Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Parent-Child Book Club

A new book club for third-graders and their parents at Hunters Creek Elementary School this semester sparked excitement as young children and adults shared the joys and insights of reading with each other.

The original idea for the Hunters Creek Elementary Book Club traces back to a district book study that was led by district I-Coach Melissa Ramirez. Attendees included I-Coach Diane Fanning and Hunters Creek Principal Robye Snyder.

In SBISD, I-Coaches help teachers and principals connect traditional curriculum to fresh ideas in instruction, including new technologies and learning opportunities. 

Would both parents and students at Spring Branch ISD campuses be interested in forming a book club as a more social and less traditional way of exploring books and their importance in the lives of children and adults?

In January, Fanning joined Principal Robye Snyder and teacher Omi Ford to start up an after-school book club that met in the library monthly. It started out slowly, beginning by design with a half dozen families, and it then took some months for open conversations and deeper dialogue to develop.
“I have been impressed with the deep level of understanding these children have developed on author’s purpose and theme of the books we have shared,” School Principal Snyder says. “Our first talks were superficial and stilted. In our later times together, our discussions were much like those I’ve had in adult book studies.”

Third-grade mom Stephanie Swartz calls it hands down the best experience of the year. She took part in the book club with her son, David, a third-grader.

“The third-grade book club was a beautiful experience to witness and be a part of. My son was encouraged to voice his insight about literature when all year long he was being taught how to answer STAAR test multiple-choice questions,” she said.

The book club was a good match for her talkative son. “His interest in reading and engaging in deeper discussions about literature skyrocketed directly because of the book club,” she adds. “Our facilitator suggested amazing novels and that set us off on an amazing path!”

Teacher Omi Ford, who is SBISD’s newest Elementary Teacher of the Year, noted that the flow of conversation had a variety of leaders and contributors each month. Interestingly, the book club included a variety of students who had different needs, interests and strengths.

“Each month the leaders and contributors of our discussions have shifted. Parents or children may bring experiences to the text that jumpstart our dialogues and lead us into deep discussion about life issues,” she said.

In April’s meeting, 16 moms, dads and children joined Fanning and others from the campus in a library circle after school. The book under review was the 1960 children’s novel, “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” by Scott O’Dell.

The novel happened to be the first one that I-Coach Fanning, a gifted facilitator, had read as a child. The book tells how a young girl who was stranded for years survived on an island off the California coast. It is based on a historical account from the 19th century involving Native American Juana Maria.

Like many adults who read novels again after several decades, I-Coach Fanning told the book club that her memory had failed her. “I remember this book being difficult and hard to read. I’m amazed what 50 years can do.”

During the next 45 minutes or so, she led students and parents through questions that ran from simple to complex:
  • What would you do to survive on an island by yourself?
  • Did anyone realize where this island was located?
  • What did (the narrator action’s) tell us about her as a person?
  • Was this really an interesting book?  If so, why?
“One of our goals in this was not to think about and talk about books like we do in the classroom. We move from plot and what happened discussion to deep meaning questions: Did you enjoy it? Would you want to read a story like it? Did you ‘buy into’ what the author was telling you?” the I-Coach explains.

The adults waited for children to answer first, then followed up with their views and impressions. Some parents found that the discussions had broader impacts.

“I love how the Book Club has expanded the reading relationship I have with my son,” says Kelly Siblik, who attended with her son, Kyle. “As a mom of four, I love our newfound bond over Book Club books. It has opened a new and different relationship for us. It is time spent reading that we love, cherish and adore.”

The April meeting ended with lively, student discussion of the merits of the next book selection. Students voted on their next read, a book titled “Hatchet.” It was the first time that students picked a new book.

“This group of young people who at the very beginning would not say anything about book selection is now really vocal. I appreciate that!” Fanning told them.

All the book club students have set summer reading goals, one of the topics that dominated the last meeting in May. “We want you to read all summer long so that you can be super smart next year in fourth grade,” the students were told.

Next year, Hunters Creek Elementary may have a  fourth-grade book club, too, if the third-grade group remains interested.

Starting a parent-child book club is a great way to model reading and discussion about books, but some SBISD schools are limited in parent outreach due to two-adult working households, commuting issues and meeting time issues. Bilingual clubs might be a priority on other campuses, Fanning noted.
Woodview Elementary formed a parent-child book club this semester, and some other SBISD elementary schools have expressed interest, too.

Tips to Start Your Own Book Club (PTO Today)
Start small. Get three or four interested parents in the same grade from your neighborhood or PTA/PTO.

Ask your child’s teacher or local librarian for a beginning list of appropriate grade-level books. These should be good for discussion and taken from a variety of genres.

Determine a convenient location and time for parents to meet.
Make the club meeting a special time for parent and child. No siblings, please!

Have a volunteer parent or teacher lead the discussion. The discussion leader will provide questions and/or refreshments. Rotate discussion leaders if you wish.

At the end of a meeting, determine which book will be read next and who will be leading the discussion.


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