The issues presented with the literature circles in Clarke and Howlwaldel are ones that I have personally seen in with my own classrooms throughout my academic career and even now; how divides in race, gender and socioeconomic status can lead to a lot of conflict within the classroom. Though I have I seen this so prevalently in my own life, I have never thought about how it would impact my classroom. Relieving these divides and finding common ground is so essential to literature circles. The teacher in this particular classroom, Jennifer, uses multiple activities to minimize this divide.
Finding Common Ground
Jennifer's first attempt to relieve this involves the students discussing their favorite TV shows, songs, one item they would bring to a deserted island, etc. At first, these activities triggered more conflict. However, when it was explained that this activity was meant to bring them together and to find common ground, the students responded positively.
I think the mini lessons and activities had the greatest impact breaking the divide. One specific mini lesson focused on compliments. The students would write a poem and the other students would say something they liked about it. This was adapted to the literature circles by making a good literature chart with a list of things that make up a good literature response. The students would use this chart to respond to their peers in a positive manner.
I thought the activities done in Jennifer's classroom were innovative, and offered a huge opportunity for self evaluation which made students more aware of what they could do better in their literature circles. In one activity, students would be filmed and then watch back their literature circles. Students enjoyed doing this and watching themselves from an outside point of view really helped them to become self aware.
I also thought the poker chip idea was pretty awesome! Students would get a certain amount of poker chips, and every time they talked they would put one in. Once they ran out, they were out of the conversation. This prevented one student from dominating the conversation and made them think more about what they were going to say. I imagine this also drastically decreased the amount of arguing in the classroom.
Choosing the right booksI think choosing the right books can be a great step toward productive literature circles. Certain books facilitate better discussion. It's important to find books that kids can find interest in and relate to.