Original Thinking and Rambling Thoughts: Book Clubs in AP Lit

In my last post about #DisruptingTexts in AP Lit, I outlined my plan for my students to make their way through some book clubs rather than having the whole class read the same books together for the entire year. We are reading three books together, but students will read five more in book clubs.

I’ve planned for each book club cycle to last four weeks, and we just wrapped up the first book club cycle and will be heading into the next this upcoming week. I’m thrilled with how it’s going. The bookish talk that is happening among students in small groups in my classroom makes me smile. They’re doing some meaningful work.

Along with this has been a heavy emphasis on the importance of having your own ideas. Our essential question for the year is this:

There’s meaning everywhere. How will you find it, how will you make it, and how will you share it? There’s meaning everywhere. How will you find it, how will you make it, and how will you share it?

Here are the five tools I’ve taught my students for them to navigate books together in book clubs:

Read here for a fuller description of each. Today I want to talk about items 2 and 3.

In June, I wrote about step 2:

Students will use sticky notes to record thoughts as they read and leave them on the pages where they thoughts occurred. I’ll use Pryle’s categories for reading responses based on original thoughts students have about the book to guide this work. Hopefully the concept map work will give them some ideas about what they can focus on as they read.

How it actually turned out: At some point in the summer, a colleague alerted me to the updated AP Lit curriculum from the College Board. I wondered how I could weave that into what my students were doing in their book clubs. Rather than using Pryle’s categories for reading responses, I used the AP Lit skills for interpretive reading as the categories. Here are the skills on one page for my students:

You can see in my instructions for their annotations that I refer to that list of skills in step #2:

My students are in the process of filling out a google form with their feedback on our first time through the book club cycle. Their response is due to me by noon tomorrow. But already over a third of them have completed the form. Here’s what they have had to say so far about how helpful the sticky note original thought annotations were:

A healthy majority of my students so far say the original thought annotations have been helpful.

In June, I wrote about the next step of the process:

Once per week, students will select a few of their sticky note responses and move them into their writer’s notebooks and then write one page to pull together what they’re thinking (this is all Kate Roberts, btw).

How it actually turned out: I had initially decided to call these things “one-pagers” in their writer’s notebook. Boring name. Yes. But then I remembered what I discovered last year about the power of asking my students to ramble without worrying about conventions really at all (spoiler alert: I got some of their best writing of the year). So we re-branded them as “Rambling Thoughts” instead. Here are my instructions:

The link on “Rambling” takes students to a youtube video of Steve Martin singing “A Rambling Man” on The Muppet Show, link courtesy of one of my clever students.

Here’s what my students have had to say so far about the rambling thoughts:

The red bar means “moderately helpful.”

We’ve rambled every other Friday, alternating Fridays with timed writing off of old AP test prompts. Seems they mostly find the strategy helpful, and we’ll keep doing it.

I have a few rambling thoughts to show you from my students’ work with our summer reading book, Salvage the Bones. We spent the first four weeks together working on this shared text. I used that space to train them on how to use the five book study tools students would use for book clubs for the rest of the year. Thank you to my two students who agreed to let me include their work. Check out how the students used their sticky note annotations to get to two totally different lines of thought about the same book. Big ideas based on their own original thinking about the text:

Both of these students did exactly what I had hoped. They used the rambling thoughts to make connections across the sticky note annotations that they chose. The first student wrote about ways that the text revealed the influence of the past on the lives of the characters. And the second student noticed the sticky notes are moments of foreshadowing. I had some students who simply wrote more about each individual sticky note separately without writing to connect them. So I’ve had to remind them each time what the point of the task is.

A few practical details: I don’t collect writer’s notebooks, ever. But they take photos of their work frequently and turn those photos in via Google Classroom. That’s how I got the two photos I shared with you here. I review their work by clicking through the photos there to get a sense of how things are going for my students with the work. Since the Rambling Thoughts include some sticky note annotations, too, I can use this one task to get a sense of how the annotating is going while I’m reviewing their rambling thoughts. I do have to ask students to make sure the photos are right-side up when they upload them to Classroom as there’s no way for me to rotate the photos in the Classroom system, and it takes extra time for me to move the files out to a place where I can rotate them to be able to read them without having to look at the screen sideways.

In short, these tools seem to be working so far. Students are using the annotations to collect their own, original thinking as they read, and the rambling thoughts are giving them space to build meaning out of that original thinking.

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