Beth White, University of South Carolina, Elementary Education, Faculty Liaison Buffy Murphy, Irmo Elementary School Reading Coach
How can we best support a vision of building community for growing empathetic readers, writers and human beings? As a PDS team at Irmo Elementary School, we knew that a shared text could engage students and teachers and afford time for dialogic talk.
With the recommendation of a colleague, we implemented a Book-of-the-Month structure and named it Buzzy’s Book Club after the IES mascot. Fariña and Kotch (2014) remind us “…that books were (are) a vehicle for conveying important messages through rich and beautiful language, strong moral themes, and a rhythm and timbre that bonded the community.” This journey began with a thoughtful selection of texts. The first was A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts.
Each teacher received a wrapped package with the book and an envelope that contained a letter. Teachers were charged to open the letter and package with their classes. The response was overwhelming.
An excerpt from the letter:
The book we have selected to kick off Buzzy’s Book Club is one that was new to us, but packs a powerful message. Ruben learns an important lesson in this book: doing the right thing is not always easy. We hope you will enjoy reading A Bike Like Sergio’s together as a class and discussing the story. We know your classroom community will interpret this book in your own way, and we look forward to hearing some of those conversations and the insights you gain through this experience.
PS- … At a time when our plates and hands are full, we hope this fills your heart “fuller”… These books were selected very intentionally and with a purpose for our community. Please find a moment to slow down the pace just a little to enjoy a read aloud and have sincere discussion with your students. May this bring you together even more…may it unite our school community in a way that we, too, feel led to go out and do the right thing, even when it is hard.
At the NAPDS conference in Florida, the IES team was inspired by a presentation on schoolwide seminars. Using a seminar format, Buzzy’s Book Club continued with lyrics from Michael Jackson’s song “Heal the World”. Students identified ways to “make a little space, make it a better place” as they named their own commitment to heal the world.
The school year concluded with What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, a text that teaches the main character that amazing things can happen when one takes chances.
Teachers named book club and seminar as “critical incidents” that shaped their own learning. This exceeded the expectations of our intended goal. Shared texts shifted classroom instruction and engagement across content areas.
This schoolwide book club initiative provided a springboard for common language, deep synthesis and analysis, relevant and authentic discussion, and empowered citizens, tall and small, across our school community. Buzzy’s Book Club is here to stay, as it truly has created a buzz all throughout our Irmo Elementary hive!
Fariña, C. & Kotch, L. (2014). A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence: Collaborating our way to better schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.