Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs

By Brent Gilson with Guest Blogger Travis Crowder

#g2great 8/8/19

This week we had the awesome pleasure of chatting with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen about their new book Breathing New Life into Book Clubs The Wakelet of the chat can be found here.

Travis Crowder has written a great blog response to the book that we would like to share with you. Travis is a passionate advocate for literacy work and is the co-author of the fantastic book Sparks in the Dark which had its own chat and the Wakelet for that is available here and the Literacy Lens post here. The G2Great team is so grateful that Travis was willing to share his words with us.

Travis Crowder response to Breathing New Life into Book Clubs

A Friday afternoon. I watched them grab their books and notebooks and gather on the rug around the coffee table. Conversations from other groups created lively streams of energy around the classroom, but in this group, something was different. When they were settled and facing one another, they opened their notebooks, almost in unison, and began writing. Curiosity got the best of me. What were these students up to? I walked to the edge of their group, trying to catch a glimpse of what they were writing, careful not to disrupt the flow of whatever was happening. I didn’t know, but clearly, they did. And that was all that mattered. I squinted to catch a line in Keila’s notebook, and that’s when I realized the significance of their writing. In their book club book, the mother of a character had died, and they were capturing emotional reactions inside their notebooks. Without any prompting, they had decided that spilling their emotions on the page first would help them make sense of their thinking. Discussions migrated from groups across the room, pressing against the quietude of this group, yet their activity was unimpeded. After several minutes, when everyone had finished writing, Karina looked around the group and said, “Who wants to read theirs first?” The book club was now ready for discussion.

Book clubs possess the power to transform readers and to elevate students’ thinking, reading, and writing. The story above captures a beautiful moment in my classroom, one that we dream of as teachers, yet one that may not happen as often as we’d like. For several years, I was hesitant to include any book clubs in my classes for fear that students wouldn’t read, conversations would flatline, and several weeks of valuable time would be sacrificed because of poor management— mine and theirs. At first, the attempts were wobbly, and often, I felt lost in despair. With time and quite a few mistakes, though, I created routines with my students that helped us develop effective book clubs. Looking back, I wish there had been a comprehensive professional text to help me understand the nuts and bolts of managing book clubs, while providing strategies for holding students accountable for reading and discussions. Now, that text exists. And it is nothing short of brilliant.

Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen, is a gift to our profession. It’s as though both Sonja and Dana are standing at the threshold of the book, asking readers to join them on a breathtaking journey of thought. They take us through systems and routines that make book clubs manageable and inviting, and ultimately, a way to help students fall in love with reading. Both writers denounce superficial assignments and activities that demean literacy and provide ideas that nudge kids to develop authentic reading habits. Philosophy is threaded into the tapestry of Chapter 1, letting us know that their thinking is grounded in creating a culture of reading and assuring us that this work is possible. But it goes beyond that.

I love the types of clubs— genre, identity, goal, theme, and series— that they delineate for us. Prior to reading this text, I hadn’t given much thought to the type of books students were reading, other than attempting to focus clubs around a big idea, such as war or relationships. This delineation breathed new life into my thinking. Identifying the type of club we feel is most beneficial for kids will determine their energy, engagement, and success, all of which nudge us to provide book clubs again and again for our students.

In addition to helping us understand the different types of book clubs, a curated list— of wide and varied titles— is available to help us select the books we want to offer our students. They give us ideas and mini-lessons to create book clubs beside students, coach them into effective conversations about texts, and lead them into a life of living with books. If you’re worried that clubs will lose their focus and energy, set your heart at rest— they have you covered. Writing, sketching, creating bookmarks, and recording videos are just a few of the strategies to help students lean in to deeper conversation. And what’s more? Sonja and Dana walk beside you through each mini-lesson, offering ideas that will lift your book clubs from where they are to an even higher plane. Kids aren’t reading with no direction. They’re reading to think, to learn, and to grow alongside their fellow club members and classmates. And fall in love with books.

I want you to listen to this gorgeous section from the first chapter:

Book clubs are where students fall in love with reading, but we value book clubs because it is in these spaces that we witness humanity at its best. Through the process of reading and responding to texts, students come to understand each other better. They reflect on who they are, where they hope to be, and the ties that bind them together. The attitudes, traditions, values, and goals established in book clubs often become the principles that guide the way students live their lives. As such, we can invite students to record the story of their book club in a journal or on a blog— the laughs, the struggles, the triumphs, and the lessons learned that will stay with them (pg. 8).

So often, joy and community seem to be a missing pieces of language arts classrooms.  Book clubs, which can be full of life, love, and joy, can help kids prepare for a lifetime of reading, especially when created with teachers who want to see them develop into readers who can sustain volume and independence. The emphasis on understanding each other is a beautiful ode to empathy, and something we need more of in our world. When I work with kids to establish books clubs this school year, I will look for those places where students are maturing into better human beings. Book clubs help create that story— for us and for our kids.

Sonja’s and Dana’s incredible humanity glimmers on each page. Children are at the heart of this work, and with their brilliant thinking, both writers show us how we can move kids to engage with books and their world. Democracy demands a literate populace. It’s teachers like you and me, ones who are committed to this critical literacy work, who will shape the minds of tomorrow. We live in a world of uncertainty and pain, and each day, hateful rhetoric pierces the heart of humanity, eroding the integrity and decency we try to uphold. Sonja and Dana have given us a book that does not waver in its devotion to students, teachers, and books. With them, we can go into our classrooms and create a literate atmosphere based on empathy and respect. Let us not forget that we are fierce educators. And we have the capacity to show kids the indomitable power of story. 

Thank you, Sonja and Dana, for an unwavering allegiance to our profession and for helping me better understand the qualities and virtues of effective book clubs. I salute you and am honored to work beside you in literacy education.

Q and A with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen

1.  What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world? As educators, we’ve yearned for a book that pulls together the research and best practices that could help us have the “best book clubs ever.” And although we found pieces of the puzzle, in various places, we couldn’t help but notice an important gap: There simply wasn’t a book that exclusively addressed the nuts and bolts of book clubs- how to create, maintain, and sustain them. We decided to create this resource for ourselves and other educators. 

2.  What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? We must be unyielding in the goal of cultivating lifelong readers. This can be accomplished by staying true to three mantras: 1) Be Brave! Let Go! Pull Back! Students must have choice and ownership over their reading and their clubs. 2) Embrace Authentic Discussions! Students’ discussions will ebb and flow; trust that they will become stronger over time. 3) Joy! Joy! Joy! Build joyful reading communities by providing high-interest texts, helping clubs form strong identities, and encouraging students to read together. 

3.  What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind? We have the power to provide pathways that nurture a love of reading in our students. We hope educators will take part in a reading revolution that makes joyful reading and book clubs central.

We at G2Great would like to thank Sonja and Dana for their beautiful book and for joining us to discuss it. We would also like to thank Travis Crowder for providing the blog post for this week. If you are looking for more discussion around the book please check out Clare Landrigan’s post and video on her blog which is linked here .

Additional Links

Facebook Group: Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs…

Instagram: LitLearnAct

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Strategies That Work with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

by Fran McVeigh

‘Warning!  Make sure you turn your computer off.”

The “Y2K” threat was everywhere. Warnings were on TV, radio, and the internet. No one knew exactly what would happen when the clocks hit midnight on December 31st, 1999.  Just think, JK Rawling had just published her fourth Harry Potter book and reading was on an upswing. That’s the time frame that ushered in the first edition of Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis and I remember it vividly.

This year, 2017, heralded the top-selling third edition of their book and what we now know as basically a 20 year decline of teen reading. With a focus still on students and engagement, we were excited to have Stephanie and Anne join us for the #G2Great chat on Thursday, December 14, 2017!

Our chat answered the following Three Big Questions:

1) How do students “understand” the texts they work with?

Students need to be thinking first and foremost. Stephanie began and ended the chat with comments about the role of the students in this work. Every time a student is reading, the student needs to be thinking. In fact, when “thinking falters”, students need to be able to independently reconnect with text.  In the words of Stephanie and Anne, we need students to be “thinking intensive readers, listeners and viewers.” How do we know what students are thinking?

“Annotation is a powerful thinking tool. We share with kids that after a night of snowfall, we can see the fresh tracks of animals and know who was there.We need to see the readers tracks so that we know what they were thinking and so they remember their thoughts.” (Stephanie Harvey tweet 12/14/2017)

2) How do we increase student engagement with texts?

One way we increase engagement with text is to add in more student choice in what is read in our classrooms.  High quality texts also need to be available to students in large quantities across the day.

A second way to increase engagement is to pay attention to our assessments.

Assessment matters. Stephanie referred to P. David Pearson who said, “The questions a reader asks after reading a text are a far better assessment than the questions a reader can answer about that text.”  Assessment is what happens 24/7 when we continually study students and their work.  “Evaluation is putting a grade on it. We only grade after the kids have had time to practice, learn and understand what we have taught.”  And Anne added that, “Assessment is the continuing conversation between kids and teachers.”  Another quote from Stephanie was that, “Assessment informs us of three things:  what a child did at one moment in time, our future instruction-where to go next based on their work- and our past instruction. When kids don’t get it, it is our responsibility.”

What is your metaphor for assessment?  Is assessment a mirror, a window, a door?  Can it be all of these at varying points in the instructional cycle?  An assessment is a mirror when it reflects the student learning.  It can be a window because it allows two different views:  the reflection like a mirror as well as an opportunity to look through the glass and see what is happening. And yet assessment can also be the door that opens into the next phase of learning.

A final caution on assessments:  

When our goal is to have independent readers, who can and do read, who read strategically, and who think when reading, we often ask our students to self-reflect on their learning.  If we ask students to self-reflect, doesn’t that seem to imply that teachers would be reflecting DAILY on the relationship between student learning and the instruction provided?

3) How do we increase and build knowledge?

Teachers have been working with students to leave “tracks of their thinking” with post its, annotations, and other tools.  But are students using these tracks independently or using them on teacher demand?

I have been fascinated for three years by Stephanie Harvey’s claim that school days would function well with four workshop periods: “Reading, Writing, Math, and Research (science/social studies). Because of the workshop format, students would be expected to be reading, writing, thinking, talking, making, and learning across the entire day.  Is that the learning you want for your students?  Is that the learning your students need?  Which answer will best meet the needs of your students?   

Three editions: Why were those necessary?

Check your shelves because you may have earlier copies of Strategies that Work.  Or someone in your building may have them.  Earlier editions are never “wrong”; typically more work and thinking has resulted in clarifications and additions that strengthen the original ideas.  Sometimes misconceptions about implementation issues are also clarified.

Strategies that Work has remained the title over the 17 years of the published life of this text; it’s the subtitle that has changed as reading pedagogy and research has evolved in the early decades of the 21st century.  In 2000, this work began as Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding. Neither Stephanie Harvey or Anne Goudvis claimed to be “researchers” but they built their text on the comprehension research in the field of literacy.

The second edition title moved to Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement just five years after the authorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Punitive measures were already in place for “failing schools” and Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis wanted to ensure that engagement became a factor. But unfortunately, the comprehension work did not meet the “Scientifically-Based Reading Research” definition under Reading First so many primary teachers worked from a narrower list of explicit comprehension strategies.  

Talk and actions involving Common Core State Standards began to swirl across the country in 2008 thanks to the National Governors Association and then 2015 brought the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as the first legislative overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Act in over 30 years.  Both of those actions have impacted literacy instruction.  In 2017, this third edition is titled Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8 and is perfect for teachers new to teaching or those who need to consider which current practices need to be continued and which need to go!

Do you need the 3rd Edition?  

Stop for just a minute. Here’s one way to think about it. Consider your answer to these next two questions.  Were you in a classroom during the 2000 – 2017 era? Did you notice any changes in comprehension instruction? (As a teacher, student, or both) If not, please keep reading. If yes, please keep reading.

What changed from Edition 1 to Edition 2?

From “Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding” to “Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement”

Since its publication in 2000, Strategies That Work has become an indispensable resource for teachers who want to explicitly teach thinking strategies so that students become engaged, thoughtful, independent readers. In this revised and expanded edition, Stephanie and Anne have added twenty completely new comprehension lessons, extending the scope of the book and exploring the central role that activating background knowledge plays in understanding. Another major addition is the inclusion of a section on content literacy which describes how to apply comprehension strategies flexibly across the curriculum. (source)

What changed from Edition 2 to Edition 3?

From “Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement” to “Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8.”

A big shift in the last ten years has been on changes in instruction, and what real engagement looks like.  “Being busy” is not the goal.  How does one insure that students are engaged?  Students have to have a bigger role in the classroom. This edition has ”Thirty new lessons and new and revised chapters shine a light on children’s thinking, curiosity, and questions. Steph and Anne tackle close reading, close listening, text complexity, and critical thinking and a new chapter on building knowledge through thinking-intensive reading and learning. Other fully revised chapters focus on digital reading, strategies for integrating comprehension and technology, and comprehension across the curriculum.” (source) And this (by permission of @StenhousePub), a comprehension continuum that ranges from “answering literal questions” to “actively uses knowledge.” (Harvey & Goudvis, Stenhouse, p.25)

Based on these descriptors, you might consider comparing the different versions with a friend and checking out “close reading, close listening, text complexity, critical thinking, and thinking-intensive reading and learning as a starting point.


Because students who are not successful in learning are working hard but the field of literacy has defined a “knowledge gap” as a contributing factor.  Students are being asked to do MORE with texts, fiction, informational, etexts, photos, artwork, and movies than ever before. Stephanie and Anne explicitly state their work and thinking during the last decade has led to “new perspectives on how to explicitly teach thinking strategies so that students become engaged, thoughtful, independent readers.”  

What’s the end goal for students?

For “…students to become engaged, thoughtful, independent readers.”  Are your students engaged, thoughtful, independent readers?  Or are they just going through the motions with a bit of ‘fake reading” thrown in? What is your plan to ensure that ALL of your students are engaged, thoughtful, independent readers?


If not this work, then what other professional development resources should you consider? When will you begin? How will you know that your changes are providing your students with opportunities to increase their comprehension, engagement and to build knowledge?


Additional Resources:

Storify from the chat – Link Available Here

Preview of the 3rd edition of Strategies that Work

About Stephanie Harvey – Stenhouse Author

About Anne Goudvis – Stenhouse Author

Products by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis at Heinemann – here

Harvey and Goudvis. Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding.  Stenhouse, 2000.

Harvey and Goudvis, 2nd ed. Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement.  Stenhouse, 2007.

Harvey and Goudvis, 3rd ed. Strategies that Work:  Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement and Building Knowledge K-8.  Stenhouse, 2017.


STORIFY RECORD 12-14-17 Strategies that Work