On August 31, I stood next to Penn GSE, asked myself what on earth I was doing, and took this selfie to remind myself that what I was doing was going back to school after 11 years.

Hi! I’m Maggie, the 2021-22 cohort member behind the blog this year. You’ll hear from me occasionally, though most often you’ll hear from other amazing members of this cohort.

My last stint in grad school was way back in 2010, so the semester thus far has been a whirlwind of new friends, readjusting to academic life, and relearning skills that have gotten very dusty over the years.

VERY dusty: I have young kids, so I’m talking about the transition from reading books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. / Eric Carle to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.

I recently read both of these books on the same day.

But for as challenging as it has been, it has also been so exciting. And one of the things that has seriously eased my transition has been…..(drumroll please)…

…my reading group!

During the first week of classes, professors in our reading-intensive courses (like Education in Developing Countries) encouraged us to form reading groups. To be honest, I didn’t even know what this meant.

But here I am, 6 weeks later, meeting regularly with the Official Best Reading Group of All Time.*

*not an official designation, but you get the idea.

What is a reading group, you ask?

A reading group consists of 3-6 people who tackle the weekly assigned readings collaboratively. Each group has their own structure, but here’s how it works for us:

  • Each week, we each choose an assigned reading or two to read deeply and take notes.
  • We’ll also skim the other readings (or, depending on the topic and our personal interests, may choose to read deeply even if not specifically assigned to us)
  • On Mondays, we meet virtually for 1 – 2 hours, share our takeaways with each other, and engage in a conversation about our reactions to the readings for the week.

 For example, if I’m the group “expert” on a reading, I’ll take some time to share the thesis, main takeaways, and my reactions to the text. Then, I’ll take notes and ask clarifying questions as other members of the group do the same.

Once everyone’s shared, we’ll use the rest of our time to figure out common misunderstandings (like what exactly is Neo-Marxism, anyway?!) and/or talk about the texts in more detail.

Last week’s Reading Group meeting – Tsewang couldn’t make it, but no group photo is complete without all 5 of us!

Besides the obvious benefits of narrowing down how many pages I’m expected to read deeply, I have learned a ton from my Reading Group. There are 5 of us from 4 different countries: Tanya and Tsewang are from India, Yasameen is from Afghanistan, Moe is from Japan, and I’m from the U.S.

So you can imagine that all of us bring such varying perspectives to the group – especially when we’re talking about topics like the meaning of education, the purpose of schools, and the long and complex history of development.

I’ve found a wonderful and consistent community in my reading group. My group members have pushed hard on my perspective (in a good way!) and have been a huge support in my transition back to school. And in such a small setting, it’s a great way for all of us – whether super-participatory or not in a whole-class environment – to engage deeply with the material.

In short: Adjusting to grad life – whether its been 2 months or decades since you were last a student – is challenging and exciting. But the IEDP cohort model provides an amazing and supportive network, and there are a ton of ways to build community both on and off campus.

For more on our IEDP community, follow us on Instagram! @iedp.penngse