Loved That Lesson! Balancing Power in Book Clubs

It's time for another "Loved That Lesson" linky...I'd sure love to get more bloggers linking up sharing their great teaching ideas!  Spread the news!  It's still planned for the second Sunday of each month...just plain ol' good teaching and learning!

Today I thought I'd do a piggyback off my post the other day where I shared about how I had my students create their own reading book club schedules...and our clubs have started!  Even though we have done other book clubs this year, I am really pushing my students to run these themselves.  I don't even sit with the group...I sit 4-5 feet away and don't even act like I'm listening.  I really want to serve more as a coach than a teacher.

In order to do this, we really have to work on our group dynamics.  We are getting really good at piggybacking off each other and other great "talk moves", but I am still noticing that I have a handful of students who are still not actively engaged in their groups--and a few who really take charge and maybe...just MAYBE...monopolize the conversation a little bit.  So what was my lesson for each book group on Thursday?
 When I saw the first group struggling a little bit, I sat there watching two students take charge and two others sit relatively silent.  I saw one of them TRYING to get a word in...but just couldn't find an opening.  I quietly went over to my "closet of doom" and foraged.  I found a piece of elastic and tied it in a circle.  I asked the group to hold on to it.
 I then told them I wanted them to think about how much they participated in the group that day...and to pull to match--if they participated a lot, to pull hard if they participated a lot and to pull gently if they didn't participate much at all.
 I snapped this picture as they did it...what do you notice?  That's right!  My two "ends" pulled so hard (they were VERY proud of how much they participated!).  Check out the white knuckles on the far right--she almost pulled the team off the floor!  I told them that I agreed with their assessment...but then I asked the two "light pullers" how they felt.  It was the perfect opportunity for them to tell their teammates that it was hard to get a word in!  I reminded them that participation in a group needs to be balanced between sharing ideas, listening to others, and ENCOURAGING others to participate, especially if they are shy or less confident.  We brainstormed some ideas...

"Caty--what do YOU think about that?"
"Jacob, which character do YOU think should...."
"Marta, do you have a prediction to share?"

I then asked the group to try to balance the power--that some of them needed to pull a little harder and some needed to let go a little bit.  It was even tricky with the elastic!  My "pullers" just didn't want to give in!  We had a great discussion...and set "balanced power" as their main book club goal.

I met with another group and watched a FANTASTIC discussion--with 4 of the 5 members.  When the discussion was over, I poured a pile of counters in the middle of the group.  I asked them to take a counter for every time they thought they participated in the discussion.  It was fascinating...they struggled at first, until I reassured them that an estimate was just fine.  When they were done, We looked at their piles--and there were 4 even piles and one student sat with nothing in front of her.  Like the other group, we talked about balancing power--and how it is the responsibility of everyone in the group to be an active participant.  I acknowledged that the student who didn't participate is extremely shy...and the other group members agreed.  We worked together to come up with a plan to help her--and she was willing to try the suggestions.  My students are so sweet--they all agreed that it is just as much their responsibility to include her as it is hers to jump in. I hope that each discussion gets a little easier for her!  I think the hands on representation of "group power" really made it "real" for the students--and gives us something to refer back to over the next weeks.
I can't wait to see how their discussions improve over the next weeks...and I just love being on the outside observing!  Thanks so much for stopping by--and hopefully we'll get some other posts linked up over the next week so keep checking back!


  1. I love, love, love the elastic idea! Until I read the counter idea which was even better!! Thanks for sharing. Question...and forgive me if I missed the post...but do your groups pick their own books to read or do you? Are they all the same class wide? I'd love a list of your favorites.

  2. We are in book clubs too and I see this SAME problem! In their anonymous feedback slips they did this past week, some of them wrote down students who took over the conversation and didn't allow for equal participation, while the student who they were complaining about said that everything was going great! She didn't notice the discrepancy. This visual for the elastic will be super helpful! Thank you!!

  3. Great post! I love the taking a counter idea. Sounds like something that should be done in collaboration with teachers, too! When I taught older kids I liked to put all the quiet kids in one group, and all the loud opinionated kids in another group (once in a while). I thought the kids really benefited from that. Great teacher entertainment!
    Not very fancy in 1st

  4. I used your counter idea today as I had one dominating force that interrupted everyone and 2-3 that just sat. We've done book clubs all year that are student led but the rowdiness is setting in and all is being forgotten. When I first asked the kids to grab counters that represented their participation, they all had similar amounts. We talked about how they weren't "in trouble" but we were using this as a tool to help everyone. They agreed that the assessments weren't true reflections but didn't want to "call each other out"--God love 'me. They asked if it could be "out of 10" so they could better judge! It was a bit better the second go-round. My dominating force still didn't acknowledge her domineering ways but even as I spoke, she fiddles with the counters. We talked about how active listening (& not interrupting) is just as big a part of participation in a book club as answering every question. The students also brainstormed how they could pull the others into the group more. It was an AMAZING extension to our group meeting....definitely a day you want an observation (which of course everyone else in my hallway had)! THANK YOU for always sharing such great ideas!

  5. I love both of the ideas you mentioned. Here's something I did recently: During book clubs this past April, I had a student who constantly interrupted because he was so enthusiastic. His comments were interesting, but he dominated the conversation. So I came up with a plan for the next meeting. Privately, I spoke with this student about the insightful comments he had about the novel, and what a great example he was for the other students in his groups, but I let him know that he needed to balance his verbal participation to allow others their say. I told him that I was going to place five small Post-It notes on his desk at the beginning of the meeting. Each Post-It represented an opportunity for him to add information to the conversation. When he wanted to add something, he had to hand the post it to another group member or adult participant. This allowed him to monitor his contributions and let other students have a chance to participate. It also let the other book club members know that they couldn't rely on this particular student for the majority of discussion. It worked! The next meeting later that week, we did the post it routine again. The young man was much more aware of his participation. He just needed to be made aware of his dominance and how it affected others in the group. After that, the post its stayed in my desk drawer.