“Teacher experts are teachers who have continued teaching in a P–12 classroom while also serving the field and growing their educational knowledge and pedagogy continually throughout their long careers.”
—From the NCTE position statement, Recognizing Teacher Experts and Their Paths to ExpertiseNCTE expresses, through rich policy statements and other published works, the vital nature of professional learning for literacy educators and the essential role of reading as part of our daily and professional lives. The following guidance offers insight and strong practice on forming book groups among literacy educators.
“The most successful aspect has been the opportunity to interact with other teachers, to hear different perspectives, and to function more as a group of learners than teachers.”
–Comment from a book group participant
What Are Book Groups?
Book groups are gatherings of readers who aspire to remain lifelong learners. Educators who read and enjoy quality fiction and non-fiction contribute with confidence to the rich, literate environment of classrooms. Educators as Readers Book Groups consist of participants who
- meet on a regular basis to read and discuss the same literature.
- select multiple age-appropriate books for students, challenge-level books for self, and professional books to read and discuss throughout the year.
- select current texts that reflect diverse perspectives and culturally relevant pedagogy.
Why Should Educators Form Book Groups?
- Enhance teaching and learning (Burbank & Kauchak, 2010).
- Explore the educator’s own literacy (Burbank & Kauchak, 2010).
- Experience reauthentication of the pleasure of reading while engaging in metacognitive awareness of reading processes and experiences (Goldberg & Pesko, 2000).
- Transfer authentic personal experiences with reading, writing, and conversation to classroom instruction.
- Engage in collaborative reading experiences that are “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” (Bishop, 1990).
- Participate in deep, meaningful, recurring conversations that may lead to paradigm shifts.
- Actively experience professional development while engaging in sustained, personal interactions with reading.
- Share quality literature with colleagues.
- Model lifelong reading pleasure.
- Gain experience and confidence with book discussion.
- Reflect upon and learn from personal experience with books, including expanding their cultural knowledge base.
- Interrogate the canonical literature used by their home school or college departments.
- Push back against curriculum that is mostly canonical; advocate intentionally for diverse literature that has been studied by the group.
- Connect in person or virtually to alleviate teacher isolation.
- Consider diverse perspectives of other educators to help teachers become culturally responsive (Will & Najarro, 2018) and antiracist (Kendi, 2019) educators.
Guidelines to Form Face-to-Face Book Groups
- Organize a small group (suggested 4–10) of readers who are committed to reading and discussing the selected text.
- Allow for rotation of membership from book to book to enable fresh perspectives, prevent stagnation, and avoid developing groupthink (Spencer, 2016). Consider inviting stakeholders such as parents, community members, administrators, or school board members to participate (Robb, 2018).
- Establish and publish regular meeting times throughout the year.
- Consider rotating meeting places so different members can experience hosting. If meeting at schools, consider meeting in different classrooms. If on college campus, consider meeting rooms in different buildings on campus.
- Plan ahead and invite participants to rotate as group leaders or discussion facilitators.
- Set up a schedule with guidelines for reading assignments (DeWitt, DeBruler, Kwon, & Gerlach, 2018) and communicate goals of each session. (i.e., pedagogical, personal, or classroom text).
- Establish group norms for respectful conversation (UFT, 2019).
- Invite group members to suggest titles.
- Consider reading material that expands the thinking and experience of educators.
- Include books by diverse authors and those who write about the diverse racial, social, gender, and cultural populations in our nation.
- Study current book review sources.
- Check recommended reading lists found in Language Arts, Voices from the Middle, English Journal, The ALAN Review, along with recommendations from the American Library Association and We Need Diverse Books (diversebooks.org).
Guidelines to Form Virtual Book Groups
In addition to the above guidelines,
- Determine the virtual meeting platform that will work best for your group—e.g. Skype, Google Group, Twitter chat, ZOOM, etc.
- Schedule a tech training session to review communication options available on the chosen virtual platform.
- Arrange for facilitators to share/post discussion questions ahead of time (Robb, 2018; UFT, 2019).
- Consider rotating virtual hosts/facilitators each month.
How to Fund Book Groups
Seek funding for reading materials. Consider:
- local school districts or district-based grant foundations
- parent-teacher organizations
- local Writing Project sites or local Reading Council sites
- local service organizations, like Lions, Rotary, and Optimist Clubs, who often have educational contributions in their budgets
- local affiliates of the National Council of Teachers of English
Explore possible partnerships with local businesses and industries; prepare a simple grant proposal before talking to or meeting with them. If outside funding is not available, use books currently in schools or public libraries. In any event, don’t let financial concerns stop you from reading widely and well.
Tips for Book Group Facilitators
- Welcome and encourage lively, interesting discussions.
- Set and discuss ground rules that promote respectful engagement.
- Establish a relaxed, positive environment. This is a literacy adventure which is meant to be fun and rewarding on a personal as well as professional level.
- Encourage authentic and meaningful conversation by all members, using a variety of discussion strategies, including partner discussions, writing prompts, and sharing quotations from the text.
- Read and reread the book to be discussed.
- Make written notes that include four to five open-ended discussion questions; use these only as necessary to restart conversation or to steer the conversation back to the book.
- Send open-ended discussion questions to members ahead of time.
- Value personal experiences and multiple interpretations growing out of those experiences.
- Be on the lookout for microaggressions and call attention to them if and when they occur.
- Occasionally, invite members to bring information about the author, another book by the same author, or reviews about the book.
- Give grace to group members who did not finish or who abandoned the reading.
- Allot time to talk about teaching techniques and student connections.
- Encourage participants to participate in ongoing professional conversations around texts and teaching strategies. Related examples of NCTE professional learning sessions are archived for members at https://ncte.org/ncte-video-library/.
- Be a good listener; let conversation develop. Monitor and adjust based on the needs of the group.
- Don’t be afraid of silences, discomforts, and/or asking tough questions.
- Sit back and enjoy the experience.
Comments from Book Group Participants:
“We read the books, came together informally before school once a month, and shared/discussed what we’d read. In so doing, not only was our collective understanding enhanced, but we also came to know one another better as individuals. All in all, the sessions have been a very positive experience. The only ‘negative’ was that often we ran out of time before we’d said all we wanted to say.”
“This group has helped its members find a forum where all thoughts and opinions were welcomed and respected. It also helped the participants come to know each other better. These new relationships have carried over into other areas of the educational program.”
“I really found I could read for enjoyment during the school year. It was great!”
“The group has been a great means of getting new books into the hands of teachers and students.”
“I am a teacher of younger students, but I particularly enjoyed reading literature aimed at older children and meeting with upper-grade teachers. This experience gave me a broader perspective of the type of reading my students will encounter later.”
Research Supporting This Resolution
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6 (3).
Burbank, M. D., & Kauchak, D. (2010). Book clubs as professional development opportunities for preservice teacher candidates and practicing teachers: An exploratory study. The new educator, 6, 56–73. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ893563.pdf.
DeWitt, J., DeBruler, K., Kwon, J. B., & Gerlach, J. (2018). Engaging teachers in professional development through online book studies. Michigan Virtual University. https://www.mvlri.org/research/publications/engaging-teachers-in-professional-development-through-online-book-studies/.
Goldberg, S.M., & Presko, E. (2000, May). The teacher book club. Educational leadership, 57 (8), 39–41.
Kendi, I.X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One world.
Robb, E. (2018, March 19). Book studies: Home-grown professional development. EDU: Scholastic’s blog about education and learning. http://edublog.scholastic.com/post/book-studies-home-grown-professional-development#.
Spencer, J. (2016, June 27). Brainstorming is broken: Here’s how you can fix it. https://spencerauthor.com/a-different-approach-to-brainstorming/.
United Federation of Teachers. (2019). Professional book study. https://www.uft.org/teaching/professional-development/school-based-pd/professional-book-study.
Will, M. & Najarro, I. (2022, April 18). What is culturally responsive teaching? Education week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/culturally-responsive-teaching-culturally-responsive-pedagogy/2022/04.
This document was composed by the following working committee:
- Pauline Skowron Schmidt, West Chester University, PA
- Susan Barber, Grady High School, Atlanta, GA
- Jen Greene, Penn Wood Elementary School, West Chester, PA
- Anna J. Small Roseboro, NBCT, Grand Rapids, MI
- Kelly Virgin, Kennett High School, Kennett Square, PA