Beyond the book report

Middle schoolers can analyze texts without writing book reports or essays, writes Beth Holland on Edutopia. Holland suggests programs that help students create trailers, podcasts, interactive e-books and “augmented reality author studies.” (I don’t really know what the last one means.)

She includes this wonderful look at how students approach book reports from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

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  1. Ted Craig says:

    This sounds below the skill level of most middle schoolers. Why not have them write detailed reviews?

  2. This avoidance of written work explains the inability of far too many high school (and college!) students to write clearly and correctly on a specific topic. Learning to write decently requires explicit instruction in English grammar, spelling and composition, as well as MUCH practice – with teachers making corrections. Ideally, this should start no later than first grade (with copy work and dictation before free composition), because most kids require all/most of their k-12 years to learn to write decently. Sigh.

    • I am currently undergoing “training” to “prepare” me for Common Core. I’ve been told to assign much more writing work, yet when I grade it I am supposed to ignore spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes and only grade content.

  3. cranberry says:

    I watched the 8th grade videos. The highest word count I could find of the three posted was 42. The sentence structure was poor–the vocabulary was not advanced.

    Lucy’s book report should be preferred. She wrote more than two sentences.

    Playing around with simple video equipment does not improve students’ analytical talents, nor does it enlarge their vocabulary nor does it improve their writing.

    The 9th graders enraptured by their teacher reading aloud “The Tell-Tale Heart” may have been pleased that they weren’t required to read the story themselves.

    We are not born with the knowledge of how to write prose. It seems cruel not to teach children how to write, during the time in the school day assigned to that purpose.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      Silly cranberry…that wouldn’t be authentic. Nor would it use technology. That would just be a boring old “sage on the stage” teaching the way we did in the 20th century. Don’t you know that everything has changed?
      /end sarcasm

      • Except for doing it on video, it’s essentially the same book report that many girls (never boys) in my eldest’s 3rd-grade class did; act out a scene from the book, with costumes and a friend or two. It’s even more efficient, since no class time is needed for set-up and take-down, and it’s equally academically useless – for third grade, let alone eighth. I pressured my kids’ teachers to allow them to write many of their book reports and I required a specific approach (metaphor, characterization, historical significance etc), depending on the book. The problem of poor writing has likely expanded to include the fact that many/most teachers (ES-MS) probably don’t write well, let alone know enough grammar to teach it.

        • I tried to get my middle school to go back to diagraming sentences over 10 years ago…I was the only English teacher on staff that knew how to do it.

          • My youngest left MS in ’99 and the only English teacher who knew diagramming retired that year. She was almost 70 then and had been the only one teaching diagramming since well before my oldest hit the school in ’85. Sigh

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Cranberry. “cruel” is the place to start, I suppose. By the time the kids are old enough to know they’ve been screwed, the perps are beyond any sanction.

  4. Yes, let’s find *another* reason for students not to have to write–or, for that matter, to do *anything* academic.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The following sentence/clause may be true:

    “Middle schoolers can analyze texts without writing book reports or essays.”

    But so what?

    In the first place, the point of the book report isn’t to “analyze the text”. That’s the point of an *essay*. I have spent hours of precious class time explaining to college-level students that I want philosophy papers out of them, not book reports. The reason I do this is precisely because writing a book report doesn’t involve ANY real analysis. A book report is an exercise in recitation.

    And even if we are calling short, analytical essays “book reports”, here’s a thought:

    While there may well be other ways to analyze a text, if a student *can’t* write a book report about a book, then it seems to me that either the student can’t write, or the student didn’t really read the book.

    It seems that a book report (at least in middle school) is a very good way to gauge whether a student meets both of these criteria.

    And as others have said, every opportunity to practice writing is… well… an opportunity to practice writing.

    • cranberry says:

      Michael E. Lopez, I think “analysis” means different things for a middle schooler and a college student. For a middle schooler, summing up a book in a short essay does require an analysis of the text, though much more basic than a college student. What are the most important plot points? What are the main themes? What sort of book is it? (fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, etc.)

      If you can’t create a mental model of two works of writing, you won’t be able to compare the two at a later stage.

      For all the criticism of book reports, they serve a valid purpose. Set a child a text to read, and check the report of the reading for accuracy. Did he read the book? Did he understand what he read? It’s much easier and efficient to go through this process if the teacher has read the book too.

      The internet has made it much harder to require students to read the whole book–but this is true for multimedia projects as well. If you search online for The Giver, you’ll find more than enough short summaries to make it possible to write a couple of “movie preview” teaser sentences.

      I object to the critics’ of book reports’ depicting of book reports as the enemy of engagement in text. Sorry. It’s possible for children to love to read, and for those same children to learn how to write sentences, paragraphs, and pages on what they’ve read. If the students aren’t taught how to write, the modern classroom threatens to boil down to teaching them to write 1) the college application essay (all me! all the time! personal memoirs!) and 2) the five paragraph essay for standardized tests. Neither types of writing are sufficient.