January 30, 2012

Parents In The Classroom - Oh My!

I have always believed that parent involvement and support are important aspects of teaching and learning. I send home a newsletter every week to communicate what's going on at school. I invite parents in for celebrations, an after school math night, and occasionally a technology sharing event. But this year I wanted to step it up a notch -

What if parents and students were actively learning together? What if they were learning from each other?

Luckily I ran into Parent-Student Book Clubs? Oh yes!, a post by NYC fifth grade teacher Katy Gartside (@katygartside). Her idea - students and their guardians reading a book together and participating together in an at-school book club - really grabbed my imagination. I immediately started tweaking.

Discussing Holes. This book club had
 2 parents and 3 students
My biggest fear was the participation level of the guardians. Would they actually read the book? Would enough of them be able to make it to our book club meeting?

So I settled on a date as quickly as possible, giving families about 6 weeks notice in case they needed to take time off of work. Then, when we were 4 weeks away I sent home a request with these options:

___ I will definitely be able to make it, and I will read the book and talk about it with my student.
___ I might be able to make it, and I will read the book and talk about it with my student.
___ I won't be able to make it, but will still read the book and talk about it with my student.

I was pleasantly surprised when nearly 3/4 of families said they might be able to attend. ** Note - we are a rural Title One school **

In class the students previewed 5 books (Holes, Sounder, The City of Ember, Mixed Up Files, and Maniac Magee). I gave the students 3 minutes to read (starting at page 1) and 2 minutes to rate the book in writing. After this evaluation time they switched books and began again. When assigning book titles I factored in:
* Reading ability
* Group dynamics
* Student interest
* Likelihood of guardian involvement (The goal was at least 1 adult per group)

During their first meeting the groups created a reading plan - choosing stopping places so that they could complete the text in 3 weeks. They copied their reading plan into their homework planners. The groups also came up with a contract - what to do about group members who don't complete the reading each week. Each student signed their contract. These came in handy for 2 students (unfortunately). Somewhat surprisingly, the group-assigned consequences and peer pressure convinced these students to complete the entire book by the deadline.

Each student was given 2 copies of their book - one for themselves and one for their guardian. Parents and students were not required to physically read together (although some did), but they were highly encouraged to read at about the same pace and talk together about the books at home.

On each of the next 2 Mondays, the groups met together for 30 minutes of book discussion. I thought about assigning roles or having the groups do some sort of written documentation. However, I decided that the purpose of book club was to have an authentic reading and discussion experience. How often do adults in book clubs complete worksheets about their books?

Discussing Mixed Up Files. 3 students and
2 guardians at Family Book Club
So we simply brainstormed about 20 discussion topics like:
* Favorite part
* Favorite character
* Least favorite character
* Predictions
* Questions
* Etc...
These were displayed at the front of the room. I circulated as the groups talked... SURPRISE! They actually spent the entire 30 minutes engaged in meaningful authentic conversation about their book!

When the third week came, it was time for guardians to join the book club. We had so many adults in the room that we had to scrounge up extra chairs!

The students and their guardians spent 40 minutes in discussion. No one wanted to stop when time was up! When asked later EVERY single student and EVERY single guardian in attendance said they wanted to do Family Book Club again.

I guess I better find titles for the next Family Book Club!

~ Amanda

Pin It


  1. I absolutely love this idea! What a wonderful way of getting parents involved in what their kids are reading. I can't wait to try this. Thank you!

  2. What a fantastic idea! I really want to try this towards the end of the year. I was thinking that I could have parents collaborate with students throughout the period of the club on a Wallwisher page. I want something that parents aren't going to have to create a login and sign in to. I am curious how this would be received from parents.
    Thank you for getting my wheels spinning!

    1. I love the idea of using a Wallwisher - one per book group. Unfortunately, fewer than half of my student families currently use the internet. But if the parents actually used it to share their thoughts, it would be awesome to incorporate those Wallwisher postings into weekly group discussions. Then, the students could respond on Wallwisher after group discussion. This would create a 2-way conversation.

      We will be doing Family Book Club again in May... I may have to try the Wallwisher idea and see if we can get some parents to use it. Even if they don't, it will be a nice place for student reflections after each group discussion.

      Thanks for the idea!