Great Books Program

Great Books Reading List

Sherwood has a long tradition in offering reading experiences to our children throughout the summer. Over the years it has taken the form of a community library, a modest reading program embedded within the Camp, as well as an adult book club for life-long learners.

A natural progression in the effort to offer more robust experiences and opportunities for our children is to focus a somewhat notional reading program into an exceptional experience. An experience that emphasizes critical reading skills, using great literary works, in balance with a casual summertime tempo. A program that blends the best of the Great Books Foundation’s program for youth, led by trained Socratic method discussion facilitators that invite great conversation on some of the world’s best writing.

What is the Great Books Foundation?

The Great Books Foundation is an independent, nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to provide people of all ages with the opportunity to read, discuss, and learn from outstanding works of literature. Founded in 1947 by Robert Maynard Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago, and philosopher and scholar Mortimer Adler, the Foundation was established to encourage lifelong learning for all citizens. As part of a grass-roots movement to promote continuing education beyond the classroom, the Foundation aimed to provide opportunities for all Americans to participate in a “Great Conversation” of some of the world’s best writing.

In 1962 the Foundation introduced the Junior Great Books program to extend the benefits of reading and discussing literature to elementary, middle, and high school students. Through the Junior Great Books program, the Foundation developed a cycle of learning and discovery that students carry with them beyond their formal education and into adulthood.

More than one million students participate in Junior Great Books, a nationally acclaimed reading and discussion program used in thousands of public and private schools nationwide.

The Foundation conducts workshops on how to lead shared inquiry discussion for more than 15,000 teachers and parent volunteers each year. An estimated 15,000 adults participate in over 700 Great Books discussion groups that meet regularly in libraries, homes, schools, and community centers.

The Shared Inquiry Method of Learning

The goal of Great Books programs is to instill in adults and children the habits of mind that characterize a self-reliant thinker, reader, and learner. Great Books programs are predicated on the idea that everyone can read and understand excellent literature-literature that has the capacity to engage the whole person, the imagination as well as the intellect. As a leader of shared inquiry, you will develop your own mind as you help your participants think for themselves and learn from each other.

Shared inquiry is a distinctive method of learning in which participants search for answers to fundamental questions raised by a text. This search is inherently active; it involves taking what the author has given us and trying to grasp its full meaning, to interpret or reach an understanding of the text in light of our experience and using sound reasoning.

The success of shared inquiry depends on a special relationship between the leader and the group. As a shared inquiry leader, you do not impart information or present your own opinions, but guide participants in reaching their own interpretations. You do this by posing thought-provoking questions and by following up purposefully on what participants say. In doing so, you help them develop both the flexibility of mind to consider problems from many angles, and the discipline to analyze ideas critically.

In shared inquiry, participants learn to give full consideration to the ideas of others, to weigh the merits of opposing arguments, and to modify their initial opinions as the evidence demands. They gain experience in communicating complex ideas and in supporting, testing, and expanding their own thoughts. In this way, the shared inquiry method promotes thoughtful dialogue and open debate, preparing its participants to become able, responsible citizens, as well as enthusiastic, lifelong readers. Example discussion questions from Playground to Seniors might be:

  • Why does Cinderella pretend the slipper might not fit her?
  • Is being yourself something you need to practice or does it come naturally?
  • Why do the ugly duckling’s unhappy experiences give him a good heart?
  • Declaration of Independence motivated by a sense of moral outrage, or by their own self-interest?
  • What constitutes the public good?
  • In the Gettysburg Address, why does Lincoln say that the war will not only test whether the United States can endure but also “whether . . . any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure”?
  • Why does Martin Luther King Jr. find it especially difficult to explain racism to children?

Children Reading and Discussing Literature

The Junior Great Books program is the cornerstone of our effort to make reading and discussing literature a lifelong pursuit. First introduced to schools in 1962, Junior Great Books is now used by more than 1 million students in all 50 states and in countries around the world. By combining age-appropriate literature with the shared inquiry method of discussion, Junior Great Books brings literature to life and helps students discover a joy of reading they will carry with them into adulthood.

Junior Great Books is proven to help students develop the essential skills of reading carefully, thinking critically, listening intently, and speaking and writing persuasively. The highly regarded program is most often led by teachers in classrooms with students of mixed abilities as an integral part of the regular language arts curriculum. However, it is flexible enough to focus on the needs of, gifted and AP, and Title 1 students or to use as an after-school program led by parents, volunteers, or librarians.

Great Books for Sherwood Forest

In the Sherwood Great Books Program students, reinforce, practice, and begin to master reading and critical-thinking skills. They strengthen their ability to read for meaning, increase their comprehension, and build their vocabulary. As students share their interpretations, they develop their questioning and listening skills. Students also gain confidence in their ability to express their ideas in writing.

Activities include:

  • Shared inquiry discussion
  • Raising and answering questions
  • Noting significant passages
  • Supporting ideas with evidence from the text
  • Vocabulary development