Thursday, November 19, 2009

A HUGE Grand Discussion of Bystander

Several years ago my friend and colleague Joyce and I started an event for fifth grade students and parents. We pick a book, have the students read with a parent and then we all meet together for an evening discussion of the book. We called it The Grand Discussion and both of us think it's one of the best things we do as teachers each year.

On Tuesday, we convened in the school library to discuss James Preller's newest book, Bystander. I reviewed it here and I honestly think it should be required reading for students in middle school or just getting ready to enter middle school like our students are.

Well, the turn out was of record proportions! Typically we have between 40 and 50 people at our events and Joyce and I pat ourselves on the back and say, "Job well done!" Imagine our surprise when people started showing up, and kept showing up, and then some more showed up, and then we started welcoming everyone and some more showed up and in the end around 85 people were at the most recent Grand Discussion! 85! That's right, 85!

I pulled all of my chairs from the back room and Joyce and some boys dragged some chairs from the second grade classrooms across the hall, and we still didn't have enough


We had people discussing Bystander in THE PIT!

We had people discussing Bystander in The Commons!

We had people discussing Bystander ALL OVER THE LIBRARY! IT WAS AWESOME!


  1. That looks fantastic, Bill! Well done!

  2. This is truly amazing -- kudos to you and Joyce for creating the groundwork to make this event so successful. You both deserve a warm congratulations!!

  3. What a wonderful idea! I'm an instructional coach at my school and would love to give this a try next semester. Could you post a little more detail as to how you organize the groups for discussion, questions discussed, etc. or email me at Thanks so much! I love reading your blog and always come away with wonderful ideas!

  4. I'd love to know the details, and I'm guessing others would too. How did you promote the event, organize, break into groups, facilitate discussions, etc.?

    Actually, you want to just come to my school and get an event started here?

    Seriously, thanks for the idea and for allowing your excitement to travel through your post.

  5. Thanks for the ideas for a post! I guess I need to put a little more detail to a Grand Discussion how to!

  6. That is soooo cool! I want to know more. Is it just for 5th grade students and their parents? How do you decide what book you will read? How long do you have to read it? Do you give them discussion questions to guide the discussion? I am very interested in doing this at Pinney.

  7. Do you provide the books for students and their parents or do they purchase the book themselves? I would love to do something like this at my school.

  8. First of all, wow. Thank you, Bill, for selecting my book for your Grand Discussion. I feel honored and grateful. As I've said in other places, I do think of this one as a "talking" book, where what happens after the book is possibly more significant -- in the hands of a good teacher, conversationalist -- than what's between the covers.

    Anyway, I hope it helped spark some worthwhile conversations, debates, arguments, chair tossing, and general lively abuse. What's a Grand Discussion without a little heat?

    If there are any questions left over, anything you or the students would care for me to comment about in regard to the book, I'd be happy to answer questions via email @ I recently meet with a group of 6th-graders and it was fascinating, and illuminating, to hear their observations, questions, compliments and criticisms.

    My best,

  9. What a fantastic idea! I've toyed with the idea of doing this in our library, and you've given me the perfect book that matches both boys and girls. Can't wait to read it. Thanks so much for sharing the book love! :)