Not-Just-The-Same-Ol’ Book Report

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

Many of us grew up having to write and present book reports. Even for those of us who loved to read, these reports were often boring and tedious. Unfortunately, this type of traditional book report still rears its ugly head in some classrooms. As educators who seek to promote a love of reading in our students, we know that simply asking our students to write pages about what they read and experienced in a book is not the best approach. But what else can be done? Rather than simply saying “Create something”, I like to give my students a few suggestions on how they can respond.  Here are some reader’s response projects that my students have enjoyed creating and sharing with the class.

Character Soundtrack

Ask students to select a character (usually their favorite) from the novel and choose five major moments of the book that reveal something about that character.  They will then find five songs that they believe accurately represent the character at this moment and make a five-song soundtrack for this character. Lastly, I require that students write a description of the instance and the connection that each song has to the character and the moment in the book (including page numbers).  For high school students, I ask for textual evidence in the form of direct quotes. In order to make this easier, you may want to introduce the projects before students read the book and suggest that they mark or highlight their favorite lines and pages about the characters.

The obvious downfall to this project is that it’s very difficult to work on in class since downloading music isn’t allowed on most school campus. Students can, however, look for lyrics and then download their songs on their own at home.

The Front Page (Newspaper articles)

For this assignment, students choose three major “news worthy” events from the novel. They then create the front page of a newspaper, including three articles (about three different events), pictures, headlines, and titles. I encourage them to use a real newspaper as a model.

Character’s Journal

Students can select and follow one character from their novel and create their journal.  I have found that this is usually most interesting if students select a minor character, or a character who doesn’t speak much in the novel. Students write 5 one-page long journal entries about different points in the novel from the character’s perspective. Students can even enjoy binding them together in a “journal” and creating a cover. I showed students my journal from high school (which was covered with magazine clippings, pictures, and other objects) as an inspiration for their covers.

Dramaturge

A dramaturge is someone who focuses on the social particulars of a certain time period. As the dramaturge for their book, students choose either to examine the food, the clothing, or the music of setting. This is especially fun when students know very little of the historical and cultural background of the novel. How students present their research is up to the teacher; it could be in traditional report format, presentation board, multi-media presentation, or even through a pamphlet. I have asked also students to present their findings to the class in the form of the food, song, or visuals.

Theme Billboard

Students create a “billboard” that displays a theme from the novel for “by passers” that catches their attention. Students are highly encouraged to pay careful attention to colors, symbols, motifs, important quotations, and figurative language used in the novel to help them develop their ideas.  I have required an added writing assignment in which students provide an explanation of how the author presents that theme in the novel, including textual evidence and page numbers, but that can be at the discretion of the teacher.

Each of these projects allows students to respond to the novel in a meaningful way, while still focusing on important literary objectives. I highly recommend providing students with strong examples of your expectations before they begin. Then, sit back and watch their reading come alive!

Building and Keeping a Love for Reading

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Angelina Martinez

When I first began my Master’s program in Early Childhood, I had no idea how much the reading process actually consisted of. There are endless things to teach children when they are young so that they can become good readers, or at least on level readers. Imagine my surprise when I discovered so many of my seventh graders were reading at the second and third grade level. How is it that this happens when they are taught so much about reading from the moment they first step into school?

After reading many assigned articles and books, one of which stood out more than others, Reading Without Nonsense by Frank Smith, I can see many reasons why this could happen. First off, Frank Smith mentions that children will learn to read by reading; the isolated phonics drills that schools put such emphasis on, will come naturally if we just let children read and surround them with it as well. It is important to also know that if a child cannot read, then they should be read to. Through observations and listening of the words, they are learning. Somewhere along the line, reading to children just stops, mostly because they learn to do it on their own. Problem is that not all children can read very well independently, so why should we stop modeling and reading to them because the majority can? This is where the strugglers fall between the gaps and can risk staying behind their entire educational career.

I have also noticed that when children are very young they are usually encouraged to read books they enjoy. Teachers make the reading fun and enjoyable. As the years pass and they get older, more reading is done through passages and assigned books from the teacher. Their choices are limited in the classroom, and as they get older the focus becomes more on efferent reading and strategies to help them pass the much-dreaded STAAR test. The fun in reading gets lost and the meaningfulness behind it disappears. They rarely make the personal connections they used to as a child or during their early elementary years. As demonstrated and discussed in our Children’s and Adolescent Literature class, many things can be taught and covered through meaningful assignments and literature. Teachers and principals who worry so much about the TEKS need to find ways that engage and motivate students to read and enjoy so.

Teaching and motivating children to love reading does not only fall into the hands of the teacher, but to the parents as well. Most children have their first and many experiences with reading at home before they even start school. It is important for parents to see that any opportunity for reading, whether it is an article in a newspaper or a recipe from a cookbook, is a step in the right direction. Parents who have had bad experiences with school or reading sometimes feel as if they are incapable of helping their children with reading and believe it is something the teacher should deal with because it is his or her “job”. This is a cycle that is usually passed on and should, and can, be broken. Working together as a team; student, parent, and teacher, we can help build strong readers and allow children to indulge in their love of reading both in and out of school.

All-Encompassing

This semester, students in READ 6310  Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Justin Keplinger

As an English Language Arts teacher, I find it important to simultaneously encompass other topics covered in other subject areas. One way I do this in my classroom is through my students’ independent reading books.

The Hunger Games trilogy has been an extremely popular text with my students in recent years. The masterful combination of the simplistic form of the novels make it an easy read; the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale and the science fiction war theme have been able to capture my students’ attention in a way that few books have been able to in the past.

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Though I am not a huge fan of the overused love themes in most adolescent literature, I found the reluctant love affair between Peeta and Katniss to be something unique in young adult literature. I think teens who are just beginning to understand romance would benefit from the understanding that love is not always instant but can be a gradual process like the love Katniss has for Peeta.

What I find great about this trilogy is that it parallels with the theme of war and social injustices prevalent in our current mainstream society. The rebellion against the Capitol is a problem being faced not only in this United States but all over the globe (i.e. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda). It is able to portray to students the inner workings of government bias and manipulation in a way that is engaging for the reader. Many students find their history classes cold and dry. However, reading books like this (i.e. 1984 by George Orwell and The Running Man by Stephen King) will help them parallel what they are learning in both subject areas.

Another innovative facet of the novel is the idea of the female heroine – not common in most books of this genre. It lends a hand for more girls on the secondary level to take a chance with science fiction and shows them what they can learn from reading more books like these.

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Especially since Hollywood has taken the story and adapted it, I believe this story should be implemented in not just Language Arts classes, but in other subject areas as well. Each district seems to have it’s own biome, something that could be easily implemented in science classes. And as I previously stated, social studies can respond to the type of government exhibited and the social issues present.

This series has the potential to be an all-encompassing tool within each discipline if in the right hands of an imaginative educator.