When my daughter was 10, I interviewed her for a class project aimed at investigating reading habits. We discussed what she enjoyed reading and the approaches her teachers used to teach reading. In particular, she talked about her frustration as a member of a fourth-grade literature circle. She noted that "a lot of people don't take it seriously and change the subject" and that "most girls are serious about reading but boys aren't and so they, well, most boys in my class aren't, and so they don't pay attention to you when you try and talk."
Obviously, my daughter's experience runs counter to desired outcomes. Classroom literature circles were designed as a way to enable students to make choices about their readings and explore their ideas in small, peer-led discussions. In his book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups, Daniels (2002) described literature circles as a cooperative learning, student-led experience for students around a common text. Once students read a predetermined number of pages, the group meets to discuss the reading. Daniels explained, "The goal of literature circles is to have natural and sophisticated discussions of literature" (p. 100).
Researchers have identified significant advantages for using literature circles in the classroom. For example, Almasi (1995) argued that "students who talk about what they read are more likely to engage in reading" (p. 20). Additionally, Klages, Pate, and Conforti (2007) suggested that collaboration required by literature circles increased motivation, influenced positive social and communicative skills, and allowed students to gain vital understandings. Holt and Bell (2000) also identified benefits for literature circles:As we read and talk about reading, we are searching for works of value that encourage students to feel, to question, to explore human values, and to examine traditions and cultures--works that provoke them to think about how they view the world. (p. 5)
Finally, research studies reported that students engaged in literature circles demonstrated increased comprehension, higher level thinking, and an ability to engage more deeply with text (Eeds & Wells, 1989).
Literature circles are not without limitations. Similar to the problem my daughter described, some educators have reported difficulties teachers and students faced using literature circles in the classroom. Wolsey (2004) explained that cooperative learning roles assigned to students often stilted conversations, resulting in students' reading responses from their role sheets. In these instances, students do not react to each other or question each other; instead, they simply give each other their answers.
Additionally, Clarke and Holwadel (2007) identified several frustrations in their attempts to run literature circles in a middle-school classroom. As soon as teachers left, group cohesion dissolved. Students resorted to bullying, name-calling, and arguing. Teachers understood that classroom climate was causing their groups to spiral out of control, but constant interruptions for school celebrations and days of testing as well as chronic absenteeism plaguing the school were difficult hurdles to overcome.
Given both the advantages and limitations of face-to-face literature circles, researchers today are examining many online literacy practices...