Tuesday, 30 December 2014

I Read... Something Real by Heather Demetrios

I usually have anywhere from 3-6 books sitting on my night stand, partially read.  If something is so good that I can't put it down, I stay up all night finishing it.  Some recent books that have fallen into this category have included all of Gillian Flynn's books, Paper Towns, and Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me?.  Something Real by Heather Demetrios had been in the pile for a few months.  It was an nice easy read, but I kept finding something else and found myself putting the book on the back burner.  The other night I decided to read a few chapters, and I ended up finishing three quarters of the book in one sitting.

First of all, I will point out that this is YA Fiction.  As an English teacher, I tend to read a lot of YA so that I know what my kids are reading and so that I have good recommendations to pass on to them.

From Amazon:
Seventeen-year-old BonnieTM Baker has grown up on TV - she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit show Baker's Dozen.  Since the show's cancellation, BonnieTM has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight.  But it's about to fall apart... because Baker's Dozen is going back on the air.  BonnieTM's mom and the show's producers won't let her quit and soon the life that she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show.  BonnieTM needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own - even if it means being more exposed than ever before.

Overall, I liked the book.  It was an interesting premise that drew me in- with reality TV so prevalent, it is easy to wonder what is really going on behind the scenes.  This definitely had shades of the Gosselin family (of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" fame)- a large family, a father who cheats and disappears, a controlling mother who seems more interested in fame than the well-being of her children.  I particularly found the story of Bonnie/Chloe's brother Benton readable- Benton is a thoroughly likeable character who comes off as realistic.  His storyline adds warmth to the story without coming off as preachy.

For me, the cons were in some of the characters.  Bonnie/Chloe can come off as whiny and annoying.  While it is easy to empathize with her situation, she is immature and I wasn't always rooting for her to win.  Her boyfriend Patrick, on the other hand, is far too perfect.  He has no character flaws to speak of- aside from being a clingy pushover who seems to live only to serve his girlfriend- so I wasn't drawn to him as a character, nor was I interested in the relationship between him and Bonnie/Chloe.

Overall, I think that this would interest a lot of readers.  If you've ever wondered what happened after your favourite reality show was cancelled, or what happens when the cameras aren't rolling, this will give you a glimpse into that world.  You can check out the first two chapters here.

Food for Thought... What are your thoughts on reality TV?  Specifically, what do you think about underage children on reality TV shows?  Is it exploitation?  Or is it creating opportunities for these children?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Alternatives to Book Reports

Recently I was struck by a blog post from Carey Rulo of Building Intelligence Plus Character.  The post is entitled "Are We Really Still Assigning Book Reports? 20 Ways to Encourage Students to Interact With Texts."  This blog post got my attention right away because I am always saying that the traditional book report doesn't have a place in today's classroom.  I don't think that they require students to use any critical thinking skills, and I think that they are too easy to cheat on... in a world of Google, it is too easy for kids to type in a few key words and hand in someone else's work.  They don't even need to read the book!  I was instantly reminded of a great teacher resource called Ban the Book Report by Graham Foster (local teacher extraordinaire!).  If we want to see more out of our students, we need to raise the bar.  I truly believe that they will rise to the challenge!

Carey provides teachers with 20 alternatives to the traditional book report that will not only require the students to read and reflect upon the text, but will also engage them as a content creator and you as the marker!  Two of my favourite suggestions were:

1. Create a book trailer.  Several years ago, I was lucky enough to present at the National Council for Teachers of English conference.  One of the best sessions that I attended focused on building media literacy through the process of creating a "Literal Trailer."  Ever since then, I have loved the idea of using trailers as a classroom tool.  I have led several PD sessions on the topic, and I have worked with teachers to help them through the process of having their kids create trailers of their own.  I really like the idea of focusing on an idea from the text and having students create trailers that focus heavily on tone.  For example, a book trailer for The Hunger Games that focuses on the idea of revolution will look very different from a trailer for the same book that focuses on romantic relationships.

2. What if?  I liked this idea because it is so simple, yet I haven't seen anything quite like it before.  Students identify the turning point and ask themselves "what if" things went differently.  What if Romeo received the letter from the Friar?  What if Huck gave the letter to Miss Watson?  What if Jack didn't break away from the other boys and worked alongside Ralph?  This approach requires students to have a deep comprehension of the text - plot, characters, conflict, etc. - and allows students to think creatively and take risks.

Food for thought... What do you think of Carey Rulo's blog post?  If you are a teacher, would you use her ideas in your classroom?  Do you think traditional book reports or outdated, or do you think that they still have their place?