Teachers, Why are we Still Doing That?

   Like many other families this summer, our family had to deal with summer reading.  Mandatory summer reading, well, that's expected in my house, so needing to do it for school is not that big of a deal, although this might be an issue for future blogs.  Afterall, it's nice to take a break from work we have to do, and concentrate on things we like to do during the summer. But, no, the reading itself is not that big of a deal; the assignments connected with the reading are what irks me.

Nothing sucks the life out of reading enjoyment more than a book report.  Ugh, those two words together make me think of bureaucratic blue cinderblock walls and 'duck-and-cover' drills.  Is a book report really the BEST way to challenge a child's reading comprehension and retention? Like any other assignment that teachers give, summer reading needs to have an ultimate purpose, an ultimate goal.  I can imagine that mandatory summer reading's purpose is to ensure that a child does not lose ground over the long summer in the achievements she made during the school year in reading proficiency, reading comprehension and vocabulary building.

But the prospect of writing a book report at the end of that reading makes the reading itself daunting.  Really, what does listing the main characters and summarizing the book plot really do for a child in terms of comprehension?  Teachers need to be creative and innovative in their teaching, and that has to include the assignments that they give for assessing achievement.  They also need to remember the ultimate goal of the assignment; for me there are always three:  1) how to assess what the student has learned, 2) how to challenge the student to utilize that knowledge in real world situations, and 3) most importantly, how to INSPIRE that student to continue loving (whatever subject they are working on).

If teachers are sucking the life and joy out of reading, learning, inquiring, exploring, then children learn to dislike, even avoid learning.  This makes me sad. I say, trash book reports. 

Make the assignment more creative, more enjoyable, more challenging and more applicable to today's challenges.  Have the child create a game that mimics the conflict in the book; have the child write a prologue, introducing the characters a month, a year, two years before the real story takes place; have the child write an epilogue of the character's lives a year, or twenty years after the book.  If the child works better with her hands, have her build a scene from a chapter where the conflict is resolved, or better yet, have her build  a house that the main character would live in, but make sure she is prepared to explain why that house fits that character's character. 

Create a tech integrated assignment:  have the student create facebook bios of the main characters and a few pages of status updates (like a week in the life of "x," for instance); have the child compose a week's worth of tweets between the main characters and a subordinate one, maybe.  Have the child create a ThingLink or VoiceThread poster to show to the class when school begins.  If the purpose is to strengthen vocabulary, have the child make a word cloud of unfamiliar words from each chapter.  Better yet, get rid of the assignment altogether.  If teachers want to ensure that kids have done the reading, then have an in-class assignment when the kids return:  Have an all-class debate around one of the issues in the book; have a book-group discussion in the first days back. Teachers, be creative!

It does not take too much time to make assignments more challenging, more inspiring, more innovative than the same old thing.  Teachers, our job is to engage and inspire, and that's not happening by doing the same old thing.  My new year resolution:  Inspire, create, challenge! No more old-school book reports!


I totally agree. Nothing makes me sadder than to see kids reading a book but at the end of every chapter they have a "folder" filled with fill in the blanks, vocabulary work and comprehension questions. If we have to do this as adults would we honest ever touch a book. Talk about it a conference, allow the child to make one of the projects you mentioned above, make a commercial to others about why they should read this book etc... We destroy the love of learning. When I asked a teacher friend why they did the sheets the answer was "well I could use it for an easy grade." Sad.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that sometimes teachers are less thoughtful about what they do than they can be. It's always important to be creative in assigning and assessing, and remember WHY we ask kids to do things.

I was an avid reader until my high school teachers turned me off it with their choices of "important" books - luckily, I re-discovered the joy at university. Perhaps if we are teaching literacy and a love of literature, rather than important books, more young people would engage in one of life's most pleasurable pursuits. I've always been unclear why teachers assign any work over holidays. If it is because of a fear that young people will forget things, isn't that an admission that they might not have been taught well in the first place?

I'm glad to hear that you have rekindled your love of reading. How sad that sometimes education does stifle that curiosity and affinity for reading and learning. It is so important for teachers to be mindful of WHY they assign certain projects or assignments. I agree that holidays should be for taking a break, and letting children do what they want, read what they want, and create what their imagine allows. When they have holiday projects, children don't get the chance to explore those things that they think are interesting. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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