Saturday, August 14

The Fake Book Report

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.)


Sarah said...

I don't remember doing many book reports in school -- but I was one of those kids who would have loved the crafty aspect of it!

I think you bring up some good points about what book report/projects do for reading. I think offering a menu of choices is a fabulous idea!

Maureen said...

You really hit the nail on the head- choices! No matter whether it's a book report or history report or French report- our students need choices. I still remember my failed attempts at salt and flour maps in 5th grade. It is not about the arts and crafts, but the learning. It is also important for our students to be cognizant of the various means to display knowledge, and then choose the best tool to achieve this. I teach older kids, and do not attempt to talk teachers out of "the research paper, complete with footnotes" since this is also a skill that the kids need to learn.

Show students the incredibly wide spectrum of how they can show their learning, allow choices, and don't overweight one type of "reporting".

Lee Ann Spillane said...

Hi Nancy,
Great post. Thank you for inspiring my thinking and my blogging this morning. Your parent-teacher perspective rings true in my own life. I wrote an extended response as a teacher on my teaching blog..
~ Lee Ann
PS: I love the desktop chaos theme you chose! said...

Nancy just wanted leave a comment to let you know how much I like reading your blog. I have sent several of your post links to other teachers on our staff. I look forward to hearing more from you!

Chris Hyde said...

Hi, Nancy.
I agree that providing choice is a great way to create real, authentic learning. I think the roadblock many teachers face is their comfort level with providing choices. What if a student chooses to do a PowerPoint or VoiceThread and has a question in the middle of his project? A lot of teachers don't want to face that scenario because it may make them look like they don't know everything. I believe 21st Century teachers need to step out on that limb for their students' sake and give them a chance for meaningful comprehension.
Thanks for sharing and I applaud your efforts of self-reflection and willingness to change!

Jessica said...

I remember the day someone told me "The American parents in your class will want book reports". While I never really did those as such, there have been many many projects.... thanks for making me reflect on that!

Hen Jen said...

awesome! choice is always a good thing, I think!

My son would have been one of the ones hating the crafts..funny that he will often get involved in time-consuming crafts- but always of his own choosing and his own interest, many times when I want them to color something for school, I get groans from the boys.

I love that you saw the need for some choice and acted on it. My church has a private school, every year the kids have to participate in a History day contest- it is a really big deal, and most years I hear of the moms up till 2 a.m. finishing these- it's totally non-appealing to me, and makes me wonder how much of the work the students are doing on their own.

good luck with your new school year!

Mr. Rodgers said...

I'm a 5th grade teacher struggling with some of the same things and trying not to suck the joy out of reading. I recently read an article by Alfie Kohn called "How to Create Non-Readers" which really made me think twice about some of columns in my reading grade book. I'm curious what your options will be this year...