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LITERATURE CIRCLES & SHARED INQUIRY

“Happy is he who has laid up in his youth, and held fast in all fortune, a genuine and passionate love for reading.”  Rufus Choate

Course Syllabus
Clara Barton Open School
2010-2011
5th Period
Amber Damm, Room 18 & Allison Rubin Forester, Room 2
E-mails: amber.damm@mpls.k12.mn.us & allisonf@mpls.k12.mn.us

Course Description
Allison and Amber will each be teaching a Semester 1 and Semester II course developed to ensure middle school students are reading EVERY day and loving it! Using two phenomenal strategies to get middle school students reading great contemporary and classic works while discussing, interpreting, and making meaning for themselves, this course is designed to build independent and community-minded life long readers and lovers of reading. We’ll meet each day for fifth hour and immerse ourselves in great books and even greater conversations around them. There will be no homework for this course. Students are expected to fully participate and make the most of our reading and discussion time together. A journal and all reading materials will be provided. This course will be scored on a credit/no credit basis. Please read on to learn more about the reading and discussion strategies we’ll be using this year. 
 
Great Books Roundtable Shared Inquiry Discussions & Journal
The goal of Great Books programs is to instill in adults and children the habits of mind that characterize a self-reliant thinker, reader, and learner. Great Books programs are predicated on the idea that everyone can read and understand excellent literature—literature that has the capacity to engage the whole person, the imagination as well as the intellect. Shared Inquiry is a distinctive method of learning in which participants search for answers to fundamental questions raised by a text. This search is inherently active; it involves taking what the author has given us and trying to grasp its full meaning, to interpret or reach an understanding of the text in light of our experience and using sound reasoning. In Shared Inquiry, participants learn to give full consideration to the ideas of others, to weigh the merits of opposing arguments, and to modify their initial opinions as the evidence demands. They gain experience in communicating complex ideas and in supporting, testing, and expanding their own thoughts. In this way, the Shared Inquiry method promotes thoughtful dialogue and open debate, preparing its participants to become able, responsible citizens, as well as enthusiastic, lifelong readers. (www.greatbooks.org).  We’ll also start a new program this year called Great Books Roundtable, which are new materials developed around Shared Inquiry. Great Books Roundtable is an innovative new middle school program that combines the proven Great Books Shared Inquiry™ method of learning with high-quality literature.  Roundtable offers: 
  •  High-quality literature
  •  In-depth reading, critical thinking, and writing activities
  •  Teaching and learning in stages
  •  Differentiated instruction
  •  Reinforcement of skills and concepts
  •  Standards-based learning
  •  Research-based learning 

  To watch a video and get an overview featuring the Roundtable program in action in a middle school classroom, please go to: http://vimeo.com/6756178

Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Classroom
Developed by Harvey Daniels
The key ingredients—
  • Students choose their own reading materials
  • Small temporary groups are formed, based on book choice
  • Different groups read different books
  • Groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule to discuss their reading
  • Kids use written or drawn notes to guide both their reading and discussion
  • Discussion topics come from students
  • Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections,
  • The teacher serves as a facilitator, not a group member or instructor
  • Evaluation is by teacher observation and student self-evaluation
  • A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room
  • When books are finished, readers share with their classmates, and then new groups form around new reading choice
 
Explaining the key ingredients—
  • Time must be provided for two kinds of independent reading: time for individuals as in sustained silent reading and time for independent reading in groups, when kids select, read, and discuss books together, as in literature circles.
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  • Students need substantive opportunities to develop and pursue their own tastes, curiosities, and enthusiasms in the world of books. In fact, choice is actually a matter of educational standards and rigor. Students must learn to take full responsibility for locating, selecting, and pursuing books, rather than always expecting teachers or other adults to choose for them. Choice is an integral component of literate behavior, if we don’t require students to be constantly assigning reading to themselves, we have set our educational standards far too low and are nurturing dependency and helplessness.
  •  
  • Forty minutes is the perfect amount of time for implementing literature circles. This is true of reading independently, preparing, or discussing as a group. Predictability is also a key element. If kids are going to self-assign parts of a book, read with purpose, make notes in a reading log, and come to class ready to take an active part in the discussion, they need a sensible, predictable schedule.  Writing and drawing play a vital role in all stages of literature circles. While reading, students use response journals, Post-it notes, or role sheets to capture, record, crystallize, and play with their thinking and responses to the text. This kind of writing is open-ended and personal, and the students use their own writing as the starting place for the conversation. 
  •  
  • Students generate their own discussion topics. The teacher does not provide the questions verbally or in a written form. Ownership makes a big difference: this way, students are in charge of their thinking and discussion. If kids never practice digging the big ideas out of texts themselves and always have teachers doing it for them, how can they ever achieve literary and intellectual independence?
  •  
  • In literature circles, while always interested in the details of what is read and care is taken to build interpretations on a close reading of the text, conversations begin with a personal response. Students connect with one another around divergent, open-ended, interpretive questions—questions of value: 
  • Does the book seem true to life? How is this character like me? Does this family remind me of my own? If faced with this kind of choice, what would I do? Could the people in this book have risen above their circumstances?
  • The teacher’s main job is not to teach. Literature circles are a special student-centered activity and teachers are facilitators. Aside from initial mini-lessons and closing de-briefing sessions, the teacher isn’t on stage. The teacher’s role is supportive, organizational, and managerial. Teachers collect sets of good books, help groups form, visit and observe meetings, confer with kids or groups who struggle, keep records, etc. Many teachers also elect to be a fellow reader.
  • For literature circles, we need higher-order assessment of kids working at the whole thing, the complete, put together outcome—which in this case, is joining in thoughtful small-group conversation about literature. Self-monitoring is a key ingredient of the reading process, and it only makes sense that kids in literature circles regularly are asked to write and talk about their own goals, roles, and performances with each other.
 
LITERATURE CIRCLE JOURNALS
Student Roles for Book Discussions

DISCUSSION DIRECTOR
Your role is to develop a list of discussion questions based on the section of the text that is currently being read; your group will discuss these questions. Focus on writing questions that will help your group critically think about or analyze the text. These types of questions lend themselves to discussion that is more than one-word responses. Prepare 6 strong questions for the discussion; use mostly “why” or “how” questions. Think about: what were you wondering while you were reading? Did you have questions about what was happening? What was going to happen next? Why did the author use a certain style? You are also responsible for keeping the circle on task so that each member is able to participate.
 
In your journal, record 6 questions.
1. Lead your group! Keep them focused and on task throughout your discussion
2. If answers are too short, use follow-up questions to draw more out of each group member
 

PASSAGE PICKER
Your role is to locate and share 3 special sections of the text that your group would like to hear and discuss. The idea is to discuss some of the interesting, powerful, puzzling or important passages from the text selection. As you read, choose which passages or paragraphs are worth going back to and write down why you chose each one. You can read the passages aloud yourself or ask another group member to read them. Everyone in your group should have his/her book open and be focused on the passages as they are shared. 
 
In your journal, record the following information for 3 passages:
1. Location of each passage (page, paragraph)
2. Reason for choosing the passage

VOCABULARY ENRICHER
Your role is to be on the lookout for some especially important words as you read. If you find words that are puzzling or unfamiliar, record them while you are reading. You may run across words that stand out, are used in a different way, are repeated a lot, are used in an unusual way, or are key to the meaning of the text. You need to select 6 words to share with your group. In your circle, share the words and their meanings and discuss why you chose them.
 
In your journal, present the following information for 6 words:
1. The word (spelled correctly),
2. The page where you found the word
3. The definition of the word stated in your OWN words

SUMMARIZER
Your job is to prepare a brief summary of the main points of the assigned reading. The other members of your group will be counting on you to give a quick (one or two minute) statement that conveys the gist—the key points, main highlights, the essence—of today’s reading assignment. If there are several main ideas or events to remember, you can use bullets.
 
In your journal, present the summary you shared with the group.
1. It should be at least one-half of a page, but you can write even more if you wish.

ILLUSTRATOR
Good readers make pictures in their minds as they read. This is a chance to share some of your own images and visions. Draw a picture related to the reading you have just done. It can be a sketch, cartoon, diagram, or a stick-figure scene. You can draw a picture of something that happened in your book, or something that the reading reminded you of, or a picture that conveys any idea or feeling you got from the reading. Any kind of drawing or graphic is okay—you can even label things with words if that helps. Underneath your picture write a short paragraph (3-5 sentences) explaining your illustration and why you selected it from your reading.
 
In your journal, present the following:
1. Let your group members speculate what your picture means, so they can connect your drawing to their own ideas about the reading.
2. After everyone has had a say, you have the last word: tell them what your picture means, where it came from, or what it represents to you.
3. Underneath your picture write a short paragraph (3-5 sentences) explaining your illustration and why you selected it from your reading.
PDF Lit Circles Shared Inquiry Syllabus   --  Click for printable copy