Making Book Study Count - A Guide for Teachers

In schools, we promote reading in all we do. Not only do we teach reading, but as educators, we are readers ourselves. We are clamoring to find the latest book on the latest trend or strategy. Often times when we come across that book, we want to read it with someone so that we can compare notes and share takeaways. In many schools, we use the book study as a general approach to reading a text together in order to share, learn and grow.

This collective approach to learning is profound, as our colleagues may find something within that book that we may have overlooked. The discussions are rich as we share the practicality of what we are reading.

However, I have often found one glitch in our staff book studies. A small group of people or even one individual chooses one book for everyone to read. We become the epitome of the whole group lesson, the “spray and pray” method where every staff member receives the same information on the same topic; we are not modeling what we preach in differentiation.

We would expect teachers to differentiate reading for their students, pulling together literature circles with different texts and different levels. Yet, as a staff, we are not doing this.

And so the idea of the differentiated book study has come to be.

I first gave this a whirl with a summer book study, completely voluntary to any elementary staff member who wanted to join in. I facilitated three book studies that summer, but I chose the books, put them out there and let anyone who wanted to join in the conversation.

However, this was not enough for me. I wanted book studies during the school year, concepts we can readily put into practice immediately, with every teacher involved.

This differentiated book study idea did not come from me. I learned about it from my PLN and more importantly, the intricacies of the book study were shared by one my dear PLN friends, Paul Erickson, an elementary principal in Kansas. This entails great planning, but also flexibility. Now, we are on an exciting new adventure together, learning as we go.

How It Began

I first posed this idea to my leadership team. What if we could do a book study, where we formed small groups of teachers around different books, having multiple book studies going on at the same time based on interest, then sharing these books with the whole group in the end?

They loved the idea! We quickly pulled together some big topics, then scavenged to find relevant books around those topics. I piled those books in the middle of the table, with the leadership team thumbing through each one, making a pile of “not right now”, “maybe”, and “this book looks good”. We narrowed a pile of 30 books down to 9 books. From there, the staff needed to choose.

A week before our big “kick-off”, I put those books in the teacher’s lounge, with a few simple instructions and a half sheet of paper with the book list. Here is what I sent to my staff:

“We are going to be starting a new, exciting adventure for our school! We all love learning, knowing that our learning will translate into our students’ learning. One of the ways we learn is through reading. But, it just isn’t the same unless we are reading together, sharing our key takeaways.

The trouble with book studies is that often there are few choices and it may not be what particular people need or even want to learn about.

So, we are starting a differentiated book study! You choose your book and small groups will form from there. That small group will read the book together, sharing their learning among themselves, as well as with the larger group. We all win!

Step 1: We need to choose books. I will be putting the narrowed book choices in the teacher’s lounge for you to peruse. These books were narrowed by our leadership team from a larger stack of books. Look over the books and figure out your top 3 choices.

There will be a stack of choice slips next to the books in the teacher’s lounge. Every teacher needs to complete one of these slips by the end of next Tuesday. Please put your slip in the basket on the table next to the books.

Next Wednesday during collaboration, we will get into our small book study groups, discussing expectations and timelines for reading and sharing.”

The staff dove into the books, talking, getting excited as they looked through the pile together. Each teacher determined his/her top three book choices, placing their choice slip in the basket. Conversation buzzed and excitement was sparked. I was easily able to form small groups who wanted to read the same book. We have five books in our differentiated book study.

The Introduction

At the staff meeting, I led the introduction of our new book study concept. Our goal through this book study is to learn collaboratively, extending ideas we can take into the classroom as well as ideas we can implement as a school. We are learning through choice and learning together. In our first meeting, we reviewed our group norms and the reason for our book study, after which we dug into the details of the book study itself, which brings me to today, as we get started with our reading.

During this first book study meeting, each book study group had three things to discuss:

  • Why we want to read a particular book
  • When we will read it
  • How we will share our knowledge

This book study timeline will be the second semester of our school year, so each group used this time to determine their “reading assignments” based on the book group they are in. Each group has the flexibility to determine when and how they will meet as well. I have set aside one collaboration meeting per month for small group and whole group sharing, but each book study group can meet in between those times face-to-face or virtually. A couple groups have chosen to share ideas via Google Docs or Google Classroom.

Even more than this, each group will be determining how they would like to share. Sharing includes:

  • What did we learn?
  • Why is this important to us?
  • How might this impact our staff?
  • How might this impact our school and students?

Sharing may come in the form of a presentation to the rest of the staff, or providing some kind of product that they created from their learning, such as a lesson idea. While the bulk of our sharing with the entire staff will happen at the end of our book study, I am leaving it open to have brief “book teases” as we come together throughout our second semester of school, giving hints of what we are learning through our reading, peaking interest in our books to others.

Our book study has just started, but we are already anticipating our learning and growth together. The key to our success will be our differentiated approach, empowering each staff member to learn and grow through a book that interests them, going at a pace that works for them and their group and sharing with the whole in their own way. We are truly modeling what we want the learning to look like in our classrooms!


What do you think of this approach to book study? What kind of approach do you take or do you have any suggestions for Amy and other readers? Let us know in the comments.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, ginnerobot.

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