Because of the emotional content embedded in much of the Facing History material, it is important to consider how the class will be structured during a Literature Circles unit. Some consideration should be given to a daily warm up and debrief so that teachers and students are aware of how the discussions are progressing and potential pitfalls students may be encountering. Moreover, teachers should consider a structure in which only a few groups are discussing on a given day to provide emotional support to those students if necessary (see attached daily and weekly sequence). Other groups may be engaged in reading or completing their roles in preparation for their discussions. Obviously a structure like this needs to be scaffolded beforehand so that many students are able to work independently without direct teacher support (see attached document on the teacher's role).
Begin by giving students an opportunity to reflect on their role and review the day's chapter(s). This could also be an opportunity for the teacher to lead a mini-lesson on a particular strategy if she/he observes something during the discussions that needs to be addressed. As students prepare for the discussion, some of the questions they might consider include:
- How do I prepare for a discussion?
- What parts of my job would I like to highlight?
- What do I want my group members to "hear?"
- What techniques tend to keep a discussion going?
Allow students to spend five or ten minutes reflecting before moving on to the discussion.
When groups begin discussing, the teacher can rotate among the groups (for more on the teacher role, see attached). The amount of discussion time can be scaffolded. For instance, the first few discussions may be short, with students only talking for ten to fifteen minutes. Setting a timer works well to build discussion skills so that students are eventually having lengthier conversations (up to 30 minutes). While participating in the discussion, students should be encouraged to ask themselves the following questions:
- How do I stay engaged?
- How do I listen actively?
- How can I contribute beyond what my role requires?
- What do I do if I don't feel heard?
- How can discussion deepen my understanding of the text?
After the discussion ends, teachers can bring students together to debrief the conversations. This is a good time for the teacher to gauge how the students might be feeling and to assess whether the conversations have been effective. Some of the questions that can be used to guide the conversation are the following:
- What was good/hard about the discussion?
- What types of questions/ responses kept the discussion going?
- What are two or three critical moments from today's discussion?
- How do I feel about the teacher's presence in the discussion? Too present? Not present enough? Just right?
Using the attached form (see attached self-evaluation), students can do a daily reflection on their role in the discussion. Teachers can collect the self-evaluations during the unit in order to glean an overall snapshot of the students' performance during discussion periods.
Recording and Reflection
Teachers can use a digital recorder, tape recorder or video camera to record a group's discussion. At a later time, the Discussion Director can review the tape and reflect on her/his ability to facilitate the discussion, paying particular attention to whether or not her/his strategies were effective overall. When paired witht he daily self-assessments, these types of reflections can be powerful tools as teachers attempt to grade students at the end of the unit.