Communities of Readers – Celebrating National Reading Group Month

Elizabeth KristoffBooks, Inside WITS, Teachers

Here at WITS, we pride ourselves in creating communities of readers among students, mentors, teachers, and even WITS staff and leadership. In honor of National Reading Group Month, we are turning a spotlight on the WITS book clubs that keep us reading, learning, and connected to one another, even when we are apart.

RLTA Study Groups

Across our city, educators are reimagining how to teach. There is no blueprint, no precedent. Instead, CPS teachers must rely on one another to navigate the unusual terrain of virtual instruction.

The WITS Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) Study Group program provides crucial collaborative space for teachers to learn from and cheer on one another. Typically made up of 4-5 educators from the same school, Study Group members select a professional text and project to focus on over the course of the year, working across grade and subject levels to advance their school’s literacy and academic goals.

With the first month of distance learning complete, Study Groups are now meeting to decide how they will approach this year’s unique challenges together.

“Many Study Groups are focusing on engaging and interacting with students in their remote classrooms,” shares Daphne Robinson, WITS’ Program and Operations Manager. Daphne oversees the RLTA Summer Institute and serves as a liaison for Study Group members. “Connecting with students, many of whom they have never met in person, as well as addressing social emotional issues are high priorities in addition to teaching in the content areas.”

Teachers from both Sidney Sawyer Elementary School and Bateman Elementary will be studying Connecting with Students Online, and the study group at Charles Wacker Elementary has chosen The Distance Learning Playbook to support their evolving instruction needs. Other study groups are exploring how to support students’ social and emotional development during this time of change, reading The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching.

RLTA Remaining Readers Book Club

Chicago librarian Rochelle Lee believed that to inspire a love of reading in students, educators must lead by example. The RLTA Remaining Readers Book Club (RRBC) brings Awardees from different schools together for the pleasure of regular, active reading.

“I enjoy reading, but it’s something that didn’t come easily for me growing up and sometimes even as an adult,” reflects Vy Nguyen, a fifth-year RLTA Awardee from Brentano Math and Science Academy. “[Remaining Readers] Book Club has been one of things in the last four years to keep me accountable to keep reading, and [gives] me book recommendations.”

All eight RRBC groups are reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead to start off the school year. After the first meeting, groups will choose what they wish to read and meet every other month or so to discuss a new book.

WITS Study Hall

In May, when our city and nation rallied against racism and injustice, the WITS staff responded through reading. Eeach WITS staff member selected two books for their personal collection, purchased by WITS, to advance our knowledge of systemic racism and how it impacts the work we do. Since many staff members selected Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing, we formed an antiracist book club, WITS Study Hall.

Though the purpose of the group is to engage in conversations about racism, we will also celebrate and enjoy the wide range of genres and stories by BIPOC authors.

WITS Study Hall met for the first time via Zoom on Thursday, October 8th and consisted of WITS staff and Associates Board members.

“I decided to participate in WITS Study Hall because I believe antiracist work is not meant to take place in a vacuum,” shares Delaney Earley, a WITS Program Coordinator. “Learning involves personal reflection, perspective sharing, and action—all things a book club can help facilitate!”

Ana Porta, WITS’ Marketing and Communications Coordinator, agrees. “WITS Study Hall is a great place to convene with fellow book-lovers, especially during this time of increased isolation. It’s a great form of accountability for reading, and I appreciate hearing other’s input while continuing to savor the portions that resonated the most. I’m looking forward to exploring a variety of genres and celebrating BIPOC writers with friends and coworkers.”

WITS Study Hall welcomes all for our next meeting on in early December. Sign up information and details about our book selection can be found on the WITS Study Hall page.

WITS believes that sharing stories from our lives and exploring the world through books makes us better readers and people. In this time of remarkable change, being a part of a community of readers provides structure, camaraderie, and comfort. Follow WITS on social media and check back on our website to learn how these four groups of readers continue to connect through books throughout the year.

WITS provides literacy programming at no cost to Chicago neighborhood elementary schools.

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