For years and years I assigned monthly book reports to my students. I’m sorry!
Each month I would pick a genre and painstakingly put together a beautiful graphic-filled packet that described the project I expected. They weren’t going to read a book and write a paragraph….oh no! They had to create detailed and intricate projects. The depth of projects included dioramas, mobiles, sandwich boards, character boxes, etc. It was craft heaven – or hell depending on your view.
When my daughter was in elementary school, she loved to read and loved to do projects. She would read her novel, gather her craft supplies and triumphantly present me with her finished project amidst a swirl of glitter. My son, on the other hand, well, that’s a different story.
On the first day of fourth grade he came home from school dragging himself and his backpack. He announced that the worst thing ever had happened. His teacher was Mrs. H. – the queen of crafts. My son hated anything requiring glue or cutting. Not only were there monthly projects, but weekly projects. At parents’ night when the classroom and hallway were filled with “oohhs” and “ahhhs” for the countless number of exquisite projects, there sat my son’s attempts off to the side. I was a parent who cheered and encouraged, but did not assemble! I wanted it to be his work.
I began to wonder about what I was doing in my own classroom. Why did some of my friendliest and most supportive parents seem tense around book report due date? Didn’t they love discussing the book and then creating projects that demonstrated their grasp of setting or plot or characters? This was supposed to be authentic learning! I was teaching not only literary elements but time management skills. Wrong!
Here’s what I learned. Many families were faking it. Students were choosing books that they hoped I hadn’t read. They figured out how to read the inside jacket or back cover and produce projects that were time-consuming and tiresome. Or, on the other hand, some chose the simplest book so they could finish it and get to the business of crafting. Was a love of reading happening here? I don’t think so.
Many of the projects so exceeded my expectations that is was almost miraculous! Parents were arriving on book report day beaming with pride as little Johnny looked guilty. You can imagine what had occurred. Other more forthcoming parents would pull me aside and let me know quite strongly their feelings about these projects. It was time to re-evaluate.
For many students, demanding that they read a book in a certain amount of time and then create a masterpiece will insure they hate reading. Granted, there are many students who love the creativity and craftiness and they can easily produce a project. What is the solution? Where is the balance?
The answer is choices! Just as it is vital that students are given choices about what they read in the classroom and at home, they need to be given choices on how they reflect their comprehension and learning. This doesn’t mean that students get a free pass. As 21st century teachers, we must be cognizant of technology and more importantly, use it! Our tech- savvy students should create using tools that are meaningful in today’s world. They could do a pod casts, power points, voice threads, Animotos, blogs, etc. We need to be open to different means of how students communicate learning. Of course, the use of glue, glitter and construction paper are still options, too. The key seems to be a willingness to look at traditional methods in new and innovative ways.
So this year, my fourth graders will have a wealth of options for reflecting there learning. I can’t wait to see what they create.
(By the way, my son’s fifth grade teacher the next year did not believe in book reports! It was his favorite year and he read constantly.)