Navigating Book Clubs: Guidelines, Discussion Strategies, and Evaluation

(By: Janine Certo)

Do you participate in a book club? Janine and some of her colleagues meet every month to discuss different books or texts that they choose---like novels, nonfiction texts, poetry, film, and, yes, even academic articles. We enjoy the challenge and fellowship around text (and often over good food). So, you’ll have to bring your own food to your computer, but you will have the opportunity to participate in an online book club (with elevated, text-centered discussion) in this course. You will not “meet” at the same time for book club, but will rather have the club in an asynchronous fashion. That is, we’ll give a basic time frame in which you should read for, post to and respond in book club. I’ll be grouping you in small book clubs based on your interests and text selections (It’s also much less overwhelming for you to read the posts of 6 or 7 students instead of 35) Our TE 848 Book Clubs are designed for us to write about what we read and experience and share those learnings with each other. This exercise prepares you to express original opinions supported by research from texts as well as your own personal experience. A well-crafted paper should present new ideas which are arrived at through synthesizing research and experience. In your first book club, you’ll discuss several readings that will orient you to the field of writing and teaching writing. The next three book club “meetings” in the course will primarily be around the texts you selected, though a few other articles will inform your discussions, too.
During the online sessions, we don’t have face to face contact that helps us relate to one another professionally; therefore, it is worth ironing out some basic understandings. . .

1. What we want to learn in our book clubs
  • to gain as much insight as possible into the teaching of writing;
  • to absorb, question, and reflect upon real-world applications of what we read and experience;
  • to learn to manage the strengths and pitfalls of online course material;
  • to hone a range of skills that will enhance our professional practice as educators, including self-evaluation, effective communication, and active listening;
  • to work with others to forge an ambitious, active, inclusive and responsible learning community.

2. Book club member's responsibilities:
  • to read the assigned readings well. Even though this is an online course with “new literacies”, we still rely on foundational literacies, such as sitting down on a comfortable couch or favorite chair to read. I suggest printing the articles and reading them in the way you read, study and learn best. Perhaps this means highlighting key points in the readings, making notes in the margins, or keeping a reading log or journal of key points, questions and connections. You will not learn in this course nor be able to contribute to your book club if you do not read the assigned readings well.
  • to attempt to build on each member's strengths, and help each other improve as teachers of writing and as writers;
  • to build meaning with others in an online book club setting;
  • to share helpful information with others;
  • to foster insightful, non-threatening discussion of readings, ideas and experiences;
  • to work ahead of deadlines, if possible, while being sensitive to professional and familial responsibilities and varying work hours;
  • to be respectful and use appropriate language in our book clubs;
  • to listen and respond to each other with open and constructive minds;
  • to challenge and question each other, but to also be patient, kind and helpful to all.

3. General guidelines
  • Use professional writing skills in your book clubs. Net acronyms are not appropriate (e.g., OMG, LOL, ROFL). Your postings are a reflection of your professionalism; proofread for spelling and grammar before submitting.
  • Organize your primary post to the book club as you would a paper. The flow of the posting should be clear. Paragraphs should flow into one another. A good way to start a post is to review the readings, any notes you made, underlines or highlights. You will not be able to share everything, but you do want to answer the question first, then share what struck you in the readings. Perhaps you’ll share what resonated with you in the readings, what disturbed you, or parts you found particularly compelling. Be sure to share connections or tensions between the readings or between the readings and your own experiences as a teacher and your experiences as a writer.
  • Label your primary post with a substantive heading in this way: Jane Smith-title of posting. Jane Smith-Module 1 does not convey the content of your posting. Think of the heading as a title for your posting, one that entices a classmate to read your post J.
  • Primary posts must be several paragraphs and no less than 1300 and no more than 1700 words. Integrate module course material, discussions, readings, learning presentations, and your work, teaching, writing or other relevant experiences. Your statements and ideas should be supported by course material. Make sure you check the question for the book club and address every aspect of the question (although you may go beyond it as well). I care very much about your learning in this course, and your initial post in book club is one of the only ways I know you are completing the online components of the course. If your primary post lacks specificity, I will assume you have not completed the course material for that module. The primary post should both encourage your classmates to dig deeper into course topics as well as convince us that you are completing the course material.
  • Response posts in book club should follow any of the strategies listed below rather than an, “I agree!” post. Response posts extend the dialogue. Make sure your response posts do this in a substantive manner. Response posts should address a specific part of another member’s post, offer new ideas and/or integrate course material. Response posts might also extend the conversation with a new question.
  • Evaluate your posting behavior frequently. Do you tend to always post early? Late? Do you overwhelm your classmates with your frequent postings? Are classmates responding to your posts? This evaluation can help you modify your behavior so that you are a valuable member of the learning community.

Whenever someone strays from our guidelines, any one of us should feel free to offer a private and then, if still needed, a public reminder of these ground rules, as well as a clear explanation of how he or she might have transgressed them; in addition, regular reflection on how we're doing and what might need changing.

Communicating well asynchronously is not a natural talent--it is one that must be learned. Frequently conversations seem to stagnate or conclude naturally after a few posts and students feel like there is nothing else to add. The following table contains strategies for posting and responding to such posts and building a deeper discussion.

Working Definition
Extending a previous comment or question by adding further detail.
Increasing clarity by making distinctions
Making visible a convergence in thinking or agreement with another's thoughts
Using a question or statement to suggest an alternative view or position
Suggesting tentative explanations or possible outcomes, most frequently prefaced with "Maybe..." Trying out a line of reasoning.
Requesting Clarification
Seeking clarity about another's statement or question.
Admitting Difficulty
Acknowledging one's own lack of understanding to the rest of the group.
Instituting a new direction in the learning conversation.
Expressing another's thought in slightly different language with the intention of clarifying.
Listing main points, general ideas by way of review
Offering a definition to a word used by another, or supplying a term to fit a definition or description used by another.
Noting Relationship Among Tasks
Making explicit connections between previous conversations, texts and/or learning activities and the ideas of the present conversation.
Activating Background Knowledge
Making explicit connections with prior knowledge and/or experiences outside of the classroom.

I will pose a question(s)/prompt(s) by module that relates to the course readings. You should post your responses on ANGEL under the Content tab, Book Clubs folder. Read the postings of ALL your book club members and respond to at least three of them. Make decisions so that all members receive a response post. You are certainly invited and encouraged to respond to more than two members and to extend the conversation, but you are not required to for the purposes of evaluation. Again, the rule of thumb, though, is to post once, respond thrice. I will not participate in your book clubs as a member, but I will follow your discussions carefully and will add comments and synthesis periodically, in a variety of formats. Your book club participation (each posting and response) will be graded on a holistic 8-point scale.

7-8 = Thoroughly addresses the question. Thoughtful responses evidencing integration and synthesis of course material with outside (such as work, teaching or writing) experiences. The post contains your own ideas and adds new content. Posts and responses are not just a rehashing of what someone else said, or of what the reading said.
5-6 = Satisfactorily address the question. Some thoughtful integration and synthesis of course material with outside experiences. The post contains some of your own ideas and adds some new content. Posts and responses are not just a rehashing of what someone else said, or of what the reading said.
3-4= Poorly addresses the question. Limited thoughtful integration and synthesis of course material with outside experiences. The post does not contain your own ideas nor does it add new content. Posts and responses rehash what someone else said, or what the reading said.
1-2 = Very shallow responses which focus mostly on opinion and teaching experiences; no or limited evidence of course material. The post does not contain your own ideas nor does it add new content. Posts and responses rehash what someone else said, or what the reading said.

NOTE: I anticipate that book club posts and responses will be written clearly, mainly free of errors (we ALL—including the instructor make typographical, spelling and other surface-level errors on occasion), with sentences and words fully formed (not in text speak), and that the response is courteous and respectful to other students. We reserve the right to deduct points from your book club participation grade if these expectations are not reasonably met.

Adapted from:
Certo, J. (2010). Navigating Book Clubs: Guidelines, Discussion Strategies, and Evaluation.
Word Doc file - external image msword.png Book Club Guidelines, Strategies, and Evaluation.doc