August 07

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The 5 W’s (and an H) of an After-School Book Club by Michelle Gajda

Love of books, love of reading, love of learning, love of women’s history…..what do you do when you have so many “loves” inside you? Why you share them, of course! As a teacher, it seems natural to want to share the love and joy of reading and learning. Thus, the Girls with Grit After school Book Club was born!

Why? I decided to start Girls with Grit for these reasons but also because of my students.  I wanted a way to broaden my student’s horizons and to help them realize that they are not limited by their surroundings and experiences. I also wanted to provide students with an opportunity to read solely for the love of reading and learning and encourage them to become life-long readers!

Who? All students, boys and girls, in grades 3-6 were invited to join the Girls with Grit Book Club.

When? We began meeting in early October after school once a week for an hour. Next year,  I will expand the time to an hour and half. We were originally scheduled to meet for 8 weeks, but extended into 10 weeks because the members didn’t want to stop!

Where? The group met in my classroom and often times, spilled out into the hallway when we needed to spread out for activities.

What? The original structure of our meetings was to explore a particular topic each week: women of science, history, sports, education, politics, civil rights, arts and culture and adventure. Books about women in the particular topic would be read and shared between the members. Most of the club’s book collection are biographical picture books, so reading them in a shorter sitting was possible. However, I soon discovered that student interest made our topics spread over 2-3 weeks!

At the end of each meeting, all of the members came together to share what they had learned and read about. This was often a time of great discussion and eye-opening moments!

Each week, we also did activities that related to our topics. Some of them included:

* I AM Vision Boards

* “Women Inventors” Graffiti Wall

* Weekly Journal Writing that highlighted who they had read about, what they learned and what their achievement meant to the reader.

* “Strong Women Make Me Strong” Silhouettes

The culminating event for the club members was having author Heather Lang come to speak with them about the women she has written about in her amazing books. It was a wonderful experience for the members to sit down with Heather and talk with her about her writing process, her research and the women she has highlighted in her books. For some of the members, I truly feel as though her visit was a life-changing event.

How? The book club was funded in part by a grant through our local community that does a lot to support the needs of the schools and students. Some of it was personally funded, as I am constantly purchasing new books to add to my growing library of books about strong, trailblazing women.

How successful was the Girls with Grit Book Club? There was not a week that went by when one of the members didn’t say “I didn’t know that girls couldn’t do that in the past.” One athletic member of the group was appalled to learn that girls were not always allowed to play on baseball teams. We had some wonderful discussions about the opportunities available to women now that haven’t always been an option. Mapping the ocean floor? Shark Scientist? Yes, please! Many members learned about new careers. I learned right alongside the members….we read, researched and shared together.  At the end of our sessions, one member wrote me a very sweet thank you that said, “I am so glad you are going to do the Girls with Grit Book Club again next year. I loved it so much!” From a teacher’s point of view, it doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Michelle Gajda is a second grade teacher at a small, rural elementary school in Western Massachusetts. She is a proud member of her school’s Literacy Committee whose mission is to put books into the hands of all of their students and help make them lifelong, passionate readers. She is a certified reading specialist who may, or may not, have a bit of an obsession with collecting children’s books! If you would like more information about running your own Girls with Grit book club, please contact her at mgajda2866@gmail.com