Student-Led Book Discussions

I’ve tried something new this year, keeping things on the low-key side while trying to simultaneously expand student engagement and reading promotion. In the olden (pre-pandemic) days, our Upper School summer reading was based on a list of books suggested by students, the Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs). Upper School students would choose a book from this list and the SRLs would lead discussions during our orientation week at the start of the year. These discussion groups were either fantastic and highly engaging, or, equally as often I’m afraid, a painful slog for the SRL whose group members had not quite actually read the book. 

For the summer of 2020, full of uncertainty about the following school year as it was, I switched to a Reading Challenge, inspired by fellow AISL librarians. This was a Bingo-style game that included sixteen reading categories to choose from and recognition for achieving levels. One category was recommendations from the SRLs, whom I had already recruited before the year changed so drastically, and who had already suggested books for the 2020-21 summer reading discussions. It also included categories such as “free choice,” “reread a book you’ve already read,” and “book in a language other than English,” recognizing that my students were, at that point, staying put in locations all over the world and might need to keep their reading to what they could already access in their homes or wherever they were. This worked fine. Well, even! There was a lot of participation and engagement, especially from excited new students. However, my SRLs were a little neglected – I never quite got it together to figure out how they could still hold their book discussions, with some classmates in person, some online, and some in different time zones. I think that was a miss on my part.

Going into this year, I still had lots of students who wanted to be SRLs. A few approached me about it before I even put out a call, so I knew I had to do better by them this year and bring back the student-led book discussions. Instead of trying to squish a lot of attendance-required discussion sessions into the same day and subject the SRLs and non-readers alike to those potentially uncomfortable interactions, I worked with the students to schedule their book discussions throughout the school year. While their suggestions were still included as a category in the Reading Challenge that began over the summer, I met with each one to decide on a time of year and date that would work well for them. I published a schedule of these reading group meetings as soon as possible at the start of the year so that interested readers can plan by reading as many of the books as they care to in time for the discussions. The internally published schedule that I printed and posted around campus includes the SRLs’ names, so students see who their reading peers are and can support their friends. The version for Instagram (and this blog) does not include names but does include the dates and titles. 

This has been going swimmingly! Attendance so far has been relatively low, but engagement in discussion is high, as it’s not required and for the most part, only self-motivated readers are coming. As you can see, the book choices are varied, popular, and consequential. I’m proud of these students and how they’ve made an effort to build community around reading in our school. Other students have asked how they can lead book discussions, too. It’s been a small, easy change that fixed something that wasn’t working very well, and it’s made a difference in the enjoyment of the program for my students, and also for me!

I’ve started calling the Summer Reading Leaders “Student Reading Leaders”, mainly to keep the SRL abbreviation I use for my own organizing. It’s not very snappy, so I’m open to suggestions!

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