Just Say No to Book Reports and Yes to Blogging!
I wish I could remember the name of the graduate school professor I had who facetiously made this statement about book reports – “Yes, the first thing I want to do when I finish a great book, is to make a diorama” – because that really struck a chord. Not that there’s anything wrong with dioramas per se, but like many, usually when I read a great book, I want to process it and talk about it. I do not want to make a mobile of important characters and symbols (is it bazaar that I can still picture the mobile I made in third grade but have no idea what book said mobile was on) or run to find the nearest empty shoebox. Thus, in my attempt to stop destroying reading for my students, I have tried to change up the dreaded summer reading project to hopefully! make it a bit more interesting.
In the past few years, I have asked students to write a book review of the various required readings that they have done, and although I don’t think this was a bad approach, it really only allowed me to view their writing once school had already started. This was helpful but would have been more beneficial over the summer when I try to do a lot of planning. So, in trying to work “smarter not harder,” I have dropped this activity and instead am asking my students to respond to some discussion boards via our classroom blog.
Although I firmly believe in having students create the content on the blog, for this summer blogging experience, I have asked students to respond to questions I have created, seeing as the majority of these students have not done any form of blogging before. Basically, I am using the blog as the means for threaded discussions. Below, you will find my process for creating the posts regarding our summer reading book The Book Thief. You can also check out our Summer Reading Page and feel free to add to our discussion if you have read The Book Thief!
Thoughts about Process:
- Why a blog and not Schoology or something similar: If this were done during the school year, Schoology discussion boards would be a great tool, but seeing as the summer is a time to create new classes and archive previous information on the site, I felt this activity would be easiest with something I could easily control and that was also very simple to use for new students.
- Optional “I’m confused” posts: The Book Thief is a fairly long book that can sometimes be confusing due to the unique narration style. I decided to create a few posts allowing students to ask questions regarding the book as I didn’t want them to continue reading not having any idea what was going on. So far, these haven’t been used, and they may not, but at least the students (and parents) know they are there if need be. I monitor all posts, so students can respond to their classroom’s questions but if there is an error in information, I can easily delete the post.
- Limited number of discussion boards: I will be teaching a small class next year of about 48 students. I did not want to have so many discussion boards that there ended up being little discussion. I also wanted to make sure my students responses to said discussions were varied and not repetitive.
- Required number of sentences per posts: I’ll admit that this is something I hemmed and hawed about as I am not a firm believer in this approach. However, I do not know these students all that well nor they me. They do not know my expectations, and I do not want them to “mess up” because they didn’t understand what I was looking for. Requiring a certain amount of sentences and providing models for what good responses look like makes sure that students are taking the easy out and also makes sure they provide enough information that I can use as pre-assessments.
- More required responses to classmates than individual thoughts: I want my students to read what their peers are writing. This will allow them to see a book at a different level. If they are only writing down their own thoughts, they will never stop and read what their classmates have written. So, I can guarantee that they will read at least four of their classmates thoughts simply by making this requirement.
- Models, Models, Models: It’s no surprise that I just finished Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like Us, a book that discusses the importance of modeling while teaching writing. I have provided many models of both good and bad comments so that my students know exactly the type of writing I am looking for.
Things I hope to gain from Summer Reading Blogging:
- A sense of how well my students are writing and a clue in to their strengths and weaknesses: I have to believe that most of my students will “put their best foot forward” on the blog since it’s their first opportunity to impress. I also imagine that most of my students will be posting before their writing goes through their parents eyes or fingers. Thus, I am able to see how well they write and common areas of strength or weakness. Although much of my curriculum remains the same each year, there are always classes that really grasp some concepts better than others. Why teach information that students already know?
- A sense of how well my students interact with each other: What is the culture of this class? Do they get along with each other (granted this is via text in front of the eyes of the teacher, but it might help!)? Will I need to teach discussion board skills or do they already have them down? I can save myself a lot of time and energy ahead of the September rush if I can figure this out ahead of time. Plus, I will have lots of models to use in case I do need to spruce up some skills.
- How well my students read: The questions I have created are meant to be open ended and allow for thought and discussion. Hopefully they will do that and will allow me to see the various reading abilities and strengths and weaknesses of my students. Their interests regarding the book will also allow me to better create the short unit we will do on the novel upon returning to school.
Only a few students have responded so far, but already I have a good sense of their ability as writers and their thoughts toward the book. I also, as I often am with blogging, am blown away at some of their thoughts. I am eager to see what my students thought about this assignment when they return in September. Hopefully they find it better than a diorama.