My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

From Contestant to Judge

My Kids Write for Kids journey started when my grade 4 teacher urged me to enter my Pourqoui tale* from an assignment to the competition. The story was about a peacock who, through a miracle, gets transformed into the most beautiful creature in the world.  The book titled Why Peacocks Have Colorful Feathers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my story would be adorning anything other than the classroom bulletin board, let alone the school library bookshelves.

Everything changed while I was on a school trip to Ottawa. While still in my pajamas, a student knocked on the door of the college campus we were staying at and informed me that my teacher was calling me to his room. Petrified that I had done something I shouldn’t have, I walked across the floor to his room. All of my anxiety evaporated when he told me that my story had been chosen to get published. With a large smile on my face, I returned to my room. Ever since that point, I wondered exactly how my story was chosen and who chose which of the incredible Ripple stories were to be published. This is why I was ecstatic when I got the invitation to be part of the judging panel for this year’s contest.

The chance to give children the same opportunity I had was certainly an inspiring moment. Although I didn’t meet the other judges, knowing that some of them had either won the competition or judged my story was very motivating.

All of the ten stories were judged in three categories – creativity of the plot or themes; the story structure; and the style and tone – with the percentages of the final grading varying between categories.

From the first story to the last, my jaw constantly dropped with amazement. After finishing, it was nearly impossible to imagine that it was kids no older than I behind the pen.

The stories varied in genres — from action-packed adventures to marvelous mysteries; fascinating fables to fabulous fiction — and were so good, they would make J.K. Rowling proud.

They say that a reader lives a thousand lives and by being part of the judging panel, this proved true for me when I go to experience so many settings, characters, and plots in a short space of time. I would encourage anyone to take on any writing opportunity that comes their way, whether it’s a homework assignment or a full-blown masterpiece. Who knows, you may find yourself on the shelf in the school library!

*A pourquoi tale describes the origin of something, creating a story to tell why.

Back-to-School Reading Recommendations: Some Childhood Favourites

I have always loved reading recreationally. However, during back-to-school time, I often found that I pushed aside my recreational reading so that I could deal with everything the new school year would throw at me. When I did make time to read, though, it became some of the most valuable time to me and I discovered countless books that I have loved ever since. I have compiled a list of recommended back-to-school reading, comprised of some of my childhood favourite books and series.

Encourage your kids to pick up one of the following titles (and maybe even pick one up yourself – a good book has no age limit under which to be enjoyed!) and make recreational reading a priority this school year.

The Doll People

By Ann Matthews Martin

What It’s About
This story follows a doll named Annabelle who comes to life alongside her doll family, unbeknownst to her owner, Kate. Annabelle’s life becomes more complicated when a new doll family, the Funcrafts, move into the home. Change can be something unusual to adjust to, but a new friendship and some adventure lie in store for Annabelle.

Why It’s Worth Reading
First published in 2000, this book is nearly twenty years old. Considering I first read it when it was nearly a decade old, I believe it is still very much a worthwhile read. It’s great for imaginative readers and anyone who ever fantasized about their dolls coming alive. The characters are charming, the plot engaging, and, if your kids enjoy it, there are currently four other books in the series to keep them entertained throughout the school year.

The Secret Series

By Pseudonymous Bosch

What It’s About
A five-book instalment, The Secret Series is just that: a series about a secret. It follows the adventures of eleven-year-olds Cass and Max-Ernest as they search for a missing magician, face off against a villainous chocolatier, and maybe, just maybe, discover the truth about that one mysterious secret that follows them for the course of the books.

Why It’s Worth Reading
This series was one of the most enthralling I read in my childhood. It was interesting, gripping, and I could never wait to get my hands on the next novel in the series. Unfortunately for me, I had to wait for them to be published. Fortunately for new readers, the entire series is out and ready to be enjoyed. These books would be fantastic for any young reader with a curious side, as I personally found the twists, turns, and resolutions near-impossible to predict. Plus, immersing themselves in a world as vibrant as this one crafted by Pseudonymous Bosch is a sure way to take their minds off the stressful side of back-to-school.

The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel Series

Written by Ann M Martin, Illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

What It’s About
An illustrated reimagination of a classic series, these books follow best friends Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey as they navigate the wild world of babysitting, and of course, the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Why It’s Worth Reading
This series is both touching and hilarious, and readers will find themselves rooting for these characters through struggles big and small. While the plot alone is wonderfully crafted, the beautiful illustrations bring the story to life perfectly and take these books to the next level.

School of Fear

By Gitty Daneshvari

What It’s About
Facing one’s fears can be pretty terrifying in itself. In this book, Madeleine, Theo, Lulu, and Garrison, a group of students enrolled in the six-week School of Fear summer program, find out just how terrifying it will be. These students must conquer each of their individual fears at the mysterious school where failing is not an option.

Why It’s Worth Reading
Anyone who’s ever been faced with a fear will be able to relate to these characters. I found the plot of this book to be unique and intriguing and I am sure young readers today would find the same. While I was very glad I wasn’t a character in the book and forced to confront what scared me most, I also found this book to be hopeful. Fear itself can be more harmful than whatever it is one is afraid of, and this book shows readers that we can all at least try to defeat said fears.

Dear Canada Series

By Various Authors

What It’s About
This series details different stories throughout and relevant to Canadian history, all told from the perspectives of young girls who lived through these events.

Why It’s Worth Reading
Arguably the most educational recommendation on this list, this series imparts a lot of important, historical knowledge to those who read it; however, that’s not to say these books are boring. In fact, quite the opposite is true! This series is engaging and written in a way that makes the issues feel relevant to young readers. I always found that when reading these books, even if I could not relate to the exact situations of the characters, I could relate to how they were feeling and I could recognize the importance of that piece of history. This series is also extensively long, currently comprising of thirty-seven books. The books are all unrelated, meaning that they do not have to be read in any specific order, so readers can pick and choose which titles interest them most. Or, if they are willing to take on the challenge of reading all thirty-seven, readers will be engaged and fulfilled by this series for a long time.

If you or your kids read any of these books, feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments!

 

A Student’s Perspective on Homework: Necessary, Evil, or a Necessary Evil?

“Today’s homework will be…,” “We will complete the rest of this handout for homework…,” “The majority of work on this project will have to be completed at home….” These phrases, and similar others, are things I have heard on a near-daily basis throughout my time as a student. Like many of my peers, I also found myself dreading them. Homework is an integral part of any student’s school experience, mine included.

As I wrap up yet another school year, I am reflecting on homework’s importance. Has it been a necessary tool in my academic journey? Or is it an outdated, pointless tactic of academic evil?

Almost every student has probably thought homework to be a waste of time at some point in their lives, and I am no exception. I have found that certain aspects involved in the homework process require a lot of effort without providing much academic payoff. Spending hours gluing together a poster or trying to format a second line indent have not made me better at science or a more proficient writer. The formatting and assembly often involved in homework assignments are, quite simply, tedious, and not something that I believe improves my abilities as a student. What these experiences have taught me, however, is that seemingly tedious and futile work is often necessary in creating a finished product. Further, I have even found academically beneficial homework to be unproductive at times. In situations where I already have a strong grasp of the material, doing countless homework questions can feel pointless. These are the times when I find I have to decide how to best use my time and sometimes that means not doing all of those homework questions.

Homework has helped me to learn a number of important life skills. For most of the homework I am assigned, if I do not get it done, there will be consequences. Therefore, homework has predominantly helped me to develop time management skills.

When balancing homework for a number of classes, extracurricular activities, and personal and social obligations, I must prioritize and divide my time accordingly. In order to get everything done, I have learned how to be efficient. Further, homework has taught me to be responsible for completing my own work and has helped me in developing collaborative skills whilst working on various group endeavours both in and outside of class. Homework has also helped me to learn an unfortunate reality of life: sometimes, no matter how much you don’t want to do something, you just have to do it anyway.

Even if I don’t always want to do homework, I do acknowledge that it has consistently strengthened my academic abilities. In certain subjects, such as math, where you have to learn a technique or formula, homework can be extremely useful. The repetitive nature of doing homework question after homework question may be tedious, but ultimately, I have found that it does a fantastic job of keeping the information in my brain. Practice is a great way to learn, and in situations like this, homework is simply prescribed practice. In writing and research based subjects, such as English and history, homework has helped me to get a better grasp of the material and the world around me by taking a deeper look at it. In nearly every subject, from the sciences to the arts, homework can be helpful in becoming better at the subject, or gaining further insights into the information being learned. Ultimately, by extending my exposure to the subject, homework will help me to perform better.

In recent years, I have noticed that my school has put more effort into acknowledging and accommodating different learning styles. This includes offering different ways for students to complete assignments and teaching in multi-dimensional ways that target auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. I have noticed from personal, firsthand experience and through observations of my friends and peers that providing students with different, personalized ways to learn is immensely beneficial.

Homework can become stressful, however, when there seems to be more of it than hours in the day. I attend a semestered school and have to balance four classes each term. When you put together day-to-day homework, larger assignments, and the time required to study for tests and evaluations, the amount of effort required can really add up. In my school, and at most high schools, students will usually have a different teacher for each subject. Since the teachers are not responsible for the entirety of any student’s academic schedule, it is up to the students to organize their time so that they can tackle responsibilities from each class. As a result, the time commitment required to do well in each individual subject can be rather significant. Oftentimes, I have found myself having to choose between academic success and personal commitments, and have had to sacrifice time put towards recreation and hobbies in order to get everything done.

When I find the time to do my homework, I do reap the benefits. Homework has been a way for me to test-run my knowledge and abilities before evaluations. By doing my homework, I am able to discover where my strengths and weaknesses lie within the subject, allowing me the opportunity to get help and focus on the areas in which I need improvement. I do not always enjoy homework, but it is much better to find out that I do not understand a certain concept while doing homework as opposed to finding out in the middle of a test.

On the whole, homework seems to be a sort of necessary evil, something that can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately, is beneficial. The role of homework in my life has had a number of benefits, and has improved my skills and abilities both within and outside of the academic spectrum. I believe that like any good thing, homework is best in moderation. Take it too far, and it can become overwhelming, but get the balance just right, and homework is a greatly useful tool on the road to success.

Feel free to share your thoughts on or experiences with homework in the comments below!

Why The Library is an Important Resource for the Whole Family

In today’s age of instant gratification and Internet accessibility, a valuable resource is often overlooked: the public library. While the Internet is an undeniably wonderful tool, and yes, going to the library will require leaving your house, there is a certain magic to exploring rows and rows of paper-bound information “in the flesh.” Below are some of the many reasons why libraries are so important and how you can make them a part of your family’s life.

Libraries Have Books

Quite obviously, libraries have books. While this is common knowledge, many of us have likely not taken the time to consider the significance of having such a wide range of books available for free use. Libraries contain everything from fiction to non-fiction, classics to undiscovered hidden gems. As a result, these books can provide everything from entertainment, teaching a new skill, and information on just about every topic under the sun.

Libraries Provide Opportunities for Learning

The vast range of books at the library provides near-endless opportunity for learning. Be it an informative non-fiction book, a biography of an important historical or public figure, or a fictional story with an important message, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the library. This knowledge can be helpful for kids’ schoolwork, can assist us in becoming more aware of our surrounding world, or can guide us in the learning of a new skill. Does your child have a research project to complete? Take them to the library to find some original and fascinating information that will set their assignment apart. Are you or one of your family members looking for a new hobby? Peruse the how-to section of the library for some inspiration. Further, not only does the library provide concrete information, it can also facilitate the teaching of real life lessons. Learning to take care of, keep track of, and return on time their library books will teach children responsibility, accountability, and how to share.

Libraries Offer Entertainment

Books are often seen as a purely intellectual pursuit, and while reading is undoubtedly good for the brain, books can be wildly entertaining as well. The vast range of books available at public libraries means that there will be something there to engage everyone. You could even start a family book club, which is a great way to connect and reflect on what you are reading. Additionally, many libraries also have DVDs, so you could also select a few titles to have a family movie night. When you’re tired of flipping through seemingly endless and seldom interesting television channels, head to the library for some fresh and exciting entertainment.

Libraries Provide a Quiet Space

Today’s society is a fast-paced one and it can be difficult to find space to take a moment for yourself. Libraries provide the solution to this dilemma. They are quiet, calm spaces, accessible to anyone who needs them. They can be a great place to study, read, write, or work, and the serene environment will help to improve focus and productivity. Take the whole family to the library to work on homework, quietly foster personal creativity, or simply escape from life’s stresses for a few hours.

Libraries Connect Communities

Libraries can be a central part of the community they inhabit and provide a number of opportunities to get involved. Many libraries host various workshops and events, which are often led by or feature local talent. Getting involved in these events can be a great way to both learn from and give back to your community. Libraries can also provide various ongoing work and volunteer opportunities, which is a great chance for your older children to gain real world employment experience. Supporting and getting involved with your local library will help to make you and your family an integral part of the community fabric and could open you up to great new experiences.

The aforementioned reasons are only a few of many as to why libraries are still precious in today’s societies. There are endless ways that you and your families can make use of this resource and allow libraries to enrich your lives. Feel free to share below why you think libraries are important and what they mean to you and your families!