Some of my colleagues in the science department and I would like to start a book group, but we’re not sure how to get started. What books should we read? How often should we meet? Any other suggestions?
—Allison, Lexington, Kentucky
How many times have we said to ourselves “I know I should do more professional reading, but…”? Participating in a book group may provide motivation for reading and an opportunity to discuss the book.
I shared your question with a librarian who has experience with book clubs. She offered several insights:
- The purpose of forming your group is a key factor in choosing what books to read and discuss and in structuring your group. Do you want to improve your own content knowledge? Improve your teaching skills? Review trade books related to your curriculum to recommend to students?
- Consider some ground rules for the meetings, such as how much (if any) “sidebar” discussion on other issues will be allowed, how to disagree respectfully, and whether interruptions such as cell phones will be permitted.
- Set meeting dates and times in advance so all members can update their calendars. During the school year, monthly meetings may be appropriate. Some groups read an entire book and then discuss it, while others spread the chapters out over a semester. If you’re reading a book on teaching strategies, this latter approach gives you time to try new strategies and debrief with your colleagues. In another variation, teachers read a book over the summer and then meet in August to discuss how to implement the strategies or content during the year.
- If you meet during the school year, identify times when members will be available: after school, during a common planning period, on an inservice day, or during a lunch period. The school day can be hectic, so some groups prefer to meet for breakfast or dinner, combining the book discussion with socializing.
- Select meeting places conducive to relaxed discussion. Classrooms often have distractions, so you might consider a conference room, the library, or an off-campus location. Refreshments are a nice touch, too.
- Identify a “discussion leader” for each session to facilitate the dialogue (perhaps with some discussion-starting questions) and to set a relaxed atmosphere in which everyone’s contribution is valued.
For books on science content and science teaching, consult the NSTA Reviews column in each journal issue or NSTA Recommends on NSTA’s website (www.nsta.org/recommends). For general books on teaching, I recommend browsing publications on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) website .
I’ve recently read some books you might want to consider. Science Formative Assessments by Page Keeley and Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms by Michael Klentschy (both from NSTA Press) have many ideas your members could try in their classrooms as you read the book. Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott (available from ASCD) is thought-provoking and has been getting a lot of attention lately. Right now I’m reading Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson (also from ASCD; the website has a helpful study guide).
Professional books such as these are probably not in your local public library, so you’ll have to consider how your members will get copies. In my school, the professional development committee provided books for the summer reading groups. If finances are an issue, you could use articles from NSTA journals or online readings.
Don’t give up if you have a few glitches as the group starts. If you’re successful, you might find a way to include your book group as a personalized professional development option.
At an NSTA conference session I once attended, members of a book club noted their group has been in existence for more than 15 years. Their members come and go, and some teachers who transferred or retired still participate. I think that’s even longer than Oprah’s book club!