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?

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