Reading groups that bring students, educators and families together benefit everyone involved. The advantages described here are well documented and supported by research that shows improvements in school climate, family and community engagement, and reading and language skills. Here are a few points to emphasize as you talk about the value of a social justice reading group:
- Reading groups support children in processing current events and hard truths about the world around them. When planned carefully and conscientiously, these groups afford children opportunities to both talk about the issues that affect their lives and learn to act in ways that advance justice in their own communities. They also give children safe, supported spaces in which to practice discussing critical topics with people whose perspectives might differ from their own.
- Reading groups help children situate present events within a larger historical context of social injustice. The inquiry built into the group format helps young people reflect on the ideologies that perpetuate social injustice and recognize how much there is to learn about the ongoing struggle for equity and equal rights. It also lets them see themselves in the actions of young people who participated in social movements of the past.
- Reading groups facilitate social emotional learning.1 They do this in several ways. They allow children to learn from each other and from their families, reinforcing positive identity formation. They supply models of how adults express concern and empathy and think about difficult subject matter. Research shows that, after participating in book clubs, students connect more strongly with their teacher and classmates and also become more engaged.2 As educator and researcher Nathaniel Petrich explains, when students come together to read, they are “building a foundation for an encouraging and involved classroom community. A community can consist of self-motivated students who are involved in each other’s learning; it can also safely demand a deeper level of investment and thinking.”3
- Reading groups develop critical thinking and literacy skills. Reading groups help students build the foundational skills they need for reading, and they help students build speaking and listening skills. Depending on the structure of the reading group and the genres and number of texts discussed, participation in a reading group can move students toward meeting all of the CCSS ELA anchor standards for reading, a majority of the anchor standards for speaking and listening, and several of the anchor standards for language.
- Reading groups build family and community engagement. Reading groups that include families align educators’ and families’ expectations of what it means to be involved in a child’s education.4 Through this authentic form of participation, parents actively engage in their children’s schooling. The funds of knowledge that families bring with them are resources that position them as equal partners with educators; participation also centers family and community values as important in the children’s learning.5
- Family engagement bolsters students’ academic performance. Including families in reading groups has significant, measurable effects on students’ reading acquisition, increasing vocabulary and literacy skills, and on their academic performance more generally. Surveying a number of studies, developmental psychologist Monique Sénéchal found that “the combined effect” of family involvement was equivalent to a 10-point gain on a standardized test.6
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A Note to Educators
Before you begin this collaborative project, there are a few steps you’ll need to take on your own. Please see “Laying the Groundwork for Reading Groups,” located in the appendix, before you move on.
- Polleck, 2010
- Dresser, 2013
- Petrich, 2015
- Baird, 2015
- Moll Et Al. 1992; Barajas-Lopez and Ishimaru, 2016
- Sénéchal, 2008