An interview with Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts
Our guest today is Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs Across the Curriculum. As students head back to school, Book Clubs can be an important tool to promote social and emotional learning and to foster a love for reading and for learning. Parents as well as educators can use the techniques in the book to start and facilitate Book Clubs.
Thanks so much, Lesley, for joining us at the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors! I love how Talking Texts provides practical guidance about how to use Book Clubs to engage students more fully. Your book also provides templates for doing exactly that. Can you share with us your inspiration for this book?
My inspiration was seeing readers, especially “reluctant” readers, engaged and motivated by collaborative reading and the small-group discussions that Book Clubs allow. This was true both in my middle school classes and classes from grades three through high school that have invited me to facilitate Book Clubs. Book Clubs give readers a choice of books at their individual reading and interest levels and a social, safe space in which to discuss their reading. Most classroom teachers agree that, in whole-class discussions, only three to four students talk and it is usually the same students. In small groups that have had training in social skills, I observe all students talking. Because of peer pressure or a wish to take part in their group, students keep up with Book Club reading.
Talking Texts provides detailed support for every recommendation in your book. Why it is so important that students be allowed choice in reading?
There is a decline in, or even a halt to, reading both for pleasure and academics at the middle grades, sometimes earlier. Aliteracy occurs when students are capable of reading, but choose not to read. Many students have told me that they don’t read, mainly because they don’t like the books the teacher chooses. We first have to grow readers, students who think of themselves as readers and are on their way to becoming life-long readers. I had many eighth grade students who admitted they previously never had read an entire book or had read only one or two books in the previous grades or rather fake-read those books. Those same students became readers of twenty to thirty books by the end of that eighth grade year. Choice was the prime motivator. There are very few topics or writing styles or genres that interest everyone.
This has been verified by research: “A meta-analysis of 41 studies examined the effect of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes in a variety of settings with both child and adult samples. Results indicated that providing choice enhanced intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, and perceived competence, among other outcomes.”– (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
What is another advantage of Book Clubs?
After students have read and discussed their novels, Book Clubs can prepare a presentation of their books for the rest of the class through skits, puppet shows, narrative poetry, talk shows, and a variety of other means explained in Talking Texts. This synthesizes text for the readers while sharing texts with students who haven’t had the chance to read. This is particularly effective when clubs read articles about a topic being studied in class.
Can you tell us about your experience and review of research that resulted in your book and its appendices?
I would call it action research. During my time at the Summer Reading Institute of the Pennsylvania Writing Project, I read all the “experts” in reading. In my role as Director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project facilitating our Summer Reading Institute as well as teaching reading strategies to pre-service and in-service teachers, I kept up with the research, but most of my “research” was in my middle grade classroom and when facilitating Book Clubs in classrooms to which I was invited.
Can you share with us some best practices in setting up a Book Club?
a. Let the students choose their books, after a teacher book talk and a few minutes to read a page or two, and form Book Clubs based on the books rather than the other way around.
b. Teach social skills: how to prepare for a discussion with reading notes and bringing a well-designed discussion question (Book Clubs should be student-led); how to hold a discussion; how to extend a conversation when everyone agrees; and how to respectfully disagree.
c. Provide a range of reading levels and characters but if the books have something in common—a topic, a genre, a format—it allows for whole-class focus lessons and for inter-club discussions.
Can you provide insight on how educators can use Book Clubs to teach subject-matter content in any discipline?
Book club strategies and techniques can be used with articles and nonfiction books in any discipline as I explain in Talking Texts. My college students would meet for the first 15 minutes of class in Textbook Clubs, discussing what they had read for that class meeting and resolving any questions they had about their reading. Any questions they still had, they could write on the board to be covered in class. This would work for any grade level in any subject.
Book Clubs can be customized to any genre or interest. You regularly update your social media with lists of books organized by a variety of factors to provide a wide range of options for educators, parents and readers. Where can we find your book lists?
I’ve included some lists in Talking Texts and I regularly post on Facebook when I think of a topic, like Bullying or Kindness, or format, such as verse novels, or genre, such as Historical Fiction. I share with other Facebook groups but always post on mine.
Do you have any advice for people organizing virtual Book Clubs?
I would suggest keeping those groups small. Educators who have held on-line Book Clubs said that they followed the strategies in my book and students meet in breakout rooms. If the teacher feels they need to observe, each Book Club would have to meet at a different time or day.
What would you most like for educators and parents to take away from Talking Texts?
That we need to not teach reading but reach readers. Students of all ages, but especially adolescents, are social and if we can make learning social, they will be more engaged. Also the power of Book Clubs is that they are student-led. If teachers put the students into groups and give the students questions to answer, they are no longer student-led.
What has been your favorite part about seeing Talking Texts make its way into the world?
I am happy that Talking Texts provides me with opportunities to share strategies and what I have learned through my many experiences. I really love that teachers who were nervous about trying Book Clubs say they feel confident and are excited to start Book Clubs and that veteran teachers who have included Book Clubs in the past write that Talking Texts gave them new strategies and new ideas, such as article and poetry clubs.
How do you have students prepare for Book Club meeting other than reading?
Reader need to come to meetings with notes from or reflections on their reading. Short informal written reflections cause students to interact with text, thereby increasing comprehension. Having notes give readers something to refer to, a basis for discussion beyond the member-prepared discussion questions, and proof that they have completed the assigned reading for that meeting. Talking Texts includes many reader response forms that readers can use as well as forms to reflect on their Book Club meetings.
Thank you, Lesley! To learn more about Lesley and her latest book lists, you can follow her on Facebook- @Lesley Roessing and Twitter @LRoessing. We are offering a giveaway of Talking Texts to one lucky winner. Enter here by August 16 for your chance to win. Note: Only residents of the contiguous United States, please.