Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Literature Circles: Adding the Spark

As our literature circles have moved from fiction to nonfiction, some of the conversations have been getting--well, flat. This is to be expected with any classroom activity. When creative and imaginative activities become routine, they lose some of their effectiveness.

So it's up to me to try to recapture the excitement! I wasn't really thinking about this, though, as I was picking up my students from lunch today. But I soon got dragged into a heated discussion. "Mrs. Kissner, Mrs. Kissner!" two boys called. "Which one is stronger--a bull shark or a great white?"

This is not a question that I have considered often. So I absentmindedly answered, "Great white, I guess." This set off a new flurry of comments and whispering, all as we were walking down the hallway and back to the classroom.

The disagreement didn't end there. "The bull shark is the most dangerous, because it can go in shallow water and that's a bad place for a person to be when a shark is around," Wyatt said. More kids starting to chime in, from the boys who had originally started the conversation to the others who were clamoring to figure out what was going on. Claims were made, details offered, counterarguments shot back.

A thought was slowly forming. This was the kind of passion and spark that our literature circles were missing! Later, as we talked about the literature circles for the day, I brought up this conversation. "What made you so interested in talking about the two kinds of sharks?" We picked it apart--how all of them at the lunch table had some shared knowledge about sharks, but some different ideas. None of the boys had read which shark was most powerful or dangerous. Instead, they were making inferences and claims based on the details they knew.

"That's just the way it is with literature circles," I told the students. "You've all read the same book, but you have different ideas. This week, as you talk about the questions you've prepared, try to have an interesting disagreement! How are your ideas different? How can you support them?"

When I put it like this--that literature circles are supposed to be about some amount of disagreement--it added some new zip to their conversations. I saw more students going back and opening up their books, pointing to phrases and photographs, sharing their ideas.

But I still feel like I have some unfinished business. Because, while I was watching their literature circles and walking around, I felt an irresistible urge to go to my computer and do some research. And I couldn't get rid of the nagging question. Which is more powerful--a bull shark or a great white?

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