Below is the transcript from my live chat, on August 9th, 1999, with Harvey Daniels, author of Literature Circles:Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom. For more information on this title, click on the book's cover. Then, use your browser's back button to return here to continue reading. If you decide to join our group, send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Literature Circles:Voice andChoice
in the Student-Centered Classroom
From the Back Cover:
Two potent ideas - independent reading and cooperative learning -come together in this practical and exciting book. Daniels and his colleagues have been especially concerned with the issues of management, the preparation of students, and enacting the principles of classroom democracy and group dynamics. Their special contribution has been to add to literature circles the key formal elements of collaborative learning-particularly through the varied roles used to guide students in newly-formed groups.
Read what Mr. Daniels had to say about this touchstone text for educators.
Laura: First of all, I would like to welcome Mr. Harvey Daniels and thank him for taking the time to be with us. Mr. Daniels - would you like to make an opening statement?
Harvey D.: Just glad to be here and have a chance to talk to people.
Laura: We are glad to have you. Are you ready for the questions?
Harvey D.: Sure.
Laura: Literature Circles was first published in 1994. Five years later, what revisions would you make to the book?
Harvey D.: Well, the single greatest change would probably concern the role sheets, which seem to be somewhat misused.
Laura: Would you like to elaborate on that?
Harvey D.: I notice that many teachers hang on to the role sheets for too long -- and then the meetings of Literature Circles become mechanical. The goal is to use them for training only and drop them after a couple of weeks.
Laura: If the role sheets are meant to be temporary, what measures can teachers use to ensure that they stay that way? What are the methods used to wean students off these sheets?
Harvey D.: The role sheets usually should be used for a couple of weeks only -- then kids should transition to an open-ended reading log.
Laura: How do you know they are ready to make that change - what are good indicators?
Harvey D. Many of the teachers we work with now do not use the role sheets at all - they start with reading logs at the outset. A good indicator would be to try the training phase without role sheets at all.
Laura: The definition of Literature Circles in your book makes no reference to ability grouping. Does it surprise you that many use Literature Circles to group children by ability in heterogeneous classes as a way of dealing with different abilities? I've even heard it referred to as the best way to deal with this range in the classroom. What are your views on this?
Harvey D.: This is certainly one of the more heartbreaking distortions of Literature Circles -- which are meant to be based on student -- not teacher - choice.
Laura: Why do you think so many theories and ideas end up being turned into skills oriented traditional school tasks hiding behind a label?
Harvey D.: My friends Steve Zemelman and Marilyn Bizar and I have written about this in last March's Phi Delta Kappan and the coming October Educational Leadership. This is part of the war of educational paradigms in America. Same thing happened with whole language and middle school movements. Has anyone read James Moffett on this subject?
Laura: What is the name of his work?
Harvey D.: Storm in the Mountains -- SIU Press. He says that parents are afraid of their children becoming liberated through literacy and so oppose deep and powerful teaching methods of any kind.
Laura: Do you feel it is the system driving the distortion, or the teachers themselves bowing to the pressures?
Harvey D.: Oh, a little of both I guess. Change is hard and many pressures are aligned to snuff it.
Laura: Sad, but true. Many advocate establishing the reader as an individual reader first and then moving into the group format. When then is the best time to introduce literature circles in the classroom? Also, how great is the danger of social choices with this format?
Harvey D.: In our schools teachers tend to alternate between reading workshop (individual independent reading) and literature circles (group independent reading). What do you mean the "danger of social choices?"
Laura: Children choosing based on peers choices and not their own interests. Also pressure to be with certain students in a group.
Harvey D.: Oh--this is very common of course--and this is how adult book groups work, right? Teachers have good ways of helping kids choose based on books rather than personalities.
Laura: True. What about teaching reading skills? What if you only have one period a day and want to do Literature Circles? Where does skills teaching fit in this format?
Harvey D.: Our teachers in Chicago use Literature Circles on cycles of a few weeks, interspersed with other activities -- including "skills".
Laura: Many of us are primary grade teachers. What do you envision, and what have you seen being done in primary classes with Literature Circles?
Harvey D.: There are quite a few differences. Obviously they tend to read a whole book and have one meeting. Instead of reading logs they use post-its. The teacher is often present in the group, unlike with bigger kids.
Laura: Do you see it as being more teacher directed then?
Harvey D: To start with, yes, because kids need more modelling and support at that age. Teachers often get one group going at a time, spinning it off and starting another.
Laura: What about the role sheets at this level? Are they still temporary?
Harvey D.: No role sheets with the little guys. Many teachers use bookmarks or post-its instead of role sheets, so kids can harvest their responses and remember what they wanted to talk to their friends about.
Laura: When your book was published, you noted it was a bit early to measure results. What are you seeing now, 5 years later. Have you conducted any studies you can share with us?
Harvey D.: I have not done studies myself but have recently received a bibliography of other peoples' recent work which I will post on the website tomorrow at www.literaturecircles.com. The evidence is growing that this works for kids.
Laura: Great. Groups are meant to change constantly. How can we manage this when each group finishes at a different time? For example, some books are shorter, and less indepth than others, some groups also work faster, etc.
Harvey D.: Most of the teachers here have common ending dates. Each group must calculate its readings to end on the same date.
Laura: What about the different complexities of text then, how do they address that?
HarveyD.: This is part of the inherent temporary grouping that Literature Circles provide. Everyone reads a whole book, but different groups will be reading different numbers of pages per day. The kids pick themselves into each group -- and the groups change regularly.
Laura: Last question before I open it up for others. Many teachers are mandated to use the basal. Can you conduct Literature Circles with a basal?
Harvey D.: Literature Circles can alternate with basal lessons, sure.
Laura: What about actually using the basal in Literature Circles?
Harvey D.: Literature Circles in their true form are for novels, not basal selections. You can use basal stories for training... but the real thing is for whole books. This reminds me of the time someone told me a funny thing they said "we have adopted your reading program." I said-- don't have one. Literature Circles are at best a PART of a whole reading program.
Laura: Good point. Many are looking for a scripted program that they can follow to the letter. That is probably where the role sheets can go wrong. I will now take questions.
RAZZ1: Thank you. I have had several students who will NOT do the reading the group "assigns" and then are not ready when they meet. This irritates the group. How should this be handled? Once is no problem, but continuous?
Harvey D.: This is no different from any other problem with group work, right?
RAZZ1: True. I usually give them "three strikes and you are out". Just wondered if you had a "miracle cure".
Harvey D.: There are no special solutions for Literature Cicles that aren't the same for any other collaborative activity -- talk to the kid, dialogue journal with the kid, use the group peer pressure, etc.
BAILEYDOG23: Student test results (after a year of literature circles) were very encouraging, especially my lowest readers. The least gains were made by my most advanced readers. I was thinking of offering some high end reading books that would appeal more to them and occassionally let them work in small circles instead of trying to balance each group (when many select the same title.) Your thoughts on this?
Harvey D.: Sounds good to me-- maybe you have a classic replication of the cooperative learning research which says low kids do better, middle kids do better, and top kids do about the same with progressive methods.
BAILEYDOG23: I hated to seem to track them...but I thought once or twice I would do it. Thank you.
ANNETTE201: How do you establish Literature Circles with lower grades? The book talks about lower grades but it's not as clear to me. I love the heterogenous aspect of it of course.
Harvey D.: Basically it is the same with a few differences we talked about earlier in this chat -- for a more detailed discussion of primary versions see . This is a Christopher-Gordon book.
JOANIEANG: I am using reading/writing wkshp which is working quite well . I do not have multiple copies of the same book but would like to pull together children reading on the same theme -and share favorite part, secial words, etc.. Can that work similar to Literature Circles since I do not have multiple copies of the same book? Any advice doing this?
Harvey D.: Yes, we have many teachers in Chicago who do this -- collecting sets of multiple copies is a lifelong quest.
JOANIEANG: Oh goody-I'm excited...
LAURAAC: I guess I'm one of those teachers who has become dependent on the role sheets. I suppose I like the structure of participation during the meetings. How are the meetings structured when students just use reading logs?
Harvey D.: Exactly the same -- they must show up with their logs, with something in them, and use them to sustain the discussion. This way ALL responses are invited -- not just pictures, or connections, etc.
LAURAAC: Do you appoint a leader?
Laura: Also, do you recommend using prompts for the response journals?
Harvey D.: You can -- or not. In mature adult book groups there are both kinds -- leaderless and moderated groups -- both can work. Prompts are fine -- though the goal is for kids to come up with their own questions -- so you always question your own intrusion, right?
Laura: Yes, I also think that prompts can run into the same danger as role sheets.
BAILEYDOG23: What is your opinion of having struggling readers use the book "on tape" so they can keep up with the reading and be in groups that they would find hard to manage the reading without the tape. Should they follow in the text or is it ok just to listen to the text?
Harvey D.: I am 100% for books on tape for LD and other struggling kids. If they can get the book in their head they can discuss it.
BAILEYDOG23: Thanks...it was one part I wanted to try again for this year.
KATHY5TH: Another question about the role sheets. I've started to move my kids away from them by having them do a "sampling" of several of the jobs ... such as a few Discussion Director questions, Word Wizards, Connections, and Passages. The kids really liked this format. Does this sound like a possible way to get them moved away from the role sheets?
Harvey D.: Sure -- I know some teachers who list the roles on the board but do not hand out sheets -- same idea, I think.
Laura: Do you have a new book in the works, or anything that has recently been released?
Harvey D.: My latest is Methods that Matter from Stenhouse -- an advanced Literature Circles book is about 1 year off.
Laura: That sounds great. We look forward to it's release. Do you have any words to leave us with?
Harvey D.: Good night -- let kids pick their own books.