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I agree. There are many ways to write about books and the book report needn't be the standard format, especially at the high school level. By 9th and 10th grade, we should be trying to wean them off book reports and move them towards more critical analysis. My favorite assignment for assessing reading is the literary letter, which I took from the Ramp Up curriculum. The literary letter can be written to the author, to a character in the book, to a friend, to a teacher, etc. There are eight specific things that the letter must include, and these eight things come together to present a reflection on the text. I would have to look up exactly what those eight things are but if anyone is interested, just e-mail me.

Another great resource is Bridging English by Milner and Milner. I believe it was standard issue in the NYU Dept. of Teaching and Learning, and it has become my bible. In particular, there is a chapter on responding to literature and reader-response.

Tim Fredrick

Honestly, I would still call a literary letter a book report. To me, a "book report" is any after book assignment done merely to tell if the kid read the book or not. Like a test, but not. "Book reports" come out of our distrust of our students rather than any educational need.

(An essay related to the book is more about thinking about the book and teaching kids to think critically and put those thoughts into writing. I'm okay with that. But that would require multiple lessons and drafts of the essay, peer review, teacher conferences and so forth and so on. That's a lot more work than a book report and is much more than just telling if the kid read the book.)

But, so many times we just don't trust our students. Where does this come from? I think that's one of the reasons book reports are so dreaded ... kids aren't stupid ... they know that we don't trust them and that's a lot about what book reports are about. What is it they say about rising to low expectations? No kid who knows the teacher doesn't trust them is going to fully invest themselves in their learning.


Well, I guess it depends on how you see it. I mean, I give my kids the benefit of the doubt and trust that they read the book. I used the literary letters to asses whether they got the book, whether they were able to interact with the text at all, to assess their skill at questioning the text, offering an opinion on the text, etc. In an ideal literary letter, students are initiating a conversation with the author or character about the book.
It's just another vehicle for assessment, among many choices of assessment tools. Literary letters are quick and give me a pretty good rough picture of where they're at in terms of "being a reader." The fact remains, students should be able to write about their reading, in some way. Some sort of reflection or response.

Another good assignment is doing book reviews, which teaches critical analysis.

By the way, to me, a book report is: Here's the name of the book. Here's the author. Here's a summary. I liked it because/I hated it because. I recommend/don't recommend it.
That, to me, is not useful at all. All it does is tell me that they read the book, and maybe not even that because they could just copy the summary from the back of the book or something.


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BK Teaching Fellow

I agree.. From the perspective of a student (of which I am not far from in age), I remember fearing book reports, and in turn, i refuted reading. And you're right- it is sooooo easy to find information to satisfy book reports from the book without actually reading it. i'm with you- book reports gots to go!


We use Stargazer's Guided Reading Kit for K-3. Very effective. It's on a CD so your school can get a license of use. You just basically photocopy a class set, read through the stories and send home a copy for the child to read to their parent or caregiver. It's very effective whether or not you use the attached lessons.

One boy went from grade one to end of grade three for a reading level in three months of two hours a week reading. The link to home can't be disputed.

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Mark Pennington

All excellent posts. For several years now, I have devolved the task of reading accountability to that of the parents. I teacher seventh grade ELA. On back-to-school nights I make a deal with parents: I won't assign grammar or essay homework, if they will supervise reading-discussion homework. No parent at the middle school or high school level wants to supervise the latter.

I have parents grade a three-minute discussion of the daily homework reading and assign a grade for the quality of discussion. I get a high degree of buy-in from parents and students. I flesh out this homework program much more on my blog at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/ Oh, I agree about ditching book reports. Can we also add on dioramas and sugar-cube castles to the hit-list?


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