Book Club: Justin Case

I had a great intern this past semester, and I made good use of her. I’d been reading wonderful things about counselors doing book clubs (see here and here) and really wanted to give it a try. To make the most of the group time, the group was created to 1) increase school motivation/effort and 2) improve literacy skills.

At that time in the semester, I felt like I was servicing 2nd and 4th grades the most so I chose 3rd grade as the target for this. Here is how students were chosen.
1) I reviewed test scores for a recent standardized assessment they took that was meant as a predictor for our big end of the year test. I made a list of all students who scored as a high “Basic” for the English and Language Arts Test (basically, the “bubble” kids that were very close to being “Proficient”.
2) Then I separated out the students who also scored “Basic” for the literacy sub-section (since this is the only sub-section that our book club could realistically improve scores on).
3) I emailed my 3rd grade teachers the list of students and asked them if they believed any of these students would have higher grades/test scores if they had increased school motivation/effort. Voila – these became our kids!
Because I use picture books in my school counseling practice, I consulted with my school’s librarian to find a chapter book that 1) would appeal to both genders, 2) was within a low 3rd grade reading level, and 3) could be a jumping off point for school motivation/effort. She finally sold me on Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters (Justin Case Series). It’s a bit above the reading level of some of the students, but doing it as a group is fine. Although I’ve discovered the main character suffers more from school and social worries than low school effort, it is still working for us.

The group (which is still going on – we picked a long book) is run once a week for 45 minutes (30 of which are during the students’ scheduled lunch). Each student has a copy of the book as do I or my intern. In each book is a bookmark with a job title on it. We rotate these so that each week, students have a different job. “Settings Tracker”, “Character Tracker”, “Historian”, and “Predictor” were jobs we picked by looking at what sort of questions were being asked in the literacy sub-section of one of our major ELA assessments for 3rd and 4th grade. The “Motivator” and “Connector” jobs are the SEL focused ones meant to stir discussion regarding school effort and motivation.
Improving reading scores with book club using trade books and reading jobs.
Improving reading scores with book clubs utilizing trade books describing each job in book club is.

We start each group with the Historian doing their job. We then take turns reading the journal entries, usually reading the last entry chorally. Other jobs do their part and then we’re done!

While the students have trouble remembering to come (still…after over 6 weeks…), they are really engaged in the story and their jobs. Better yet, the most recent standardized test they took showed 4 out of 6 of them making gains in their reading scores which is even more impressive considering that most 3rd graders’ reading scores went down. We have fun together AND we improve student data – Win!

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
I get to serve in a different way now
– by helping fellow counselors and

I value quality over quantity,
effective practices and resources,
and meeting the unique needs of all
our diverse learners.


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