How might the pedagogical formation of literature circles in our classrooms potentially contribute to forming and supporting the emergence of diverse and substantial friendships between gifted and/or talented young people

How might the pedagogical formation of literature circles in our classrooms potentially contribute to forming and supporting the emergence of diverse and substantial friendships between gifted and/or talented young people?

In my personal experiences and observations across magnet school settings to honors English classrooms, I have often witnessed the application of literature circles as a strategy in place to remedy the shortcomings of direct instruction, which frequently fails to hook the interest and passions an audience to embracing a challenging text. In a similar fashion, I reflect upon my own personal experiences in a GATE pull-out program where considerable effort was often placed in surveying or studying a text in relatively respectable depth for a cluster of 4th and 5th graders. (As a class, we were reading James Hilton’s text Lost Horizon as an “enrichment or bonus text’ to an interdisciplinary unit originally based around exploring the texts of Jack London (Call of the Wild, Son of the Wolf, Strength of the Strong, etc.).

After the first week’s lesson, which was essentially built from reading passages out loud in a strong Yiddish accent and listening to our GATE teacher anchor himself further and further into pages of the text, As a group we were dissuaded from reading let alone opening the text outside of class, and any time spent discussing it without his “guidance” was also strongly discouraged. As a result, it seemed that effectively speaking, Lost Horizon was supposed to have lived exclusively in that weekly ninety-minute GATE class and as the door opened, and we returned to our mainstream classrooms across the courtyard, it would cease to exist.

I remember the consensus on the walk back to our classroom was that most students clustered into pairs to weather this storm and had organized beyond class, with a plan that encouraged their parents to rent Frank Capra’s adaptation on DVD as a “work around.” Some kids who knew each other through Hebrew school, sports, or equestrian grouped together to set up a “sleep over” to gain any edge competitively with many students lost, confused, or infuriated compared to the accessibility of the London texts and their direct connection to American history which we had previously encountered.

I returned to this experience in consideration of the value of teaching with and observing other teachers using literary circles in contrast to teaching literature with direct instruction, having witnessed effectively the same sort of alliances formed between groups students that I originally observed, as those which form naturally and were driven by inquiry, interest, and agency similarly to what I believe was naturally driving my GATE peers even if it came with a dollop of competitiveness to win our teachers favor, their survival, or simply in an effort to outperform other pairings of students in their early considerations of themes like longevity, love, and the infuriating eastern slant in the novel as it rested upon their emerging pre batmitizvah encounters with the Torah. As we left elementary school, I was surprised to see many of these pairings and alliances continued from such a point of origin. It was not gender-specific either, kids who clung together to overcome an ambiguous uncertain encounter with literature seemed to support a deeper bond, or at least one that certainly transcended the closed door of our GATE class.

After reviewing this chapter of Hebert’s and considering that the GATE pull out methods are no longer applicable as students are de-tracked or later settle into AP and IB coursework characteristically favoring novel breadth beyond novel depth targeted at performance, that the literature circle as a formation which places students in groups to actively discuss, examine, and even determine texts is of considerable value and importance to the social and emotional development of our late adolescent and young adolescent G&T learners, to which the sleep over has likely lost its charm by now. As a valuable context for enriched and expanded differentiation the potential for autonomy, interdependency, and vulnerability that can be cultivated through a small group making their way through a challenging text to meet the destabilizing expectations of an instructor has all the makings of potential to forge not only interpersonal understandings and identification between the gifted and talented but friendships even that have within them something that might endure beyond the pomp of high school, in offering students more than just an opportunity for meaningful discussion but the opportunity and agency to share their authentic self, safely with each other before venturing out into the world as seniors teetering on its brink, with too many possibilities to ignore and so much potential to encourage flourishing via “insert author here.”

Or, perhaps we could return to Hebert and just encourage students to privately write down whom they would like to receive as a friend? Which could be a rather beautiful moment for children, but certainly not adolescents. Though, wouldn’t a (physical or even an electronic) text shared between two or more incredibly awkward teenagers hellbent upon self-discovery ultimately lead to something more substantive?  Music certainly has this irrefutable power that sustains itself into the lives of countless adults across social media platforms like Musx, Vampr, Tastebuds or Clikd.  So is it that strange to anchor the merits to bookshelf compatibility between our G&T learners? Nevertheless, I would like to think of the well-supported and facilitated literary circle as a reduction arrived at from the ingredients and facilitation of the “car wash, extracurricular, big brother/sister, journaling” approach and even then, some. Besides, with all the STEM in the school air teetering upon the brink of automation, would it be going too far to say that the humanities still actually do have some left in them worth acting upon?

Additional Works Considered:

Riddle, S. (1996). Is Your Classroom a Literature Oasis? Gifted Child Today Magazine,      19(5), 30–33.

Robinson, A., & National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, S. C.          (1991). Cooperative Learning and the Academically Talented Student. Research- Based Decision Making Series.

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