Mind Readers Book Club of Hilton Head Plantation shares love of reading with California sixth-graders

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJune 10, 2013 

Thanks to Diane Wattay of Hilton Head Island for sharing a story from her book club.

The club is 16 years old. Other members are Sheila Baden, Linda Boyd, Ronda Carpenter, Barbara Clark, Gerry Jagen, Barbara Kittinger, Lois McCue, Arden Polhill, Marilyn Taylor and Noreen Whalen.

This year, books the club has read include "All Over But the Shouting" by Rick Bragg, "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff, "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers, "Still Life" by Louise Penney, "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle" by Fiona Carnarvon, the present Countess of Carnarvon, "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway and "The Zookeepers Wife" by Diane Ackerman.

Members also have an annual "Poetry Slam," during which they read poems they have selected or written. They've had published poets meet with them and say they have found rediscovering poetry to be a very rewarding experience.


By Diane Wattay

Our Mind Readers Book Club of the Hilton Head Plantation Women's Club held a very different meeting in April. We Skyped with a book club of sixth-graders who attend the Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee, Calif.

This is a public charter school modeling comprehensive school reform based on the ideas of German educator Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound.

The Expeditionary Learning model is used in more than 150 schools in 30 states and the District of Columbia. They focus on project-based learning expeditions, where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations and portfolios. The model emphasizes high levels of student engagement, achievement and character development.

Reenie McMains, the teacher of this class of 23 students, suggested to her mother, Noreen Whalen, a member of our book club, that we hold a joint book club meeting using Skype. Renee is a recipient of the Warren Buffett Outstanding Science Teacher Award and also received a Science Teacher of the Year award from President Barack Obama at the White House prior to her moving to California.

Our group was excited about the idea. We were in the mood to try new methods of reaching out to students who are interested in reading.

Sheila Baden offered her home, and with technical help from her husband, Jim, and Jim Boyd, we were able to see the sixth-grade class on a wide-screen television streamed through a computer with a camera, and they, in turn, could see us on their television in California.

The sixth-grade "crew" as they like to be called, who read in a range of sixth- to ninth-grade levels, chose the book, "Poison Study" by Maria V. Snyder. This book, a fantasy, won the 2006 Compton Book award for best first novel.

The students had voiced their concerns about violence in society and the feeling of helplessness they had, so confronting these fears in fantasy stories seemed less threatening.

We agreed on a format for both groups to use, and Lois McCue was our discussion leader while Sawyer and Emma led the sixth-graders.

Our members were very surprised at the level of connection the students made between the book's characters and Nobel Laureates, the Dalai Lama and Adolfo Esquivel, as well as the maturity of the students in discussing topics such as bullying and relationships.

Our club's habit of starting off a book discussion by reviewing the author's life and accomplishments was a new idea to them. They also wanted to know about us: who we were and what careers we had in our lives.

Many of our members have lived in other countries, and many were former teachers.

One member, Ronda Carpenter, a retired professor at Roanoke College in Virginia, remarked that between being a student and teaching, she had spent 60 years in school, which really got their attention.

Most of all, they appreciated our interest in them and our willingness to share ideas.

Many of their parents were present in their classroom during the Skyping. They even brought their students lunch and dessert to have after the meeting. There is a high level of parent involvement at this school, and it shows in the performance and interest of the students.

We received many wonderful thank you notes from the "crew" after our joint meeting.

For example, a note signed "Emily" said: "I appreciated you going along with our system of book club, such as knocking in agreement. You actually seemed to want to use that in your future book clubs and said it would solve the talking-over-each-other problem."

Student Hannah McGill wrote: "We learned from the questions you asked us that made us think more about the book and dig deeper into our brains about what we read and what the lesson was and some other things about the book that we didn't see in the front of the book."

Would we do this again? Absolutely!

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