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The Traditional Book Report Vs. Book Review
After a very successful day with students introducing them to nonfiction titles the stage was set.
Students were on their way to making their nonfiction book selections following the book speed-dating activity that I facilitated in the library.
The next question was, how can students demonstrate their experience and reactions to the book for their teacher and their classmates in a way that is both authentic and academic? The teacher who was collaborating with me on this adventure had been using a reading log as the primary tool for students to track and report their reading goals.
She was dissatisfied with the reading log as an assessment for a number of reasons:
1) It was easy to fake.
2) Not all books were created equal–in length. One 200 page book might be much more complex than a 400 page book. How were tracking page numbers an accurate reflection of the student’s reading experience?
3) The log did little to capture those magical moments that happen between a reader and the text. In fact, it did nothing.
4) The reading log didn’t feel “on-grade level” for the English I pre-AP teacher who strives to ensure that her assessments contained an appropriate amount of rigor.
To these I added a few of my own qualms after having used the reading log religiously for six years with my own classes:
1) The log imposed an artificial reading goal on students–a number of pages to be read.
2) It did nothing to foster and inspire a reading community.
3) I hated assigning grades to quantitative reading goals that I had imposed upon students.
It was decided; the reading log would be set aside for the purpose of our nonfiction experiment (*190 English I students collectively cheer, “hoorah!”).
When I brought up the idea of writing reviews, I could tell that the teacher had some hesitation. I sensed that, in her experience, reviews and reports brought back a certain amount of reading sentimentality. Sure, it was nice to hear how students felt about a book–if they liked it and so on– but like many of us my colleague was not interested in reading her students’ summaries of the books they had read. How could a simple book review adequately demonstrate their experience as readers?
How do we balance reader response and analytic writing?
We went to the standards to see if we could find a student expectation that captured the level of thinking as readers and writers we wanted to see in students. Sure enough, there it was:
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills
15 (C) write an interpretative response to an expository or a literary text (e.g., essay or review) that:
(i) extends beyond a summary and literal analysis;
(ii) addresses the writing skills for an analytical essay and provides evidence from the text using embedded quotations; and
(iii) analyzes the aesthetic effects of an author’s use of stylistic or rhetorical devices
As a consummate consumer of reviews from blogs, websites, and journals, I’ve read wonderful reviews from passionate readers that balance authentic reading response and critical analysis.
Students came back to the library so that we could read and deconstruct these real-world reviews in order to craft them ourselves.
How do readers share with one another?
After a brief discussion on the difference between a book report and book review, we began by simply reading nonfiction book reviews posted on websites like Goodreads and Amazon. To engage them in the task of deconstructing a book review, I posed a very simple question to students: What sticks with you?
When we use mentor texts for writing, we begin by inviting students to identify the patterns in the text. As we identified something new in the review, I color-coded details. With my guidance, students created an anchor chart that identified four key concepts that they needed to understand about writing nonfiction reviews.
Our (not so pretty) anchor chart uses the mentor texts we analyzed and four key concepts to remember that coordinated with our color-coding. Not only did students have a visual reminder in their classroom of the writing task they were preparing for, but the teacher had a ready-made rubric to assess students’ writing.
Students would now go forth and read their books…but wait, what was going to happen between the this eye-opening day in the library and when they came back to write the reviews?
How could we intentionally scaffold and support students’ responses and reactions to their selected books in order to prepare them to write reflectively and critically?