Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Blog Post from David Etkin

I am SUPER excited about today's post. My new Twitter buddy, David Etkin (@davidaetkin), generously agreed to share a post about Reading Partnerships and Clubs once I hit 100 followers.

This is a fantastic idea for making reading in the classroom feel more authentic, as well as making it much more motivating for students than your traditional whole-class novel set up. Thank you, David, for sharing this WONDERful idea and inspiring me to break out of the box and try new things in my own classroom. This is definitely something I will be implementing in the 2012-2013 school year!

The Case for Reading Partnerships and Clubs

Forming reading partnerships and book clubs with young students is challenging. How do I partner the students—By interest? Reading level? Friend requests? And once they are in these groups, how do I help them to set reasonable goals? How can I keep their conversations moving forward? What do I do about the student who doesn’t do his reading?

Surely, there are many questions. But I’m persevering in my book clubs plan because this I believe: Some of the most powerful reading we do is partner reading.

(These pictures are the students reading on the first day after they choose their books. After this first day, reading and preparation is done independently.)

I read for myself all the time. Oftentimes my reading is to find that next great book I can recommend to a student at just the right time. (And with the Nerdy Book Club, there are so many options.) But the books that are most memorable to me are the books I’ve had the opportunity to discuss.

My colleague, Brent Peterson, and I read Dead End in Norvelt in partnership. We kept a simple goal of about 100 pages a week (we were doing other reading, of course) and got together during a free period to discuss. These were awesome discussions.  [You can follow these links to see our conversations… if you’re really interested. Talk 1. Talk 2. Talk 3.] We came prepared with some Post-it notes and lists of things we wanted to talk about and off we went. The half hour was barely enough time. It was great how we each brought different ideas and insights to the conversation. Brent saw things that I never would have on my own. Discussing a book brought it to life and made it more interesting than it would have been had either of us read it independently.

Norvelt conversation #3

(Who else would have laughed with me about paraffin wax hands and deterring deer with bodily functions?)  I think these conversations are why, though the public response to Norvelt has been lukewarm, Brent and I liked it so much. You can get more of a summary of our conversation on our Nerdy Book Club Blog post.

Brent and I also read and discussed Wonder a lot. And then we started passing it along to others to read. My mom read it. Then my dad. Then my sister. Then her book club. Then other reading teachers at my school. Students and their parents. And we read it aloud to our students. (And finally my wife is reading it.) And it was like Wonder became part of the social fabric of my life. It was something I could talk about with anyone around me. Family dinners were filled with conversation of Auggie and Daisy and Via. Being able to then talk with the Maker of these characters and this WONDERworld was awesome.

And this---THIS---is why I want to persist in pushing my students into partnerships and clubs. As I’ve told them, book clubs are social opportunities wrapped around a book. (Hmmm… good pearl analogy there.) I want my students to experience the joy of a book coming to life. Of understanding a book better together because they talked about and cleared up confusions and saw things from different points of view. I want my students to know the richness of literature.

So I’m willing to spend an afternoon with the book partnership/club letters they’ve written to me (Name; why I would be a good partner to someone else; my approximate reading level [GRL]; five classmates who would be good partners for me and why) spread out all over the living room floor or dining room table. (“Dad, what are you doing?”)

I’m willing to deal with a slacker reader/partner who doesn’t come prepared with the reading complete or Post-it notes ready to discuss. Because I see so many other students benefiting from rich conversations and thought building that they wouldn’t have if they only read independently.

I’m looking forward to next year and getting these partnerships and clubs underway earlier in the year. We are already discussing how to scaffold them—giving students smaller texts with which to practice before diving into a novel. I can’t wait to see my students blossom in their book discussions.

We have a great year of book conversations behind us, a better one ahead—and the state of Book Clubs is Strong.

Your turn:

Have you experienced reading as part of a partnership or club? How did it add to your reading experience?

Planning bookmark for clubs:

  Evaluation form:

Thanks again to David for his great post. Maybe if we leave him lots of comments, he'll do it again for my blogiversary! *crosses fingers* Be sure to check out David's blog, Words Read & Words Written,  for more great posts like this one!


  1. I almost forgot to mention all the conversations Brent and I had about the CHAOS WALKING trilogy. So many good ideas I wouldn't have had on my own.

  2. WOW! That post was loaded with some GREAT information! I won't be teaching 6th grade reading next year (my choice)-I'll be teaching 5th and 6th grade history and cannot wait! :)Otherwise, I would definitely think about using some of that!


  3. This will come in so handy for me next year!

    Check out my new blog- I am giving away a $25 gc to Target to celebrate!