Question: What do Mark Zukerberg, Oprah Winfrey and the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) have in common?

By Professor Carol Rolheiser, Director, CTSI

Answer: All have established book clubs; mind you, not your average book clubs!

All of us are pretty familiar with Oprah Winfrey’s launching of her book club that was active between 1996 and 2011. Through this club she not only propelled many authors works to bestseller lists, she also succeeded in encouraging large numbers of people to read more literature. Her online version, Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, was launched in 2012 and uses social media to once again engage people in discussing books. In a January 6, 2015 Globe and Mail article by their Book Editor Mark Medley, entitled “Mark Zukerberg on books: Oprah II?”, he noted that Mr. Zukerberg took to his Facebook page early in January 2015 to announce that he will read a new book every other week!  As a result, Facebook has already created a hub, “A Year of Books”, which already has over 253, 000 Likes.

While CTSI cannot boast the reach of Oprah’s or Zukerberg’s book clubs, we are proud of having just completed our second offering of CTSI Page Turners, a four-session book club series.

Book clubs are becoming increasingly popular not only for recreational reading, but also in K-12 and higher education sectors to support educational development (Kooy, 2009), and as a means for teachers “tuning into practice”. Online, hybrid and face-to-face clubs are being initiated in colleges and universities for instructors as a means of enhancing community, reflecting on practice, and inspiring cross-disciplinary discussions and networks.

The model our CTSI team developed is based on the concept of student literature circles (Daniels, 2002; Lin, 2002). While participants in our book club are in charge of their own learning, they are supported by a facilitator who helps establish group norms, and sets the stage to maximize individual accountability and the development of positive interdependence within the group.

Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

CTSI Book Club Team - Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

Some of the goals of the CTSI Page Turners include: supporting pedagogical professional development through the examination of educational ideas; reflection on practice; exploration of innovation in teaching; and, discussion of aspirations for student learning.  The structure used for the CTSI book club includes evidence-based design features, such as: 1) the optimal number of participants (e.g., Brabham & Villaume, 2000, suggest that 4-8 participants is an ideal number for a literature circle); 2) determining group norms (e.g., participation and interaction to maximize learning together); 3) building inclusion (e.g., through community-building activities that provide context for each participant’s goals and motivation); and 4) establishing the roles and responsibilities of both participants and facilitator.

The first two offerings of CTSI Page Turners series focused on the book, Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley (2010). The four 2-hour sessions provided an opportunity to explore a conceptual framework for understanding student engagement, while also examining tips and strategies for influencing motivation, promoting active learning, building community, ensuring students are appropriately challenged and promoting holistic learning. As well, instructors analyzed practical student engagement techniques focused on learning outcomes that included knowledge and skills, learner attitudes, values, and self-awareness. While the culminating activity involved each instructor participant sharing a concrete plan for “putting print into practice” in their next course, most of the participants began implementing ideas right away in the courses they were currently teaching!

Book Club Participant Poster

Book Club Participant Poster

Each of the four book club sessions was facilitated through the use of text protocols and other reading/discussion formats (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001; Lipton & Wellman, 2003). The value of the protocols was expressed often by participants, in terms of how such protocols supported their exploration of the book being studied, but also their use and adaptation of these protocols with their own students. For example, one of the protocols was entitled “The 4 A’s” (adapted from Judith Gray, 2005, National School Reform Faculty, http://www.nsrfharmony.org.)  As participants pre-read the selected chapter they chose an excerpt related to each of the following four A’s, and the subsequent book club session focused on discussing these with their colleagues:

  1. What Assumptions does the author of the text hold?
  2. What do you Agree with in the text?
  3. What parts do you want to Argue with in the text?
  4. What parts of the text do you want to Aspire to?

In the final assessment of the book club one of the participants commented specifically on the value of experiencing the protocols, stating, “I really enjoyed the use of protocols to guide the sessions. It was great to see how these would work in practice.”

Another one of our book club members wrote, “I keep coming back [to CTSI] because I am finding that teaching is a process that requires constant reflection and consideration of the back and forth between talking about how to teach and implementing teaching ideas”.  CTSI Page Turners has been an exciting way to encourage the exploration of teaching research and practical ideas, to reflect on one’s practice, and to work with colleagues in other departments to try out new practices. We are looking forward to our next book club series and the examination of another book –stay tuned to our CTSI newsletter for the announcement of our next Page Turners series.

If you would like to set up your own instructor book club in your department or unit, please feel free to contact us and request a consultation to support you in getting this launched.

Happy reading!

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian, U of T Libraries

 

References:

Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bennett, B. & Rolheiser, C. (2001).  Beyond Monet: The artful science of instructional integration.  Toronto, ON: Bookation.

Brabham, E.G., & Villaume, S.K. (2000). Questions and answers: Continuing conversations about literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 54(3), 278-280.

Daniels, H. (2002). Literature circles: Voice and choice in book clubs and reading groups (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Lin, C-H. (2002). Literature circles. Eric Digest.
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Lipton, L. & Wellman, B. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships (2nd Ed). Sherman, CT: Mira Via.

Kooy, M. (2009). Collaborations and conversations in communities of learning: Professional development that matters. In C.C. Craig (Ed.),  The Association of Teacher Educators’ Teacher Education Yearbook XVII: Teacher Learning in Small Group Settings (pp. 5-22). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Publication/Rowan & Littlefield.

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