Literature circles are empowering to readers because they are authentic student driven book talks. Virtual literature circles can occur using a wiki that are as impressive as face to face small groups. This week I had the chance to visit the wilsonlitcircles to see how a group of students share ideas and new thinking about books they have read and digested. I was very impressed. Virtual literature circles are something I had made a plan to do and then got sidetracked with other school responsibilities. This year I intend to try them. Students in virtual literature circle wikis have opportunities to have virtual discussions and practice varied comprehension techniques. Communication skills are sharpened as students use supporting evidence and explain inferences and connections. Writing skills are also put to good use. Because of the small group format, an intimate learning network is formed as students are propelled forward in the book and community is built around the week’s reading.
The virtual literature circle has some advantages over a face-to-face literature circle. The need to use paper to complete role sheets is eliminated because ideas and thinking can be expressed in the wiki. This of course saves paper. It eliminates the student cries of I cannot find my work. There are no more excuses of I left it home, or my younger sibling ruined it, or even my mom spilled coffee all over it. Students can work from home and at school. Considering the number of days and hours missed because of inclement weather this is a big advantage over face to face groups. Everyone can complete work and move forward if work is entered into the wiki even if a group member is absent. Students do not miss out because there is an archive of the work.
As teachers circulate around the room it is hard to know if work is being accomplished when multiple discussions are happening at once. Sometimes teachers cannot tell if some students are quiet while others dominate the discussions. Virtual wikis can help identify exactly who contributes what in the group. The wiki becomes a collaborative workspace and students have chances to see models of completed role sheets and see ideas written down, not just spoken. There can be many authentic examples for students of reading concepts they are studying such as connections, thick and thin questions, and inferences.
At the end of the discussion group, there is physical evidence of the work completed in the wiki to share with others. This work can be part of a portfolio. The wiki work can be shared with classmates, family and the world. Some wiki users do not make the wikis public until after all the work is finished. Literature circle wikis can be informative to students and serve as book recommendation sources, as well. All that is needed to get the virtual literature circles off to a good start (explanations, directions, tips for setting up links like author interviews and biographies) can be housed on pages of the wiki. Another impressive virtual lit circle I viewed this week is available for you to check out here.
Are you ready to change your face-to-face literature circle into a virtual one? What do you think the drawbacks will be? Comment about your experiences with virtual lit circles in wikis.