Book Club Reflections

Last week, most of our class was spent on our book clubs (and Socratic seminars – I wonder if anyone ended up doing an Socratic Seminar?). We did spend some time on housekeeping issues in the beginning of class, including a small group + class discussion of what seemed to me to be a very flawed psychological study suggesting that “children who play video games may be become more impulsive, and those children who are impulsive are likely to play more video games.” This study was flawed, it seems, for a number of reasons, but I don’t want to get into that here. I could write an entire post just about this issue, so I’m going to save it for later (although when I find the link to the study I will add it here).

During our book club meetings, I saw some interesting things happen across the different groups. The most common piece of constructive criticism that I put on other groups’ evaluation sheets, and the most common piece that was put on my group’s evaluation sheet, was to “make sure the facilitators weren’t overly involved in the group discussion.” I’ve got a few thoughts on this.

First, I think we were primed, as a class, to make this criticism. Even though the majority of the groups chose to use a more traditional “book club” as their format, we had our major class discussion on this topic re: Socratic Seminars. In the Socratic Seminars, of course, the facilitator is to be so uninvolved as to basically disappear into the best Seminars. After such discussion, we were primed to look for over-involvement by facilitators. After all, unlike a Socratic Seminar, a book club seems like it is much less “restrictive” in its set up and implementation. A book club, after all, is an affair much more catered to its participants’ interests and desires, whereas a Socratic Seminar is a specifically designed tool for teaching critical reading and discussion skills.

At the same time, this willingness of myself and my book club participants to look at this level of facilitator involvement is telling as well. A book club, as I said earlier, is designed to meet the desires and needs and skills of its users. Clearly, many of our users want facilitators who step back and let the group discuss.

After discussing this with some others in the class, I think it is interesting to see that many folks also find this to be one of the hardest things to accomplish, when they are called on as facilitators. It attacks our sense of control, as well as opening us up to unexpected moves from our participants. I know some people are quite skilled at this “letting go” and letting others take control of a situation that you’ve set up – does anyone have any thoughts/advice/techniques on this front?


About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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1 Response to Book Club Reflections

  1. Kelly says:

    I think I wrote about this a little in one of my blog posts, but I was able to pull off a Socratic-style seminar in one of the freshman writing classes I taught a few years ago. Students, too, I think, are primed to be quiet receivers of lectures in a lot of instances, so I tried to change up this dynamic by choosing interesting, provocative readings and then asking students to come to class with questions for discussion. Having them sit in a circle, and letting silence drag out when necessary proved to be a useful motivator — they had the same instincts to move the conversation along when put in the role of “facilitator” rather than student. I don’t know how this method would evolve over time, but I would be interested to see.

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