6 Authentic Alternatives to the Book Report

6 authentic alternatives to the

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 gapQuote (1) 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.

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Ask Moving Writers: Information Writing That’s NOT “The Research Paper”

AMW Karla (1)

Dear Larken,

On a recent trip back from Texas, we sat behind a couple of teenagers who were having the most incredibly mature, well-rounded, rich conversation about everything from politics to travel to education. As the plane prepared to land, and their conversation came to a close, the 15-year-old boy said to his new plane mate: All education needs to do is teach kids to love learning.

Our hearts leapt out of our chests and sunk at the same time. This statement was so hopeful and profound and somehow freeing, yet it also implied a failure on our part as educators…

How do we teach kids to love learning?

In three words: keep it real.

Make it authentic.

Less like school.

More like life. Continue reading

A Podcasting Study: Podcasts as Mentor Text & More!

What a happy, exciting day it is here at Moving Writers! We’d like to introduce you to our friend and newest regular writer, Stefanie Jochman. 

Like so many great relationships of our day, we met Stefanie on Twitter. The connection was immediate. She’s a gifted writing teacher, an experimenter, an innovator, and we are thrilled to have her join our team. 

Here is the first part of her first post – a study of podcasting that has me so excited that I am going to try to replicate it in my classroom immediately! 

Help us welcome Stefanie by leaving her a comment below or sending her a Tweet @MsJochman. 

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Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.22.31 PMThe walks I take around my apartment complex are my best opportunities to think, and, embarrassingly often, I can’t keep those thoughts inside. Take, for example, one “eureka!” moment on a spring afternoon: as I rounded a familiar corner near some retirement condos, I whisper-shouted “YES!” and threw my hands up in the air. There I was again, that eccentric neighbor in her giant St. Norbert College sweatshirt, talking to herself.

The catalyst for my excitement was a discussion of the Matt Damon sci-fi film Elysium and director Neill Blomkamp’s earlier film, District 9, on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. As Linda Holmes, the podcast’s moderator, and other panelists dissected Blomkamp’s films, they analyzed the effect of artistic choices, demonstrated knowledge and understanding of an artist’s work, and used the language of the artist’s genre to explain their thinking; in short, the Pop Culture Happy Hour team was conducting its own IB English Individual Oral Commentary (IOC) discussion.

The Individual Oral Commentary and Discussion is one of four official assessments in the IB literature curriculum. For the first part of this twenty-minute, recorded assessment, students must deliver an oral analysis of a poem; for the second half, the student and teacher discuss a prose work studied during one semester.

Since seeing Allison and Rebekah’s presentation at NCTE 2014, I was hungry for opportunities to link my students’ work in the classroom to the real world. Aside from listening to students’ recorded practices with partners, I hadn’t figured out a way to authentically assess the skills students would need for the discussion portion of the IOC, and I was dissatisfied by the way those practices stayed stuck inside the vacuum of the discipline. The conversations students had in those practices belonged only in my classroom. Cue my “eureka” moment: Pop Culture Happy Hour could be a mentor “text” for the IOC, and students could create their own podcasts to practice their literary discussion skills!

My podcast epiphany arrived too late for me to share it with last year’s seniors, but that meant I had plenty of time to let the idea “marinate” before introducing it to my current seniors. I decided to make the podcast project the final assessment for my seniors’ study of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novel full of ambiguity that is ripe for discussion and interpretation. Here’s how it worked: Continue reading