Leading a Book Discussion

Tom Mawhinney
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education
Touro College
thomas.mawhinney@touro.edu

In December 2018, I had the pleasure of leading the first-ever, at least since I’ve worked here, Touro College Book Club organized by our Director of Strategic Initiatives, Rima Aranha.

Being the first is always difficult, one has no exemplars on which to model. So, I did what people have been doing for years, I turned to Oprah. Of course, that was of little help. I knew I couldn’t ask my colleagues to keep a journal, annotate the book or other time intensive activities.

My first idea was to send out a few essential questions, inquiries that had no right or wrong answer, but would get participants to dig into the viscera of the text, Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment. Because educational assessment was a topic I had taught for several years, this was not difficult. What was difficult was deciding on a forum where everyone could easily interact. I wanted to stimulate a rich discussion with some pre-work. I should have known that asking busy professors to take time out during the semester was a fool’s errand.

I created a Google group and shared it with everyone who has signed up. It was like the beginning of Tom Sawyer – “TOM! No answer.” Apparently, there were access issues, so Rima attempted to have the discussion via email. Because this was a new venture for both Rima and me, we decided to play it by ear and see how it went. In the first session, it seemed that most attendees were there to listen. There was some interaction, but not as much as I hoped for. On the plus side, it was great to hear from professors across Touro College. In the next two sessions, on Rima’s suggestion, I summarized the assigned chapters, which turned out to be a great idea and we started to have lively discussions. Following each session, I also sent out practical resources that would enhance the discussion.

Overall, it was a rewarding initial experience, one that I hope will continue and grow as we become more expert at leading these important discussions. It was a great opportunity to share my expertise with colleagues across disciplines, many of whom I had never met. I hope book clubs in the future will continue to undertake rich conversations on the issues that could make us better teachers.

This Fall, we will be on Book Club Number 3. I am looking forward to joining my colleagues for the next book discussion of Barbara Oakley’s Learning How to Learn on October 5th at 3:00 pm. Gena Bardwell from NYSCAS will be the facilitator! RSVP: rima.aranha@touro.edu

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