Discussions for Discussion Leaders

The Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT), the Chicago-area readers advisory continuing education group I’ve mentioned before on this blog, has for a number of years periodically hosted a special event called “The Book Discussion Round-up.”  This program is divided into two parts, the first being a book discussion that lasts for about an hour, the second a review of the attendees’ recent experiences with leading their own book discussions.

The book discussion focuses on a title that the ARRT Steering Committee has selected and publicized when the program is first announced.  Participants are expected to locate their own copy and read it in advance.  When they come to the program, they will have an opportunity to participate in a discussion without having the responsibility to prepare for it as the leader.  Members of the Steering Committee take on the leadership role and bring a packet of discussion materials to the session to share with the participants.  Each participant leaves with this packet, which they can use in conducting one of their own future discussions.  Another big benefit of the activity is that attendees experience the discussions as participants rather than in their usual role as leaders:  they can enjoy the discussion from a different perspective, and often this switch gives them valuable new insights into ways of working with their own groups.

The “round-up” of ideas that takes place during the second segment of the program (often lasting around two hours) offers attendees a chance to compile a list of titles that have worked well for other leaders, as well as some that have bombed (interestingly enough, sometimes the same title shows up on both lists!).  During this “give-and-take” period, everyone shares problems they’ve had with their groups as well as success stories, and the participants come away with plenty of books they want to explore, as well as tips on how to provide more effective discussions.

 Among the books used in past “Round-up” discussions: The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx; Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt; Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam; House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III; Plainsong, by Kent Haruf; and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.

This is a successful continuing education activity that would be easy enough to replicate with book discussion leaders from several nearby libraries or with staff members who lead book discussions in a larger library with branch facilities.  It has also been used as a model for a series of book discussion leadership training workshops coordinated by ARRT members at annual conferences of the Illinois Library Association.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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