The Old Way
In traditional literature circles, students
read books of their own choosing in
small groups that meet regularly for
discussion (Daniels, 2002). In my
classes, students picked from about a
dozen supplementary titles that were
thematically related to the curriculum.
In a senior elective called Literature
of War and Genocide, for example,
choices included the Holocaust memoir
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi; the
classic nonfiction work Hiroshima by
John Hersey; and Imagining Argentina by
Lawrence Thornton, a magical realism
novel about the 1970s abductions
carried out by the Argentine military.
Students ranked their choices on a
ballot, and I made the final assignments,
ensuring balanced groups of four or five
members. Almost all students got their
first or second choice, and those who
didn’t got priority consideration next
The literature circles met roughly
once a week for three or four weeks per
book. As a culminating activity, each
group completed a final project, such
as a book review or style imitation.
Students prepared for discussions by
keeping reading journals or notes, and
I assigned jobs to each group member
to ensure that everyone participated.
Despite the planning, however, conver-
sations frequently stalled, even when
students liked their books. Could team-based online learning infuse my limping
literature circles with new energy?
The New Way
The new literature circles used technology to reinforce rather than replace
face-to-face discussion. Groups met
once a week in person, and members
posted comments on a group blog
between meetings. I chose blogging
over other Internet tools because blogs
are simple to set up, posts are simple
to write and comment on, and the
comment threads preserve the linear feel
of a class discussion.