Historical Fiction Book Clubs

Slicing every day in March!

Today was the first day of our historical fiction book clubs. The kids are reading My Brother Sam is Dead, Out of the Dust, Children of the Fire, and Home of the Brave, in groups of two’s and three’s. 
During our daily reading status check-in, several of my students said they were having trouble understanding their books. Although the four books are at a typical level of maturity and understanding for fifth graders, almost all of my students are second language learners. 
What to do? 
Fortunately, today, there were three other adults in the room besides me – the ESL specialist, the Learning Support Assistant, and my Instructional Assistant. Each of us took a group of students and tried to help them problem solve whatever issues they were confronting. For example, in my group (Home of the Brave), we reviewed strategies for when we get stuck as we are reading. 
Many of my students have fallen into the habit of thinking that if they don’t know the meaning of a word or they can’t pronounce a word, then a book is too challenging for them. Although this may well be the case, it might be for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s because the kids lack background knowledge about a historical event that the book is based on. For example, the group that met with the ESL specialist (My Brother Sam is Dead) spent time talking about the US Civil War and why wars exist at all.
All of the children wrote quick reflections about what happened in their groups on a shared Google Doc so that group members and I could comment or ask questions. It is a useful tool for thinking about next steps.
On Monday each group will need to set an agenda with time limits, and norms for collaboration. If not, the kids may get stuck in the logistics of working in a group and not have time to discuss the book.
I am going to hunt down some information articles about the historical events highlighted in each of the books. I am hoping that by building background knowledge about the topic of a book, students will better understand what they’re reading and be more engaged.
We also need to revisit earlier conversations about multiple story lines in books. Fortunately, we spent time discussing this when we were reading biographies, so I’m hopeful we can make a quick connection to this learning.
Next year, we will need to add more choice in the titles available to our students.
I am inspired by my students’ willingness to plow through (read: faith) and try different strategies when they struggle to make meaning.
I look forward to learning more from my students as we continue on this journey.

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