Reflecting on Our Book Club Experience

This last week in class, we split into smaller cohorts to lead and participate in various book discussions. I previously went through our cohort’s reading selections, so I want to spend this post thinking more deliberately about the actual discussions themselves — the dynamics between facilitators and discussion participants and perhaps some of my own take-aways and lessons learned.

I’m curious if any of the other cohorts ended up with a group who felt like a more specific Socratic Seminar format was really the best fit for their piece of writing as well as their participants.  In our cohort, nobody said anything like “pretend you are 9th grade lit students,” but that could have been pretty interesting.

Within our cohort, there seemed to be just a general “book club”/discussion format across all groups/works. We weren’t pretending to be any audience/set of readers in particular, and there were no set rules set out. I think that I was pleasantly surprised by the difference that various facilitators brought to each group simply by the nature of their own styles of teaching and interacting, as well as their individual backgrounds. Some questions took on a more literary tone, others focused on thinking through historical context.

Our own discussion group was 2nd to last, which could be a little bit of a challenging spot.  Nobody’s eyes had glazed over by the time we started into our session, but I was a little bit wary of that. I’m thankful for my smart group-mates, who suggested a specific activity to kick things off. We saw from the evaluation that people really appreciated a little bit of time to think about something individually, to reflect and collect some thoughts before jumping in to discussion.

Overall, it felt (both in the moment, and in our evaluations) like our discussion was mostly successful.  However, our group dynamics were a little bit skewed, and I think I’d be more deliberate about considering that the next time I facilitated a group like this. While most of the facilitators were in pairs, our group had three folks. And, to be honest, all three of us like to move conversations along, are eager to share our thoughts, and aren’t very timid about talking. These can be great qualities at times, but a strength overdone can be a weakness (and vice versa). It’s all about modulation and knowing when it’s appropriate to jump in and when it’s best to practice listening and using a very gentle hand in facilitation.

I don’t think we were terrible in this role, but just speaking for myself, I think that I could have hung back a bit more and let the group members unfold their own discussion a bit more. After the session, I felt very much like Metzger in her Socratic Seminar piece — students asked her to take a step back and leave the “inner circle” and let them take the lead in discussion.  And ultimately, I think that a lot of groups can be trusted to guide topics along their own interests. It’s not an insult to be relegated to the observer role for a while. In fact, that’s oftentimes the best way for participants to feel truly engaged in their own discussion and figuring-things-out process.

What do you see as the difference between leading and facilitating?

How do your ideas of “teaching” or “instruction” fit with these terms?

Have you had experiences where you felt you needed to modulate/pull back your “teacher” role in order to let students have more stake in their own learning?

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2 thoughts on “Reflecting on Our Book Club Experience

  1. Group dynamics are so fascinating — I vividly remember the semesters where I taught two sections of the same class, and taught the same material to two different classes on a day, with completely different reactions and different types of interaction. I quickly realized that I had to get better at having backup activities and a wider range of activities for the “quiet” class in order to engage their communication style, whereas my other class would’ve talked all day with little input on my part. I think the teaching vs. facilitating question is interesting in this context, because sometimes you have one role in mind and end up performing the other one, based on the group.

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