Using a Book Group to Facilitate Student Learning About Social Work

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The focus of this short paper is the increasingly popular format of the book group. This format has been used on an undergraduate social work programme in the UK with the aim of engaging students, as some enjoy reading fiction for pleasure but find it harder to read social science. The BA Social Work Book Group has met regularly to discuss non-social science books, such as novels and autobiographies. A specific example is presented of a best-selling novel with significant social work content (J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy) and the book group's discussion of this. The strengths and limitations of book groups in social work education are drawn out.

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... Guided reading groups have shown promise as one unique teaching method for social work students to contend with complex human service and policy issues (Lewis, 2004;Scourfield & Taylor, 2014;Zerden et al., 2019). Converting the traditional higher education classroom to a book club experience has been linked with higher levels of student participation, confidence in course material, and motivation to learn more, as well as a sense of empowerment in one's own learning (Lewis, 2004;Plake, 2010). ...
... Converting the traditional higher education classroom to a book club experience has been linked with higher levels of student participation, confidence in course material, and motivation to learn more, as well as a sense of empowerment in one's own learning (Lewis, 2004;Plake, 2010). As Scourfield and Taylor (2014) noted, we cannot ignore the pragmatic consideration that some students find scientific writing difficult to engage with. A book club offers an innovative format that can tap into a range of student learning styles, preferences, and needs. ...
... Selection bias is also an important factor; T&B was an extracurricular activity into which students self-selected. Thus, similar to other research that examines PBL (e.g., Lam, 2009) and the book club format (e.g., Plake, 2010;Scourfield & Taylor, 2014), the sample may be skewed toward individuals who had prior enthusiasm for the topic. The pilot was also limited to in-person students, thereby excluding students in the online program who tend to have more diversity in work experience and age (George Washington University Health Workforce Institute, 2019). ...
This qualitative study examines “Trauma & the Brain”—a case-based training series for graduate-level social work students focused on the neurodevelopmental impact of childhood trauma. Four focus groups were conducted with 17 participants from the Trauma & the Brain training series. Reflexive thematic analysis identified six themes regarding students’ application of training series content to their field work: nurturing a learning community, bridging content and curriculum gaps, understanding “the why,” taking the toolbox into the field, confident communicators, and field challenges. Implications for social work education are discussed, including the necessity of preparing students for fluent communication about complex trauma in multidisciplinary settings, and building learning communities that connect students across cohorts and micro- and macro-practice tracks.
... Hence, social work students can analyse how social realities, characters and phenomena are constructed and portrayed in literature (Cnaan, 1989). Scourfield and Taylor (2014) also identified the specific pedagogical potential of the analysis of literature in social work courses as a means of facilitating learning. Fiction may help to draw upon one's own life experiences and disclose personal stories, familiarise oneself with different interpretations of the same phenomenon and reflect upon the connections between these interpretations and theories (Lewis, 2004;Weber, 2010). ...
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This article focuses on the analysis of 14 social work students’ MA course assignments using Lucia Berlin’s short story entitled ‘Good and Bad’. Our focus is twofold: We ask 1) How do social work students describe their learning when analysing Berlin’s short story; and 2) what kinds of skills do they identify as resulting from this learning? Our analysis indicates that social work students view the use of works of fiction in social work instruction as useful for their education in two key ways. First, in most cases, students found that analysing fiction enhanced their analytical strategies, such as advancing their ability to think critically and apply theoretical knowledge in practice. Second, students viewed the analysis of fiction as helpful in adopting skills relevant to social work practitioners, referring, for example, to emotional labour and to operating in situations that involve conflicting interpretations. We conclude that the use of fiction in social work education is beneficial when students are given explicit guidelines regarding how to place fiction into the context of academic theories, scientific knowledge and epistemological considerations. In addition, to enhance students’ learning, encouraging students to self-reflect is vital to discussing their reflections and interpretations in face-to-face encounters.
... [15][16] Book clubs have also been used for longitudinal professional development in other allied health professions and as a way to improve interprofessional communication, leadership skills, and learner's understanding of the patient perspective. [17][18][19][20][21][22] However, there is limited literature regarding the use of book clubs in graduate medical education (GME). 21,[23][24] The literature that does exist primarily consists of curricular descriptions and limited outcome data, which have generally been positive. ...
Introduction: Professional development is an important component of graduate medical education, but it is unclear how to best deliver this instruction. Book clubs have been used outside of medicine as a professional development tool. We sought to create and evaluate a virtual professional development book club for emergency medicine interns. Methods: We designed and implemented a virtual professional development book club during intern orientation. Afterward, participants completed an evaluative survey consisting of Likert and free-response items. Descriptive statistics were reported. We analyzed free-response data using a thematic approach. Results: Of 15 interns who participated in the book club, 12 (80%) completed the evaluative survey. Most (10/12; 83.3%) agreed or strongly agreed that the book club showed them the importance of professional development as a component of residency training and helped them reflect on their own professional (11/12; 91.7%) and personal development (11/12; 91.7%). Participants felt the book club contributed to bonding with their peers (9/12; 75%) and engagement with the residency program (9/12; 75%). Our qualitative analysis revealed five major themes regarding how the book club contributed to professional and personal development: alignment with developmental stage; deliberate practice; self-reflection; strategies to address challenges; and communication skills. Conclusion: A virtual book club was feasible to implement. Participants identified multiple ways the book club positively contributed to their professional development. These results may inform the development of other book clubs in graduate medical education.
... They may aim to improve reading ability (Kong & Fitch, 2002;Raphael & McMahon, 1994) because discussion aids comprehension (Broughton, 2002;Murphy, Wilkinson, Soter, Hennessey, & Alexander, 2009). They may be therapeutic (Hammer, Egestad, Nielsen, Bjerre, Johansen, Egerod, & Midtgaard, 2017;Lang & Brooks, 2015;Muellenbach, 2018;Rimkeit & Claridge, 2017), for rehabilitation (Hartley & Turvey, 2009;Wiltse, 2011), for understanding religious messages or social issues (Clarke & Nolan, 2014;Gramstrup, 2017), educational (Kan, Harrison, Robinson, Barnes, Chisolm, & Conlan, 2015;Scourfield & Taylor, 2014), a networking aid (Alsop, 2015) or may be social or recreational (Clarke, Hookway, & Burgess, 2017;Long, 2003). The importance of book groups is recognised by some publishers who provide additional resources for book clubs (e.g.,; ...
Purpose Despite the social, educational and therapeutic benefits of book clubs, little is known about which books participants are likely to have read. In response, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the public bookshelves of those that have joined a group within the Goodreads social network site. Design/methodology/approach Books listed as read by members of 50 large English-language Goodreads groups – with a genre focus or other theme – were compiled by author and title. Findings Recent and youth-oriented fiction dominate the 50 books most read by book club members, whilst almost half are works of literature frequently taught at the secondary and postsecondary level (literary classics). Whilst J.K. Rowling is almost ubiquitous (at least 63 per cent as frequently listed as other authors in any group, including groups for other genres), most authors, including Shakespeare (15 per cent), Goulding (6 per cent) and Hemmingway (9 per cent), are little read by some groups. Nor are individual recent literary prize winners or works in languages other than English frequently read. Research limitations/implications Although these results are derived from a single popular website, knowing more about what book club members are likely to have read should help participants, organisers and moderators. For example, recent literary prize winners might be a good choice, given that few members may have read them. Originality/value This is the first large scale study of book group members’ reading patterns. Whilst typical reading is likely to vary by group theme and average age, there seems to be a mainly female canon of about 14 authors and 19 books that Goodreads book club members are likely to have read.
... Other disciplines that have used literature as a tool to expand self-awareness and sensitivity in relation to populations students will serve include gerontology (Brown & Niles-Yokum, 2016), social work (Scourfield & Taylor, 2014), nursing (Freeman & Bays, 2007;Patterson, Begley, & Nolan, 2016;Roberts, 2010), pharmacy (Flood & Farkas, 2011), and pastoral care (McClure, 2011). Michaelson (2016) makes a strong and detailed argument for using literature to teach business students how to examine ethical issues and to promote empathy. ...
This article presents a unique approach for teaching crisis intervention in that it involves students reading novels and autobiographies to use as case studies in order to apply the theories and concepts. A rationale for the use of literature as a projective device to help students experience personal growth and to target the affective domain of learning is presented. Guidelines for how to structure the assignment are outlined, including a written paper and a group presentation. Examples of relevant novels and autobiographies are listed along with practical tips for maximizing the usefulness of this learning activity. The article concludes with a summary of students’ reactions to the project.
... can provide exposure to complex narratives that encourage reflection, develop empathic understanding and evoke emotional, affective responses (Phillion and He 2004, Silenzio et al. 2005, Weaver 2005). Scourfield and Taylor (2014) have recently reports on the use of a book club to explore works of fiction with social work students arguing that creative literature can aid the "development of sensitivity, self-awareness and responsiveness…and is highly relevant to social work practice because it provides a holistic picture of people in their environment" (p.534). Zickler and Abbot claim such methods provide the 'subjective necessity', crucial to developing an appreciation of diversity and critical thinking skills, and understanding of people as existing within an ecological context (Zickler and Abbott 2000). ...
The experience of poverty as shameful is felt by some people living in poverty due to the internalisation of stigmatising neo-liberal discourses which construe poverty as the consequence of individual failings of effort, competence or morality. A critical response requires an analysis of poverty as primarily caused by structural factors, as without this critical perspective, social workers can become complicit with a responsibilisation agenda based on stigma. Many social work students were raised in the neo-liberal era where the post-war consensus on welfare had diminished and thus may be blind to the assumptions embedded in current discourse about people in poverty. Increasing inequalities in many western countries may mean infrequent contact between people from different class backgrounds and exposure to the realities of poverty. To address the potential risk of social workers reinforcing poverty stigma we propose teaching which explicitly addresses the discrepancies between a structural analysis of poverty and current individualistic discourses that produce stigma. Suggested methods include using complex case studies, and bringing service user voices into the classroom, and the use of the arts, alongside exploring how moral panics are created by regimes of shame, surveillance and control which underpin welfare policy.
... The overwhelming push for social workers to use social media is based on practical, ideological or principled rationale. There is a growing and helpful collection of research appearing in the social work educationliterature for example (Scourfield and Taylor, 2013;Cooner, 2014).Research is however needed to exploresocial media usage by practitioners. ...
The uneasy relationship between the social work profession and the media has led to recognition by social work educators of the need to incorporate knowledge of media processes and skills of media engagement into the social work education agenda. In addition, there is a clear link between traditional media and social media in the social work context, and the tensions experienced in the media landscape resulting from the recent move to ?new media? are relevant to social work and its role in advocating publicly for the rights and needs of vulnerable people. This article makes reference to these ideas in the context of a small Aotearoa New Zealand study that seeks information about social workers? professional use of social media in this country. Ideas offered by professional leaders in social work are thematically analysed, and themes discussed in this article relate to the complex personal and professional identities social workers negotiate as social media users. Implications for social work education are offered, including those that relate to professional identity development and the ever-shifting ethical landscape of social media engagement.
... The rigour of a scientific approach to social work education is certainly important, but there is a range of different ways in which students can be engaged in learning (Scourfield & Taylor, 2014). This education innovation stems from the relational paradigm (Donati, 2010;Folgheraiter, 2004Folgheraiter, , 2007, which concerns both social work practice and social work education. ...
The education system's responsibility for social workers to be is a central argument in the academic arena. The purpose of the article is to present an innovative perspective about social work education promoted for several years in the Catholic University in Milan. The education experience with students, social workers to be, gave life to a particular workshop ‘Social Work Orientation’ characterized by different and innovative activities. The experience presented focuses on relational principles such as empowerment, peer facilitation, involvement of service users, and facilitation, following the idea that teaching and learning could be a simultaneous process. Revealing is the experience of ‘service users as professors’, a meeting day in the university between students and service users, a sharing of life stories and relationships. The future social workers learn from the service users, accustoming themselves to considering the service users as people able to cope with their life situations even before enrichment with all the professional tools. The feedback collected about this experience (from students, service users, and professors) shows that the possibility to experiment from the beginning in this approach facilitates the students to become social workers oriented to empowerment and relational processes.
... learning (Scourfield & Taylor 2014) and has since grown into a national project (Taylor 2014). Studies have also suggested that active involvement in discussion is more likely to encourage deeper leaning and to facilitate the use of higher level critical thinking skills (Garside 1996). ...
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Background: Postgraduate medical education has, in recent years, become a dynamic field with the increasing availability of innovative and interactive teaching techniques. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the current focus of psychiatric training on the acquisition of scientific and clinical knowledge is inadequate to address the multidimensional nature of psychiatry. Supplementary teaching tools may be usefully applied to address this need. Methods: A group of trainees at the Maudsley Hospital and Institute of Psychiatry (UK) pioneered the use of a book group as an innovative teaching tool to enhance the psychiatric training experience by, amongst other aspects, facilitating dialogue between peers on fundamental epistemological issues raised by critical engagement with seminal psychiatric texts. Results: Feedback from members suggested that participation in the book group broadened the overall learning potential and experience of psychiatry. The key ingredients were identified as: (i) collaborative peer-to-peer learning; (ii) the use of 'flipped classroom' model; and (iii) joint ownership. Conclusion: The book group has demonstrated real potential to facilitate direct trainee engagement with the multi-faceted nature of psychiatry as a complex humanistic discipline within an informal learning space.
If, as Doris Lessing (1994) explains, ‘there is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth’ (p. 314), then the use of fiction within a book group format in social work education can, to some degree, be justified and not viewed as unremarkable events, the way they often are within popularist contexts (Hyder, 2013). Moon (2010) recognises their uniqueness, describing book groups as ‘an unusual example of the use of fiction in higher education’, acknowledging, however, that ‘fiction has been used to introduce topics and ideas’ (p. 149) outside of the study of English, literature or creative writing. Indeed, even if embryonic, informal or sporadically used, book groups (or reading groups as they are sometimes referred to) create learning spaces in which we can consider all sorts of actualities and possibilities, largely from an objective position. The purpose of this chapter is to outline the use of fiction in a book group context within social work education, a multifaceted teaching and learning medium that can contribute to the shaping of the qualifying practitioner’s approach. As I have written extensively about the use of fiction within book groups in an academic text and a peer-reviewed journal (Scourfield & Taylor, 2013; Taylor, 2014a), you might wonder why it is being recounted again. Given that we are considering creativity within this book, it is felt appropriate to share some further insights about the method as it unfolds and to offer a template that could be modified in other subject areas across higher education.
‘Only Connect…live in fragments no longer’ (E.M. Forster, Howards End). This paper utilises ‘Only Connect’, the epigraph from Forster’s novel ‘Howards End’ as the starting point for exploring the challenges and opportunities of integrating social networking with relationship based social work practice. The paper discusses the more deleterious implications of social networking, whilst assuming a deliberately optimistic stance to uncover ways in which the opportunities afforded by online space can be utilised effectively within social work education and practice. Whilst recognising that social networking platforms are transforming constantly, the paper adopts Kaplan’s definition of social media as a ‘group of internet based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0’. Whilst much of the discussion within the paper relates to Twitter and Facebook, two of the most endemic international social networking platforms, it is also applicable to myriad forms of social networking. The paper begins with a discussion of UK professional conduct cases and explores these both within Klein’s concept of splitting and historical attitudes to new technologies. Drawing from emerging research data and other examples, the positive relational practices educed by social media within social work education and practice are emphasised and discussed. The paper concludes by highlighting Forster’s plea for connection and recommending that social work embraces the renewed opportunities provided by online networking.
Despite intense focus on child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the UK, little is known about how and why some young people recover well from sustained exploitation by multiple perpetrators. Using thematic analysis, three published memoirs by young people (female) about their sexual exploitation by groups of men in the UK are analysed for insight into what contributes to positive short- and long-term outcomes. Despite the populist nature of the publications, the memoirs offer an important insight into young people’s understandings of their exploitation. The rich detail inherent to memoir exposes the complexities and dilemmas faced by the young people and the professionals involved. Being listened and believed by family and professionals is the most significant aspect to positive adaptation post exploitation in these accounts. However, the dynamics of grooming and the nature of contemporary social work intervention and investigation render disclosure difficult. As these accounts illustrate, CSE is characterised by uncertainty and complexity, and this is the domain in which social work needs to intervene more successfully to support young people.
Graduate social work education can be enhanced through extensive and appropriate use of relevant literary works. This paper describes an elective course for second-year graduate social work students in which twentieth-century novels were used to highlight social policy issues. The paper deals with the relationships between art and social realities and the usefulness of literature for social policy analysis. A detailed account of this course and its evaluation is presented as well as its potential for replication.
Sociological research on reading, which formerly focused on literacy, now conceptualizes reading as a social practice. This review examines the current state of knowledge on (a) who reads, i.e., the demographic characteristics of readers; (b) how they read, i.e., reading as a form of social practice; (c) how reading relates to electronic media, especially television and the Internet; and (d) the future of reading. We conclude that a reading class is emerging, restricted in size but disproportionate in influence, and that the Internet is facilitating this development.
Book clubs are everywhere these days. And women talk about the clubs they belong to with surprising emotion. But why are the clubs so important to them? And what do the women discuss when they meet? To answer questions like these, Elizabeth Long spent years observing and participating in women's book clubs and interviewing members from different discussion groups. Far from being an isolated activity, she finds reading for club members to be an active and social pursuit, a crucial way for women to reflect creatively on the meaning of their lives and their place in the social order.
There have been several teachers and practitioners who have suggested literature has something to offer social work and therapy. but without making a comprehensive case for its importance. This paper attempts to show why literature is valuable. even necessary, to thinking and talking about social work. and to its practice. Beginning with a critical examination of language in the public domain the study moves on to demonstrate how the reading of literature helps develop sensibility, and so may lead to enhanced understanding, self-awareness, and responsiveness. The paper ends with a brief exposition of the sustaining and vitalizing power literature may have for social workers as persons.
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