For a long while, I’ve held a deep belief that reading, in both a solitary and communal way, has an impact on who we are and how we interact in the world. That guiding notion, along with my love for children, took me into teaching. I’ve worked with students of all ages, and whether we’re in a small group setting or a large seminar discussion, conversations about books usually transform into conversations about being human.
Book discussions give students the chance to think about who they are, who they want to be, and where they fit in an ever-changing world. As a classroom teacher and the founder of readwritestart, a resource for reading, writing and wellness skills, I often lead virtual reading groups. Recently, I met with students online to grapple with S.E Hinton’s classic coming-of-age story, The Outsiders. The children defined and discussed themes like bravery, adversity, isolation, and community. They wondered how the protagonist, Ponyboy, might manage in the future, in a future where many kids wrestle with similar questions.
With distance learning in full effect, schools have admirably adjusted, and that adjustment has, of course, brought many silver-linings. To me, having children participate in reading groups and book clubs offers enrichment so certainly serves as a silver lining. Creativity, collaboration, and connection aren’t cancelled. Virtual book groups reveal a kind of normalcy despite the pervasive feeling of uncertainty.
1. Reading groups promote a love of literature in a positive environment. Of course, the online learning space is different, but with the right approach, teachers can use stories to infuse a passion for reading. After all, readers are leaders; at least I think so.
2. Reading with a teacher and other students enhances students’ understanding of the story and also of themselves. As we question the story, we question ourselves, and this self-reflection undoubtedly leads to deeper self-discovery.
3. Book clubs offer a way to socialize around reading. Especially now, in an online format, students read, learn, and discuss with children who don’t necessarily live in their town or their state. During this time of isolation, reading offers you a place to go. Book clubs offer you new friends with whom to go.
4. Book discussions foster collaboration as students learn how to be a part of a group and engage in a meaningful conversation. Learning to truly listen and authentically share are fundamental skills, skills that transcend a book club or an age group. Conversations about books help children practice these skills.
5. Reading groups promote accountability. Students can’t passively read if they’re involved in a book club. In this way, children practice reading and also responsibility.
6. Reading is an act of mindfulness, and reading with a group makes the experience that much more cathartic. For many of us, looking back on our own childhoods, we might find points of disruption – maybe not like a pandemic, but perhaps a season of discord. A book offers an escape, a way to quiet internal and external anxieties. Books calm the waters, if only for a moment.
When we share the reading experience, we cultivate connection, a deeper sense of empathy, and peace within ourselves and those around us.