A Book Club for Teachers

Barbara Bosworth is the Reading Teacher at Haycock Elementary, a bustling school of over 800 students in Falls Church, Virginia.  In addition to her many duties at Haycock, Ms. Bosworth took it upon herself to initiate a Children’s Literature Interest Group at Haycock – in short, a children’s book club for teachers!  How can a reading children’s literature fit into a busy teacher’s schedule?  In a word – beautifully.  Welcome, Barbara, to the Mixed-Up Files!

When and how did the children’s literature interest group come about?

This is our third year for the group.  Several years ago, I attended a Greater Washington Reading Council Conference with author and educator Shelley Harwayne.  She said that,

“Teachers should be reading great children’s literature on Sunday afternoons instead of writing lesson plans.”

That comment resonated in me as I would reflect on what really makes a difference—whether it’s creating lifelong readers, being passionate about a nonfiction curriculum topic, or conferencing with children about their reading or writing. Good literature can be used to teach and inspire in all curriculum areas. So bringing this idea in a very practical way to teachers in my school was always a goal.

How often do you meet?  Who decides what kind of books you read?

We meet monthly during the school year.  Our librarian Sue Sugarbaker and I discuss the genre and plausible books together.   We are always glad for suggestions as well from teachers!

What factors go into book selection?

Our book group includes teachers in grades K-6, so our selections have to be appropriate for all the range of age levels.  Therefore, we frequently have two books going, one for primary and one for upper elementary in the same genre or by the same author.  Another factor is cost.  To keep costs within range, we usually select paperbacks.  This may mean that books are not current best sellers or that sometimes we are unable to discuss a book we would have selected.  We usually have two months when we select from among Virginia Readers’ Choice titles, since we want to encourage our students to read these books.  When it is a particularly busy month, such as the start of the school year, we will choose a quicker read.  As it happened, we have selected one highly popular best seller each year so far.  We read Wimpy Kid two years ago and The Lightning Thief last year, which simply delighted many of our students to see teachers carrying around a book most of them were carrying as well.    Once, we wanted teachers to learn about a nonfiction data base and utilized that for individual selections.  Another time, we had teachers select from a multitude of poetry books and then shared individually during our discussion.

In what ways is your group similar to a book club, and in what ways does your group approach books differently because  of its educational standpoint?

My first intent is that we are more similar to structuring of an informal book club and I want to create that friendly and relaxed feeling at our discussions.  I bring snacks and a welcoming ambiance for our teachers to speak and comment.  However, we also want to discuss instructional implications for various texts, appropriateness for various ages/interests and may want to show teachers either an instructional strategy or even an author web site.  So ultimately the focus is how the book could be utilized in the classroom.

How is the program funded?

We are fortunate at Haycock Elementary that our principal encourages the program and supports it financially.  Support comes from a combination of text book funds as well as PTA donations.  In addition, principals could offer teachers recertification credits.  Fairfax County Public Schools has a “Professional Learning and Training” web site where our children’s literature interest group is listed, and if teachers sign up and attend, they could earn recertification credits.  That is an additional incentive to teachers to participate.

Do all teachers participate?

Not all the teachers participate, however we have representatives from every grade level and nearly every discipline.  Frequently,  I will invite a particular teacher who may be interested in the particular book.  For example, when we read Vinnie and Abraham, last year’s Virginia Readers’ Choice selection, I invited our art teacher to attend to give us insight into aspects of sculpture, as the book was about the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln now in the Capitol.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the teachers?   What has this program meant for their teaching?  Have there been any unexpected results or benefits?

Meg Monfett, a second grade teacher at Haycock said, “It is such a comfortable literature group where staff can come together and are given the chance to speak their mind about wonderfully chosen books… Having a comfortable “book group” helps staff come together to share a commonality they  may not have shared outside the group. “

Donna Bertsch, a third grade teacher at Haycock stated, “The Children’s Literature Interest Group gives me the incentive to read new children’s literature that I would not otherwise make time for.  I really enjoy the discussions because I always appreciate a book more by talking through it, and the group of teachers  has really insightful and interesting observations to share.”

Meredith Reid, a fourth grade teacher at Haycock said, “When we get together, the meeting turns into informal planning because teachers are always sharing creative ideas of what we could do with our students.  We are always looking for ways to enhance novels we read, so this time allows us to explore new ideas, while we enjoy discussions!”

For anyone who is interested in replicating your program, what advice can you offer?

I would say to definitely try it!  The interest created with a shared book, the acknowledgement for children when, as a group, we commit to reading more to support their learning and lifelong reading is invaluable.  Talk with your principal and/or PTA about funding books for teachers, which is a nice touch and also increases their classroom libraries, which is so critical.  If you do start a children’s literature group, write to me and share

Several members of the Children's Literature Interest Group, including Barbara Bosworth (back row, 4th from right).

your book selections and ideas at bybosworth (at) fcps (dot) edu.  I haven’t tried it yet, however would love to Skype with an author or invite an author for a shared discussion.   So, what are we doing on Sunday afternoons?  Well, we might be reading good children’s literature, as Shelley Harwayne suggests.

Wendy Shang’s first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, debuts January 1, 2011.

5 Responses to A Book Club for Teachers

  1. What a fabulous idea. I’m not personally in a book club, but my wife is and they meet each month and she loves it.

    Only a few of the people I work with are big readers. We’ll chat books sometimes but haven’t done anything regularly. Maybe I’ll try to set up an @work book club.

    I do have aspirations to eventually be a teacher…of English. Once that happens, I’d love to try and participate/organize a book club at whatever school I’m at. Sounds like a great idea.

  2. Encouraging is just the right word, Caroline! I LOVE that teachers are reading the books their students are reading. I’m sure great ideas come out of that group.

  3. What a fantastic group! You guys sound like the best of the teachers I had as a kid!

  4. Barbara, this is such a great idea! I hear over and over from teachers how much kids want to hear what their teacher is reading and enjoying! But it’s so hard to keep up with all the new books. A club is a great solution. I’ll definitely be sharing it wherever I go.