I have inherited a legacy of book reports.
Every quarter for eons, students in my school have written book reports. And, for whatever reason, parents in my community are rumored to be enamored with book reports — they are somehow a mark of a rigorous writing curriculum. So, while I work on a grand re-education project, I’ve been looking for ways to check this box for parents while doing what’s best for student by providing opportunities for authentic writing experiences.
Why the Book Report Anyway?
Book reports fill an important hole in students’ K-12 writing experiences; it fills a gap between simple comprehension-driven plot summary in the primary grades and literary analysis in high school. They sit in the gap, offering students a chance to recap the plot (thereby verifying their comprehension) with some add-on reader response, getting them closer to the how and why of analysis.
So, what’s wrong with it?
It’s not authentic. You can’t open The Atlantic and find a book report. And if a type of writing doesn’t exist out in the world, it shouldn’t exist in our classrooms.
If writing is going to matter to our students, authenticity has to be our cornerstone.
6 Authentic Alternatives
There are authentic alternatives — texts created by professional writers and thinkers that do more than a mere book report but stop shorts of serious literary analysis. Some require very little actual writing but require the same thinking and rehearsal as a more formal piece of written text. Others require multiple pages of written text. You know what your students are ready for. And you know how to scaffold for them.
Maybe you move from non-written to written responses to literature over the course of the school year? Maybe you create smaller writing groups and assign each one a different product based on their needs. Perhaps you present all of these as a menu of options they choose from a few times over the course of the year.