I recently participated in a literature circle in my ELIB 216: Children’s Literature class which was my second experience with a literature circle. I have gained valuable insights throughout the process. I was excited to get the chance to respond to my experience with children’s literature and gain valuable insights into the benefits of giving children the opportunity to discuss and share their experiences with others. I feel I can now use the knowledge I gained from this experience to help guide and facilitate literature circles in the future. This assignment has opened my eyes to the power of discussion and expressing your reactions to literature and all that can be learned through the experience.
I was happy to learn our small group would be choosing a book on our own. I experienced first hand what allowing that freedom of choice can do for a reader’s interest level. Because that choice was built in, I was more motivated to read it and compelled to understand the deeper meaning of the story and share my reactions with others. And in turn, I was especially interested in hearing the reactions of my peers. These feeling I experienced directly related to what I read, when “students are in control of the discussion and have the opportunity to express their opinions can become more actively involved” (Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 2008, p. 292) in my course textbook Essentials of Children’s Literature.
Being a participant in the literature circle rather than simply reading about the process has allowed for a better understanding of the way in which a literature circle is carried out and the process it entails. I can now see how important it is to first teach students to value others opinions and use respectful listening behaviors when participating in discussions. As suggested by Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson (2008), these are skills that need to be taught and practiced by carrying out “small group discussions with the teacher as a participating member and joint planning by teacher and class before groups begin working can enable the group to set rules, goals, and time lines”(p. 293). Even as an adult, I can see the valuable benefits of having the teacher involved in the planning process when students are first introduced to literature circles. Given that this was my second experience participating in a literature circle, I can see the difference the “practice” had made on my experience as I used the knowledge I had gained from my previous experience.
Although I had experience with a literature circle before, I was still completely amazed at the discussion one book can lend. I was excited to share my thoughts about the book as were my fellow group members. I think establishing roles gave everyone some responsibility and was beneficial to get the conversation going. As the discussion progressed and everyone felt comfortable within the group, these roles slowly disappeared. I was eager to see all the different perspectives on the story and if we had similar or different reactions to the story. This in-depth discussion as we searched for the deeper meaning of the story also brought closure as we came to some conclusions and discussed further activities to do with students to extend their experience or other ways to respond to the literature.
Although I experienced children’s innate want to respond to literature before, I never truly understood the benefits children can gain once given the opportunity. “They develop a better understanding of what they experienced by organizing and deepening their feelings and thoughts on the experience” as I did throughout this experience. Literature circles can be used with students as a valuable way to respond to literature and find a deeper meaning and express their reactions to the story.