Friday, September 24, 2010

A Follow-Up to Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Reports

Yesterday, I ran a post titled Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Reports. I ran that post without including much in the way of explanation regarding why I think that teachers should explore alternatives to the traditional written book report. As a result I've had some people comment and email with questions along the lines of, "why are these things any better than traditional book reports?" Rob Wall even wrote a post on his own blog essentially asking the same question. Copied below is the comment that I left on Mr. Wall's post.

Hi Rob,

Since it's my post about book reports that you linked to, I thought I should offer some clarifications and explanations.

At first glance, yes some (perhaps) all five suggestions are just "jazzed up" book reports. However, what I have found is that when students know that their work is going to become, for lack of a better term, a "performance piece" they tend to invest more effort and care not only in making their products look good, but also in making sure that they look for and include as much information and insight as they possibly can in their final products. In my experience this happens because classmates, parents, and others are much more likely to look at one of these short performance pieces than they are to read a two page book report. Therefore, the students creating the alternative book reports take care to include as many details as possible.

I'm not suggesting that traditional book report assignments are inherently bad. They're not. In fact, they can be excellent exercises in analyzing and writing. I'm simply suggesting that if writing is not the purpose of a book report assignment, there are alternatives that students can use to convey the meanings and main ideas of a book.

(Granted, the following example is with a research assignment instead of a book report, but I think there are many parallels). In my own classroom over the last week and one half my 11th grade students, many of whom have in the past been reported as having a poor attitude toward school,  have worked on creating short videos about the Revolutionary War. Those students have worked as diligently as they possibly can to make sure they know their content and convey their stories as clearly as possible. Many of them have revised their works, without my prompting, three or four times. I know that I probably would not have gotten the same effort out of those students if I had made the assignment a standard research essay. Why? Because they know that the whole class is going to see their final product whereas if it were an essay assignment they know that the whole class is not going to read every student's essay. Are my students learning more about the content because I made their final product a video instead of an essay? Yes. Will there be times that my students do write traditional research papers? Yes, because I do believe that writing skills are important, but I'm sure that that process will not be as cheerily undertaken by my students as video creation projects are.


One last thing that I should add to this is I am not at all opposed to traditional book report assignments. I believe that learning to report and convey messages in written form is an essential skill that all students should develop. That said, we must find a balance between traditional communication skills and communication skills using new media creation tools.

And now back to my standard blogging voice of reporting on free technology resources for the classroom.