Friday, April 20, 2007

dragon drawings and other social postures

Rebecca and I observed the first book club of this next round in her class last Monday, and it was fascinating as usual. This conclusion comes after several days of reflection and an afternoon of scintillating conversation on Wednesday (Rebecca is so dang smart).

We didn't necessarily feel that way on Monday post-book club, though. In fact, when we thought about how it went that day, both of us wound up fixating on the loud, at-first-glance off-task group in the corner who're reading a great YA sci-fi book called Feed. This group is comprised of 4 boys and 1 girl, who I'm pretty sure was ruing her book choice by the end of the period. When Rebecca and I thought about how different this group's reaction to the book was from the group's last semester, we were baffled. I mean, this is a great book, one of the best choices of those we're making available in terms of its tailoring to an adolescent audience. It should've been right up this group's alley.

Yet by the end of the book club, my fieldnotes show that these guys (and yes, it was the guys) were throwing pencils around, laughing raucously about their own clever substitution of the word "expletive" for the characters' swearing as they read passages aloud, and riffing on the term "weasel face" for about 5 minutues straight. At one point, the girl in the group, whom I'll call Hope, disgustedly asked, "You didn't read anything, did you?"

And that's what Rebecca and I initially thought as well, especially when we looked at the dragon drawing one of the particularly rambunctious boys had seen fit to draw on the back of the group's book club discussion record (kids summarize the group's discussion on these things). But then we took a closer look, and actually, once you got over the fact that he'd depicted all the main characters as sword-wielding dragons (he wanted to read a book with a sword, he told us the day they chose books), it was pretty darn right on. It recorded one of the most significant scenes that had occurred in the book at that point and did so in some detail, all of it accurate. What were we to make of this?

Later during our Wednesday conversation, Rebecca said she had a hunch that all the kids in the Feed group probably had read, at least based on their past track records with other books and assignments. So our next question became, then why were the boys working so hard to look as if they haven't? I'll cut to the chase here, but the conclusion we eventually arrived at is that while we have been attentive to social interactions within book clubs ever since we started studying them, we've only recently (okay, as recently as Wednesday) begun to articulate the unspoken question that we think is pretty present in adolescent readers' minds in a book club setting:

"How do I want others to read me?"

In some ways, this is an old-ish question. Peg Finders has been thinking about it for quite some time in regard to gender roles middle-school girls display through their literacy practices, and has long had some provocative things to say about intermediate elementary students' social roles in the context of literature circles. However, I don't know of anyone who's currently considering this question in regard to adolescents (dis)engaged in the more free-flowing conversation of book clubs. So that's good news for us. At least in terms of research.

In terms of actually working with kids this coming Monday? Well, that's a different story. So the experiment we'll try then is based on our hunch that kids are reacting privately to books in ways their more public social roles might prohibit them from sharing during book club. At the same time, their social interactions during book club are likely to shape their private readings in turn.

For instance, if you as a private reader noted on a sticky note that a topic was controversial, yet you got to book club and found that no one else felt similarly, would you say something and risk your response as being marked as alien to that of your peers? If your 15-year-old self was having a particularly high self-esteem day, maybe so. But a lot of other times, we're guessing maybe not.

Here's our pedagogical experiment, then, which hopefully won't be too simplistic. Immediately prior to book clubs on Monday, we're going to ask students to do a quickwrite to identify any challenges, controversies, or difficulties they encountered in this section of the book (incidentally, we're also interested in how they're defining these terms). Then we'll observe their book club interactions and ask them to do another quickwrite post-book club to describe what they think now in regard to these challenges. Did their reactions change, stay the same, or something else, and why?

It's sure to be interesting. We'll keep you posted on what we're finding out.


respo said...

Interesting dilemma. I can relate - last year, if I put my high group together with writing circles they would come up with the most wonderful discussions and ideas. Come to think of it, the year before it was the same with lit circles.

This year it is my lower groups that stretch and participate and my higher level becomes stagnant around each other. I have watched them and I feel like they have created a culture of competetion through grades verus loving to learn.

Does this go back to Rebecca's comment on the mother blog about being objective? I don't think research works that way - what do you think?

Natalie said...

Cindy, I think the strategy of doing the quickwrite is a good idea. Students this age are so colored by peer pressure. I think you've hit the nail on the head with this new idea. I'd be very interested in finding the correlation between the before and after perception. I think it would also be very telling to discover which students, if any, are being totally honest about their ideas in both venues. Great idea.

JC Clarke said...

Another great example of teacher research at work, I'll add this to my growing mental list of how research differs from reflection. I've had the same problem, both in book clubs and in whole group discussions, so I'll be looking to see what you find out.

Respo has me thinking now, too. I need to take a look at how their grades (or specifically my difficult reading quizzes) are influencing the classroom culture. Time to gather some more data re: Grades on quizzes and participation in discussions about the novel (which I also give points for).