Submitted by Beth White, University of South Carolina Faculty Liaison, and Buffy Murphy, Irmo Elementary School Reading Coach
How can we best support a vision of building a school community that bonds in this time of need for growing empathetic readers, writers and human beings? As a PDS team at Irmo Elementary School, we knew that it was through a shared text that we could engage students and teachers and afford time for more dialogic talk among students, teachers and an entire school family.
With the recommendation of a colleague, the PDS team at Irmo Elementary School borrowed the idea of implementing a Book-of-the-Month structure. 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 in the collection was A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts. In this text Ruben finds himself without a bike while everyone has one, and he especially likes Sergio’s bike. While at the store, Ruben sees a woman drop money. Knowing no one sees, Ruben takes the money only to later learn that it is $100, enough money to buy a bike like Sergio’s. At home he is reminded of the needs of his own family when he sees his mother making a grocery list, counting her money, and marking items off the list. Ruben has a decision to make. Knowing the struggle in this text is real, the PDS team decided to roll out what we referred to as Buzzy’s Book Club, named after the IES mascot.
This adventure was a surprise to the teachers and their students. Our goal was to have the teachers and students experience this together for the first time. Each teacher received a wrapped package that contained the book as well as an envelope that contained a letter to the teacher and the class. The experience was intended to be authentic. Teachers were charged with opening the letter with their classes and then opening the package. As one might imagine, teachers wanted to know what the package held, but they trusted the process for an authentic experience.
The letter to the class and teacher was as follows:
So much happens during this busy month, and we wanted to step back and refocus on what really matters: taking care of each other! We decided to celebrate each other by joining together for a schoolwide book club! Welcome to Buzzy’s Book Club! We are going to share a book with your class each month for the remainder of the year. Every single class in our school will receive the same book so we can all read the same text and focus on the same message across our entire community. We think this will be powerful, and we can’t wait to hear your thoughts about this!
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.
Books are powerful! Enjoy the power of this first book of the month selection! This is our gift to your class and to our school community. Happy Reading!
Mrs. McCaskill, Mrs. White, and Dr. Murphy
PS- Hi, Teacher! At a time when our plates and hands are full, we hope this fills your heart “fuller”. Our desire is that this new opportunity will be a blessing and not a burden. 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.
The response was overwhelming. Each class shared the book and shared their hearts and minds. The conversations were rich, and the readers in the school responded in a variety of solicited and unsolicited ways.
At the NAPDS conference in Florida, the IES team was inspired by a presentation from another school on schoolwide seminars. The presenters shared their seminar process, and our IES team knew this process could complement our book club initiative and grow it to the next level. Buzzy’s Book Club continued with the lyrics from Michael Jackson’s song “Heal the World” meshed with a seminar response component. The partnership of these two structures blossomed into a community building experience but also a forum for student empowerment, dialogic conversation and inclusive engagement. Students lifted lines from the text and identified ways to “make a little space, make it a better place” as they named their own commitment and contributions to heal the world individually and as a class.
The school year concluded with What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, which is the final picture book in the What Do You Do with…? series. In this text a child finds the courage to take chances, not every chance, but the right chances that teach him that amazing things can happen when one takes chances.
Teachers named book club and seminar as “critical incidents” that shaped their learning this year. This exceeded the expectations of our intended goal. Shared texts became an anchor for discussion across the school, but it also gave us a shared experience that shifted classroom instruction and ways students engaged in learning across content areas. Goals and contributions in response to book club selections carried over into PBIS initiatives as well as connections to content standards.
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!