Program Update: English with Cilla and Lisa

Happy New Year from the English department!

Book clubs are underway for 7th and 8th grades and it’s a good sign that students are engaged with their texts when other teachers drop by to share that they’re overhearing students discuss English reading outside of class! 

Occasionally I’m asked why we do book clubs rather than strictly all-class novels in English. We do both, because I do think there is value in the entire class reading and engaging with the same text. But research finds, and classroom experience has shown me, that book clubs where students have some choice in their reading increase student engagement. Book groups are a fun way to encourage collaborative learning and give students practice in listening to understand, disagreeing respectfully, and holding each other accountable for their learning. During book clubs, students intentionally practice asking questions that lead to robust conversations. Last week in seventh grade, we discussed the differences between broad and narrow questions and when each type might be useful. For example, asking questions about a text that result in simple, factual answers might be very helpful for making sure everyone is on the same page regarding the basic facts about what they read. But a group that sticks with narrow questions will quickly fizzle out. Students quickly understand that open-ended questions promote exploration, discussion, and divergent thinking. Those kinds of discussions are much more interesting and fun! 

What happens when a group finishes a text before the end of the book club unit? They get to choose what to tackle next. Last week, one group chose to continue on with another title by the same author, while another group is reading and responding to supplemental materials related to their text to deepen their understanding of the novel’s subject matter.

Looking forward to February and Black History Month, the seventh grade will be doing a spoken word poetry unit, which we will prepare for by studying figurative language in song lyrics. Eighth grade will be exploring novels in verse and creating verse narratives of their own. I look forward to a spring full of creative writing and rich questions. 

6th graders revisited stories they wrote last fall and picked one to revise. They expanded their second draft, adding “storytelling moves” they identified in other stories we read. I am reading these personal narratives now. They are wonderful, and wildly varied, describing moments of joy, fear, humor, and wisdom. I hope they share their stories with you!  Soon, they will receive peer and teacher feedback and complete a final draft. In the meantime, we have returned to theThe Westing Game. Students are collaborating in “detective agencies.” They have been gathering evidence about characters, plot, and vocabulary and adding this to a shared slideshow, aka their “case files.” Looking ahead to February and Black History month, students will be exploring poetry by African American authors, and reading the novel, One Crazy Summer.