who might be interested in starting this work?

Sara: So I'm going to talk about, I think, who this might be for teachers, and then I'm going to think a little bit about kids too. So I think the way that I tried to write the book was, "Okay, if you do not have book clubs up and running yet, here are some logistical things that might be helpful to think about." I am a hundred percent a structure person. I love a good schedule, I love a good routine. I couldn't possibly think about anything else before I thought about the logistics. What is the structure of this? Where does it go? What's the, what's happening around book clubs? So I really started the book by thinking about that. If you've never done it, where do you start?
But once we got that stuff out of the way, okay, it's up and running, there's also some stuff in there about... I think it can start to feel a little bit like routinized, and can start to feel a little stale. So to me, academic discourse and comprehension is a never ending continuum. It's not a rubric. One, two, three, four, you're done. It's not a checkbox, check yes or no. It's learning how to do things as a reader now. My friends at work are forcing me to read this fantasy book that like, God, I hate fantasy. And I'm having to learn how to read fantasy. And my 12-year-old's like, "That's a really typical archetype in that book." And I was like, "All right, well, I didn't know that because I don't read fantasy." It's not a yes or no. I'm learning to read fantasy better. I'm learning to read reading research better this year than I ever have.
So I'm always thinking about, "Okay, if your kids have gotten it up and running, what's a little bit more sophisticated work for them? And if you've got some advanced book clubs who have been doing book clubs for three or four years now, what's some really advanced work that a book club could be doing?" So I tried to put all of those resources because I know teachers are in very different points. And then if I'm really thinking about who is this for in terms of kids, I think it's a pretty complicated answer. I don't want to make it sound easy. I think if kids are really emergent readers, a book club is not going to be enough to teach them the world of print and phonics. But without discussion, meaningful discussion, what's the purpose? Why are we reading? It can start to feel like the drill. It can start to feel like reading is an exercise, or how you were saying, the sports analogy can start to feel like we go to soccer practice and we just do drills around cones the whole time.
So to me, there's a place for book clubs, even if it's not sixth graders sitting around a table chatting about the last six chapters they read. It could just mean that you make sure at the end of each text that kids read, there's some time for some student led teacher facilitated discussion. So in that way, I do think it's for everybody.

Grace: And I really love the section in your book where you talk about that continuum and that gradual release of student led independent book clubs might be the goal. And here's how you might fully get there. And especially, I taught kindergarten for a long, long time. And you're right, we're not going to have student led independent book clubs in kindergarten.

Sara: Yeah, but can you talk about what you did in kindergarten?

Grace: Yeah, we definitely would read a book. My kids loved turning and talking. They had amazing prolific things to say to one another. And we would often have a whole class conversation after a book where they would just engage in this discussion. And then you taught me that one thing that we could do that feels a little bit more clubby is to take two partner payers, pair them together, and just do a little talk club around that book. And in those talk clubs, we got to hear a lot more student voices that perhaps didn't feel like they could speak up in the whole group, but could speak in a smaller group. And they really had to learn that art of negotiation, and really deepen their conversation skills in the smaller talk clubs. Because kind of more was expected out of each of them as a member of this little talk club.
And so they were really deepening their understanding of the book and figuring out, "How do I talk to somebody about this? How do I figure out what that back and forth is, and invite those voices in?" We got into this habit in first grade of where kids would... They would constantly talk over each other and they decided that the way that they were going to work it out was to play rock paper, scissors. So we have 17 games in rock, paper, scissors sometimes happening. But it was so cute, and it was kind of their way of approximating and figuring out, "How do I talk about books? How do I talk to somebody?" And that's going to build a foundation that's going to carry them on as they do more sophisticated work when they get to second grade and third grade, and until they get to those sixth grade book clubs.

Sara: Which kind of reminds me, I was just watching a video of somebody who you taught with Ashley Tingler, who's a first grade teacher. I was watching a video of her doing a hands down conversation or whole class conversation some people call it. You could even call it a whole class book club. That's another entry point in, is a book club doesn't have to be four people. Book club could be 17 kids, which is how Ashley was doing it. And three kids started talking at once, and the fourth kid said, "You all need to work this out." And the kids said that.
And I just thought there's such a difference between how we were managed as kids, which is like you have the talking stick or these kind of props. You get three chips and each time you talk you have to put a chip in the middle. And it's like we spend so much time teaching the props when the real work, talking about authenticity and having legs outside of school is like, you guys got to work this out. Who's going to talk first? That's really authentic work. And so it doesn't feel like that's a problem to me. It feels like it's an opportunity for kids to learn how to negotiate that stuff.

Grace: And one of the things that I love so much about that, and we just used your book to do a lab site in a fifth and sixth grade at a school. And we did a lot of work around interactive read aloud, doing some whole class conversation. And one of the things that was amazing was that as we were listening to these kids have this amazing whole class conversation, and they were in a historical fiction unit, so we read some historical fiction book that took place in Japanese prison camps in the US during World War II. And they had so much that they wanted to talk about in terms of racial injustice, and then making connections to now.
But what was so cool was that in those conversations, I had no idea what their reading level was, how they scored on the standardized task, what their lexile level was. It was just a really cool, authentic way to allow everybody to bring in their brilliance and have that opportunity to talk without having to do a task that might be hindering for some kids, or might limit others in terms of what they can't or could write down. And it was just so neat to see how much more came about because we were able to use talk as the way to think about what they were thinking about.

Sara: I think the other thing that you're describing is another nice continuum for where to start, book clubs, because it doesn't have to start with independent small group clubs. Another way that I talk about in the book is, it could start whole group with a hands down conversation. And when that's an opportunity for the teacher to teach the whole class some stuff at once, and then, how you're describing, it could then move into some small group clubs where you pair kids up and they talk about the read aloud. So that the teacher can still lift the level of comprehension, kids still get to practice, the teacher can kind of float around coaching those different clubs. It's only the last step that's independent book clubs. Everybody's up and running on their own. But I don't get there every year. I don't get there with every age. Not every group gets there. But there's all these opportunities to teach that good stuff along the way, starting as young as kindergarten.

Grace: Yeah, so what you're saying is this book is for everyone.

Sara: It's for every kid.

Grace: Yeah. And there's definitely entry points for every kid, every teacher. And what are some predictable challenges that we run into?

Sara: Yeah, so one of the things I think about a lot is I'm learning to cook. I learned a few recipes during the pandemic. But before that-

Grace: Wait, you also say that you're a bad cook and you're really not.

Sara: That's because I've only made you two things your whole life. It's the same two things, pizza and-

Grace: Last book club at your house, we had really good lentil soup too.

Sara: All right. Well, see, that's one of my two recipes. But anyway. So Alex, my husband in the kitchen, he riffs. I know a lot of people like this, that have a vague idea of a recipe. But what they're really doing is I know the types of things that go together, and I know that if it's too sweet, I can add some acid to balance that out. And I know that if it's too liquidy, I can thicken it up with corn sauce. He has these if then in his head, that if there are their predictable problems with cooking, he's got ways to respond. And that really just got me thinking that when kids show me some problems, or struggles, or challenges, that to me, is not a sign that they're not ready. That's the sign that I can respond with some teaching. So I rarely think of it as like, oh gosh, this class isn't ready. It's just like, oh, there's the predictable problem.
So one predictable problem that I always see every year, in some form in some class is nobody will talk. And especially if you've got a small group that's like a lot of introverts or kids who need a lot of processing time, kids will... I've noticed, I'm learning this in sixth grade too. They will wait you out for minutes, and minutes, and minutes. So oftentimes I just think, okay, if they're having a hard time starting, I need to teach them how to use their reading time as a way to prepare for launching the discussion. So I just taught a group of sixth graders how they can actually do some jotting as a way to think, okay, what's worth talking about with my club? If I get an ideas reading, I'm going to jot it down and then I bring my Post-it to the club. So that we're not sitting there thinking of ideas in the moment.
Another thing that's happening in second grade is everybody wants to talk at once. So I have done some work around teaching kids how to read body cues of if somebody's leaning in, if somebody... Adults do this too, if they take a big breath. Even though we're not raising hands, sometimes adults will still be like, "I got something to say." So teaching kids how to look for those signs that say that one of their friends has something to say. And I've been doing a lot of work in the second grade class about teaching kids how to monitor their own voice. It is something, as an extrovert, you will also know, it's like we do this at meetings too. Do you ever leave a meeting and you're like, "Why did I talk so much? God.”

Grace: Yeah. And at night when I'm trying to fall asleep, I'm like, "Why did I say that? I talked too much.”

Sara: I know. So it's just teaching kids to do that same thing. Have I said enough? Am I making space for quieter voices? Voices just that need more processing time, things like that. And then the other thing that feels really true is, a predictable problem is kids will retell and not bring ideas to the table. That, I would say, is one of the most predictable things I'm seeing in all grade levels right now, is they start the conversation just by retelling the book. And so, if I'm seeing that, then I know that I need to teach them how to develop an idea. So I just teach something like, "Hey, one thing you can do... We all read the book. We all know what happened. You can pick a part that was particularly interesting to you. You can do a quick summary of that part and then push yourself to say, what did it make you think, feel, or wonder?" So just getting them out of the literal retell and into some discussion worthy comments.

Grace: Right. Right.

Sara: Yeah. Whatever you feel in kindergarten.

Grace: I think definitely what you were saying that retell. And that always used to bother me a little bit because I'm like, oh, we're working on such deep thinking skills beyond just this literal retell. But then I was kind of thinking about conversations that I have with my book club, or after I watch a movie, or a TV show, and I was noticing, oh, I do a little bit of a retell as a way to launch into why I want to talk about that part. So I had to let that part go. And then, just like you were saying be like, yeah. And then when that happened, why do you think this character did that? Or what does it make you think of?

Sara: One of the things that I've done with groups of teachers when I'm doing some learning around book clubs is we read a text on our own, and then we come together during our team planning meetings or whatever staff development. And we have a book club, they have a book club, and I take a transcript. Because a lot of the things I've noticed that we critique in kids is present in our own conversation. So an example of that is, kids will bounce around a lot around ideas before they settle on one. And we will look at them and think nobody's listening to each other. They're not staying on topic, they're all over the place. But if you actually look at the transcript of we bounce around a while until we land on an idea that we want to talk about. That's just how conversations go. So that retelling example, that's really helpful to take a transcript of your own book club, and then analyze it. What are some of the things that you are doing that you could teach kids to do to keep it really authentic?

Grace: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that also speaks to the work that we have to do as teachers too, to make sure that what we're asking kids to try, that we've also experienced as well, so that we can celebrate alongside them, and also live in some of that struggle. So whether it's a teacher book club or participating in one outside of school, I think that's so helpful in knowing, what do I do when this happens? And I also think it's really helpful to have these predictable challenges in mind to know that yes, book clubs can be magical, and it's not going to happen overnight. And so thinking about what are the things that are predictable? And then what do I do? I think it's really helpful to know we can figure it out.

Sara: Yeah. Yeah, you really have to play the long game, I think. Because I think totally my first year I tried to launch book clubs in October in third grade. And whew, it was hard. It was hard. But it was because I hadn't put this building blocks in place. I just wanted it to all be up and running. And that's sometimes realistic, but it's not always.

Grace: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. So I know that you and I work in a lot of schools where we have populations of kids who are just learning English. And kids who are often reading below grade level. How might kids who are just learning English or struggling to access grade level text, how might they participate in book clubs?

Sara: This is another one of those really complicated answers because it feels like there's so many variables, and there's so many different ways to support them. So I'll give you a couple of examples of groups that I'm working with right now. If kids are new to country, which we work in schools where there's a lot of kids who are new to country, one option is this Read Aloud Club, where the teacher can do an interactive read aloud and the kids can talk about the book that the teacher has read to them. And they can talk in their home language or they can talk in English. For a lot of kids who are new to country here, at my school that I'm working at right now, they just turn and have a discussion about the book in Spanish. And they all understand each other. And I do my best to pick things up.
And maybe there's a couple kids in that group who are bilingual who help translate for me a little bit. But that's less important than the fact that they're talking in Spanish about the book. So the beauty of that is that I can use beautiful picture books that don't have a ton of words. I don't know, they could talk about Elephant and Peggy, they could talk about Journey, that wordless picture book. There's a million ways that that can go. But that's one option for kids who are really new to country and who are just starting to speak English.
But I have kids, multilingual kids, who are not new to country, but who are comfortable speaking their home language. And so, they read a book in English, and then they process it in kind of Spanish-English back and forth because that's what everybody in the group is speaking. So I'm not trying to monitor them to make sure that they're only speaking in English, they're trying to communicate their ideas. I can teach that in whatever language that they want to speak. But I think the bigger belief that's underlying all of this is that I'm not waiting for them to be ready for book clubs. My underlying belief is that kids are ready. And the image I always have in my mind is of my own kids at two years old, three years old at the dinner table. Rarely do parents say, "My kid is not allowed to speak at the dinner table because they're not ready to participate in the conversation." You would not hear a parent say that.
You open up the discussion and kids participate in whatever way they can participate. And so if that's our underlying belief about that's how kids acquire language is by listening and also participating in any way they can, that's also my belief in a classroom. That it might be two to three word sentences. It might be pointing at a picture, and turning to their friend and saying it in Spanish, and then the friend translates it to English. There are so many ways if we are open and flexible to them participating. And then I also think about how the book club is also the format through which I teach vocabulary to English learners. So for example, I was working with a book club in sixth grade. They're reading The Okay Witch. And they were grappling with how to describe Moth, the main character. And I just gave them the word outcast. Have you ever heard of the word outcasts? She's kind of an outcast. She's like an outsider. So that's just the perfect opportunity for me to introduce some more sophisticated vocabulary and to attach it to a concept that they already have.

Grace: Yes. Right. So it's like it's even more responsive and timely because it's going to stick because they're already talking about it and you're providing that vocabulary word.

Sara: They need that word. It's like there's no more beautiful time to teach a vocabulary word than when somebody is grappling and searching for the word to describe their thought. So I said, she's like an outcast, she's an outsider. And one of the girls said, "If there's outsiders, are there insiders?" And I was like, "Yeah, that's a real thing, insiders." So then for the rest of the book, they were trying to describe who are the outsiders, who are the insiders, and how are they positioned in these different groups? They needed the language, so that's a perfect time to teach them.

Grace: Yeah. Yeah. At that lab site that I was telling you about, we noticed that there was a kiddo who was new to the country last year. And so, his receptive language was much higher than his expressive language. So he could understand and access what the teacher was reading in this picture book. And then when he turned to talk about it, his expressive language was then still in Spanish. And so, it was so cool to see he was accessing it and he just needed to talk about it in a language where he could really express what he was thinking. And I just love the choice and the opportunity that we offer kids, and we let go of our constraints and say, do what feels right for you. And we don't get in the way of that.

Sara: Yeah. last year, I co-taught in a fifth grade classroom where we had seven kids who had arrived since 2020. So, new to the country since the pandemic. So this was their first full year in school. And it got me thinking just watching this teacher teach so masterfully. It's like, whose job is it to meet them where they are? Is it their job to acquire our language and meet us where we are so that we understand them, and we are unwilling to understand them until they meet us where we are? Or is it our job... And all the other English language learners in the room, is it all of our jobs to move ourselves to work to try to understand what they're trying to communicate as well? Just got me thinking about that a lot. And book clubs is an opportunity for us to move and meet kids where they are.

Grace: And what a great way to infuse that sense of identity and belonging with every kid in your class. And instead of being elitist and be like, "Well, you're not ready for book clubs, they're not for you." It's like, let's find a way to make it for everyone.

Sara: Yes, yes.

Grace: So can you tell me your favorite story about a book club memory that you have with kids?

Sara: Oh my gosh. Well, one thing that was really special was, I was new as a literacy coach. And I was just getting book clubs up and running. This is years and years ago. And I was just piloting it in a classroom and trying to get some stuff going. And we were reading Beast Quest. Do you know that series, Beast Quest? It's like the least. I would not have picked it, but these boys were obsessed with this. It's like my worst nightmare. It's fantasy, and animal fighting, whatever. And I was having a really hard time connecting with this group. And two of the boys came up to me after we had read the first Beast Quest and they said, "We know that we meet with you with book clubs in school. But we all live in the same apartment building and we're wondering if you would mind if we took the books home and just met on our own a couple of times without you?”

Grace: Oh my gosh.

Sara: I mean, it was probably 10 years ago at this point. And I just was like, that's it. That's it. That is the goal. They see their work as operating without school, without a teacher, without their dumb little folder of resources that I had made them. It had nothing to do with us anymore. It was we have our book club up and running, and they checked out a whole bunch of more Beast Quest books, and went home and started meeting outside of school. And that's the end goal. If nothing else, I want kids to have a strong identity. I want kids to feel a sense of ownership. And then one other story that actually didn't involve me, it was during lab sites. I was watching another teacher coach a book club. And in the middle of this book club, the teacher was really leaning in to try to facilitate. And one of the girls turned to the teacher, a fifth grader, and goes, "Can you lean back? It's really hard for us to talk to each other when you're leaning in." And all of the coaches around the room like gasped because that's also it.

Grace: Yeah. Yeah.

Sara: She's like, "We can do this without you. Can you just show us with your body language that you trust us to do this.”

Grace: Yeah. Yeah.

Sara: And it's those little shifts that I'm really looking for. And the day that I can't even say to them who wants to start because they just start, and they're off and running, and I can't even get word in. That's the day I buy myself something nice something. I just [inaudible 00:43:15]. That's over now.

Grace: Yeah, a little treat. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My daughter and her best friend at school this year, they started a little book club on their own. And that's what they spent recess doing because they both really wanted to read this book. They had two copies due at the library, and so that's what they did. And that's just made my mom and my teacher heart so happy that one, they're choosing to read, and two, they feel so empowered to know how to do this, and to spend time doing it, because they believe in it, and they believe in themselves as readers, and they see the benefit. I just love it so much.

Nate: Better Book Clubs: Deepening Comprehension and Elevating Conversation by Sara Kugler is available now from Stenhouse and other retailers. Keep up with Sara and Grace on Twitter @SaraKugler and @GraceKChoi. Check out where you can find blogs, podcast archives, book previews, and more. If you haven’t done so already, please consider leaving a review for our show at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever podcast player you use—it means a lot. And if you’ve done so already, thank you. Please share this episode with friends and colleagues who you feel could get something from it. And as always, thank you for listening.


Topics: Classroom practice, Teachers Corner, Free Resources, Podcast, Elementary, equity