Cherry Run third-grader Phillip Pham found a word he was unfamiliar with in his literature circle's book, "Miko and the Fifth Treasure."
"Grandpa had gray stubble on his chin," Phillip read. "What's stubble?"
Although Phillip's assignment was to look the word up in the dictionary and provide his own definition, he still didn't know what it meant.
Cherry Run vice principal Nick Rousos took a stab at defining it. "After I shave, there's stubble," Rousos said, rubbing his chin.
The literature circle is a method the reading class uses to read and discuss novels so that everyone in the group understands. Each person in the six-member circle has a discussion assignment, which changes each time the group meets. A discussion director runs the discussion. He is joined by the literary luminary, summarizer, word wizard, connector and illustrator. Each student has a role so the group understands the book better.
Although Phillip was the word wizard this week, he said the discussion director was a better role. The rest of the class agreed.
"You're like, in charge," Phillip said.
Sarah Kraft said that her current job, summarizer, was the most difficult.
"You have to read it over and over again," Sarah said.
Along with Phillip and Sarah in the group were Mike Calore as the literary luminary, Nick Balenger as the discussion director, and Ashley Nguyen as the connector and illustrator. Ashley had a dual role because the group has only five members. Each time the group meets, members switch roles so everyone has a chance to fill every position.
THE LITERATURE CIRCLE method was the brainstorm of author Harvey Daniels, who adapted a group discussion method similar to a book club in the adult world. Daniels' book "Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student Centered Classroom" focuses on this learning method. A 12-step approach to literature circles is listed on the Web site (literaturecircles.com) as well.
"The purpose of these reading circles is to help them comprehend. The words go with the curriculum," said Cherry Run reading instructor Maggie Readyhough.
At Cherry Run Elementary School in Burke, grades three through six use the reading circles to discuss novels. Although Daniels designed the program for all levels, Readyhough hasn't used the method with the lower grades yet because the books are more complex with this technique.
"It has to be a book that has some meat to it. They will get into adult-like topics, and they handle them really well," Readyhough said.
"MIKO AND the Fifth Treasure" is set in one of the cities in Japan that were hit by the atomic bomb. Cherry Run sixth-graders are reading a Civil War book.
Readyhough did note that while Cherry Run uses literary circles, some schools don't.
"At reading teachers meetings, we discuss them," Readyhough said. "Some schools don't use them. They say they're too stiff."
Each book takes about six weeks to finish because the students take them chapter by chapter. Each time the group meets, students receive a worksheet with the assignments and places for notes. When the students break up into the circles again, they rely on the notes.
"They get graded every week for their role and participation," Rousos said.
Not only do the teachers at Cherry Run have reading circles, but the principal, vice principal and other staff members participate in the program as well. Rousso has to read the books, too, but stays on the student schedule so he won't get ahead.
"Everybody is involved in the literacy of these kids," Rousos said.