Last year during the Advanced Institute, we experimented with "deadline drafts." I'm posting my and Rebecca Garrett's below. It's a little different because we were reporting on a teacher research study, but I thought it might help you get an idea of how we organized ours. Incidentally, it actually was a "demo" in that Rebecca, Cameron, and I presented a slice or this research last year at the conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Hope this helps!
Colorado State University
Fort Collins High School
How can we use literature to help students engage in
civil discourse on culturally sensitive topics during book clubs?
How We Became Interested in This Topic
About three years ago, we began working with sophomore Pre-AP students in Rebecca Garrett’s World Literature class. We define book clubs as “small groups of readers that meet on a regular basis to systematically discuss books (or other texts) of the members’ choice” (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006, p. 1). Originally, we convened book clubs in Rebecca’s classroom because we believed in them as authentic contexts for reading. Both of us liked that they allowed students to exercise choice in what books they wanted to read and how they would interpret them. We liked book clubs for the curricular flexibility they provided for teaching sound response strategies, and we knew that students, like readers outside of school, typically enjoyed the social aspects of book clubs. Most of all, though, we appreciated book clubs’ potential for helping students become more independent and able readers of complex literature.
Each semester, though, when we determined which books to use, we focused increasingly on those with culturally sensitive topics because these books seemed more likely to prompt the deeply engaged conversations we were hoping for, and, for lack of a better way of putting it, they really seemed to “matter” to the kids beyond school. During discussions of these books, students would lean forward as they spoke and cock their ears toward the speaker in order to hear better. What was going on in these instances? Over the years, we’ve heard students discussing some of the most difficult issues of our times calmly, intently, with maturity far beyond their years. Exactly how were these kids able to do what many adults in our culture apparently cannot, that is, to engage in civil discourse about such culturally sensitive topics as race, class, religion, and war, especially among those with whom they may disagree? We are conducting this research to find out.
What Our Research Looks Like
The contexts for our research on civil discourse book clubs have been Rebecca’s pre-AP literature classrooms. Cindy is also conducting similar research in sixth-grade classrooms in a rural school and mixed-grade English classes in a diverse alternative high school. In each of these contexts, the research has looked an awful lot like regular teaching. That is, while we have discussed our research interests with students throughout the book club units, we’ve integrated it with the regular curriculum. In fact, Rebecca has conducted book clubs in her regular classes just as we are conducting them in the classes where we’re collecting data.
Furthermore, the much of the data we’ve collected consists of the same student work that Rebecca would collect in the normal course of teaching: students’ free-writes, their written responses to the reading, the book club discussion records each group keeps, and their final group projects. As we’ve browsed the room while students are participating in their book clubs, we’ve also written “fieldnotes” recording what we observed. Finally, we’ve taken notes during occasional whole-class discussions and final presentations.
We’ve analyzed the data we’ve collected so far through a process called “open coding.” During open coding, we’ve read the data numerous times with our research questions in mind in order to notice patterns that are emerging. We then developed code names for these patterns. Our next step in data analysis will be “focused coding,” where we will re-read the data and code it according to the patterns that emerged in the first round of open coding. Our inquiry group, consisting of ourselves, and other CSUWP teachers Renee Esposito, and Natalie Barnes (see also their research reports in this volume), has been an important sounding board during the entire research process.
What We’re Learning through Our Research
1. First and foremost, we have discovered that, “Yes, kids can really do this!” as our friend Louann Reid recently put it when Cindy was talking with her about this work. Furthermore, unlike more conventional dialectic models of communication familiar in our culture (e.g., debate, op-ed columns, etc.), civil discourse book clubs are dialogic. In other words, they are geared toward connection and negotiation as opposed to argument, conversation as opposed to debate, and empathy for others’ perspectives rather than conquest.
2. Book clubs allow students to use literacy practices for civic consequences—that is, to surf, read, write, talk, listen, draw—in order to engage in civil discourse about culturally sensitive issues. Civil discourse book clubs are rooted in social justice principles, but unlike much of the other work done in this area, they place within the classroom and are thus immediately consequential.
3. Collaborative conversation is central to civil discourse because “all of us know more than any one of us.” The literacy tools students use in civil discourse book clubs, like Dailies, discussion records, and visual interpretations of literature make this collaboration visible and function as springboards into new understanding.
4. Engaging in civil discourse about culturally sensitive topics is difficult and doesn’t occur by magic, which may be why we see so little of it happening among adults. Rather, a process we call “perpetual scaffolding” is essential for this kind of work to take place. Scaffolding is usually thought of as instructional support teachers provide for students in the beginning stages of a learning process, but we have discovered that students need varying kinds of graduated support throughout civil discourse book clubs. Therefore we provide more explicit scaffolding in early stages of book clubs through the project introduction, gradual application of response strategies, norming, and “meta-talk” (i.e., “talk about the talk” students have been engaging in thus far. As book clubs progress, we gradually embed more implicit scaffolding through tools like sticky notes bookmarks, individual responses called “Dailies,” prompts on discussion records, drop-in visits during book clubs, and our and peers’ questions during book club presentations.
5. The multimodal tools students use throughout book clubs allow them to synthesize complex ideas, develop sophisticated interpretations of book club texts, and reflect on their civil discourse strategies they are learning. What do we mean by “multimodal tools”? We ask students to learn and demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways (or modes), such as internet research, reading, writing, listening, discussion, and visual interpretation. Furthermore, as Rebecca and I discovered when creating a visual map of our preliminary findings to share with the students, projects requiring multimodal responses challenge one to make sense of what one knows in different ways than writing alone.
How This Research Continues To Be Important in Our (and Others’) Classrooms
After several rounds of civil discourse book clubs in Rebecca’s classrooms, we feel as if we have the general drill down, but we learn something new with every group of students. As a result, we continue to refine the process and try out new strategies and approaches to help students be successful with the difficult process of engaging in civil discourse. We believe this is important because ours is a cultural moment dominated by trash-talking celebrities and professional athletes, politically partisan sound bites, spin-doctored news, and “reality” television shows that make it appear “difficult to deal, except in a ridiculing way, with issues of any complexity” (Gardner, 1995, p. 60). Our world may not be more fraught with personal, social, and political conflict than at any other time in history. The erosion of general civility and the popular tendency toward polarization, however, make these conflicts more emotionally charged and less easily negotiated than ever before.
We believe that many in our culture are longing to figure out a way to bore through the complexity of very difficult issues without clamming up or coming to blows. Yet when young people look to adults, they see few models for communicating in ways that aren’t agenda-driven. If we don’t do something to intervene, the result may be a new generation of chair-flinging, shout-‘em-down bullies who actually see verbal, emotional, and physical violence as viable alternatives for resolving conflict once and for all.
Our teacher research on civil discourse book clubs, however, has convinced us that English teachers can intervene by teaching students how to exercise literacy as a means toward socially just ends. By reading and discussing literature focused on culturally sensitive issues in book clubs, students can learn to grapple with questions such as these Rebecca’s students posed: “Is peace possible? What does it mean to make a difference? If you can’t change big things in our world, do small changes matter?” They can do so even when we are not in charge of the conversations. And in the service of learning to listen and respond empathically, our students can become more critical and strategic readers, writers, and thinkers in the process.
Dyson, A.H., and Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to language and literacy research. New York: Teachers College Press. This book describes useful methods for conducting case study research, including how to design a study and collect and analyze data.
Friedrich, L., Tateishi, C., Malarkey, T., Simons, E.R., & Williams, M., Eds. (2006). Working toward equity: Resources and writings from the Teacher Research Collaborative. This book is the result of a three-year collaboration among educators who believe that the power of inquiry can be focused on vital educational goals such as equity. Included are teacher research studies, chapters on teacher inquiry groups, an annotated bibliography on teacher research, and multiple tools for individual teacher researchers as well as protocols for teacher research groups.
Maclean, M., & Mohr, M. (1999). Teacher researchers at work. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project. This book might be considered the teacher researcher’s bible. Maclean and Mohr provide suggestions for framing teacher research questions, conducting secondary research, collecting and analyzing data, and sharing teacher research with wider audiences. In addition to discussing the ethics of teacher research, they also provide multiple examples of teacher studies conducted by teachers across grade levels and disciplines.
O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2006). The book club companion: Fostering strategic readers in the secondary classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. In this book, Cindy provides a step-by-step process for implementing book clubs with secondary students. She reviews recent research on adolescent literacy, describes her own teaching experiences with book clubs, and provides curriculum planning guidelines, teacher research tools, response strategies, book lists, scoring guides, and ideas for final projects. Reproducible masters and handouts are included in the book’s Appendices.
We welcome your inquiries about our teacher research on civil discourse book clubs and invite you to e-mail us at the following addresses:
Cindy - firstname.lastname@example.org