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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?
Throughout the month of January, I’ll be sharing book trailers highlighting the fantastic line-up of authors that will be at this year’s YAK Fest (Young Adult Keller Book Festival) on January 25th at Keller Central High School in Keller, TX. This will be our third YAK Fest thanks to a generous donation from the Hudson Foundation, which allows us to bring together YA authors and readers for free to attendees!
I’m thrilled to meet every author coming to YAK, but when I saw that Andrew Smith was in the line-up I literally squealed and ran to see which of his books were on the shelf so I could find readers for them asap!
Andrew Smith’s Marbury Lens and its sequel Passenger are quite the hot commodity thanks in part to an adrenaline-packed, thrilling book trailer.
Make sure you order extra copies for your classroom or library–they’ll be needed after you share this trailer!
This year, Smith has received a lot of acclaim for Winger from reviewers, librarians, and YA fanatics.
Smart, wickedly funny…In a magnificently frenetic first-person narration that includes clever short comics, charts and diagrams…Smith deftly builds characters—readers will suddenly realize they’ve effortlessly fallen in love with them—and he laces meaning and poignantly real dialogue into uproariously funny scatological and hormonally charged humor, somehow creating a balance between the two that seems to intensify both extremes. Bawdily comic but ultimately devastating, this is unforgettable.”
(Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
Thanks to a terrific librarian-friend, his next novel, Grasshopper Jungle, arrived today for me to read before I see him in a few weeks! (*Fangirl squeak of excitement*)
Come meet Andrew Smith on January 25th at YAK Fest ’14!
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Tomorrow I am hosting a hot chocolate and story time event in the library for classes. I thought I’d use this opportunity to re-cap some of the hottest YA books from 2013 with readers, hoping to put just a few more books in their hands during Winter Break.
This playlist contains 34 book trailers for YA books released in 2013. I chose not to include sequels and installments in series, but instead, I’ll be making a special playlist for new installments from 2013.
What were your favorites from 2013?
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Thanks to ice-mageddon 2013, I was able to catch up on a sackful of books that I’ve been eager to read. One book in particular captured my rapt attention for an entire evening, enchanting me with a love story I only thought I knew. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a gentle, yet fierce retelling of Peter Pan. Narrated by none other thank Tinker Bell herself, the story takes us into the wildest and most compassionate places of Tiger Lily’s heart.
“Sometimes love means not being able to bear seeing the one you love the way they are, when they’re not what you hoped for them.”
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
Imagine what would happen if the TV series “The Bachelor” got a dystopian make-over. You’d get Kiera Cass’s The Selection.
I am admittedly drawn to book covers with pretty dresses. Among some of my favorites are The Luxe, Matched, and Wither. I’m a sucker for ball gowns, which is why I first grabbed Cass’s series. After I read the summary, however, I was hesitant. You see, I despise “The Bachelor” for its depiction of self-serving, ruthless, catty, women and misogynistic GQ-wanna-be boys.
But, I started reading anyways after several of my regulars demanded that I read nothing else until I had tried The Selection.
Your girls who are already fans of the dystopian will devour this series. It’s complete with the warring classes, love triangle, plot twists, and budding-heroine. I also have had great success with my “non-reader” girls. The science fiction aspect is understated, appearing really only in the fact that the series takes place in the future after World War IV.
The Elite, which is out now, continues the trilogy with The One set to be released May 6th.
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Setting the Stage
When a veteran English teacher came to me to share her thoughts and seek inspiration on getting her students excited about nonfiction, my heart went pitter-patter. Over the last decade at my campus, I’ve seen a tremendous shift to emphasizing recreational reading and seeing our students as readers. More teachers bring their classes to the library to be introduced to new books, maintain a classroom library, talk to their students about their reading habits, and provide students with the time and space to read in class–but the primary recipient of all of this love has been fiction.
In my graduate library courses, we were encouraged to read all genres widely. When we reached the nonfiction module, I sighed and told myself I’d get through it. I wasn’t that kind of reader, I thought. But, then I was introduced to books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Deadliest Weapon, and How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous and realized that I was, in fact, a nonfiction reader! Suddenly, I remembered such favorites from my reading life as Devil in the White City, Diary of Anne Frank, and An Unfinished Life: A Memoir by Lillian Hellman.
When and why had these reading experiences taken backseat to their fiction counterparts?
I was excited to embark on an journey with this teacher’s freshman English students that would allow me to promote nonfiction and learn more about the nonfiction reading habits of teens all while re-kindling my own flame for nonfiction reads
To set the stage, we decided to adapt a strategy that is a staple in the library and in classrooms: the book pass.
I first found the book pass as a budding Reading Specialist while reading Janet Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading. When cultivating reading lives of students–especially teen readers–choice is paramount.
The Book Pass quickly (and messily) allows students to explore multiple titles, recording their thoughts, observations, and wonderings, and then passing them along. It’s safe because students don’t have to commit to anything they don’t like. It’s effective because out of 200 books that are scattered around 8 or more tables, each student is bound to find something that he or she can “date.”
Book passes in our classes served to get students looking at a variety of books, making their own judgments on the interest and readability of the books, and finding books they were willing to seek out…(Allen, 2000, p. 103)
When I entered the library and brought my book pass with me, I made a few adaptations here and there. These days, I set the activity up like a speed-dating experience. We talk about how dating a book is like dating a person–you judge it by the outside, but have to remember to listen to what it has to say before you make up your mind about it. I find that teens latch on to this idea of reading relationships.
My book passes have also been organized by theme, topic, or genre–depending on the class and teacher’s needs.
While preparing for my first nonfiction speed-date activity, I had to ask myself, how do teens select nonfiction books? Probably the same way most of us do–by topic. So, I came up with 8 broad topics to create tables.
Beating the Odds
Youth in Conflict
Now, the nonfiction speed date was much more difficult for me to facilitate because the nonfiction section is the weakest part of my collection. It was an eye-opening experience to see the gaps in selection. And, due to limited availability, I had to break my own cardinal rule and NOT allow students to check out the books they previewed right then and there like I do with my fiction book passes. We had wait lists dozens deep for books like The Blind Side and Steve Jobs.
Most students walked away with several books on their to-read lists and many options for their nonfiction reading assignment.
The next step was to begin to support their actual reading experiences so that they could share their books through book reviews.
In the next post, Real-World Readers Write Reviews, I’ll share a process that I use for any type of writing that allows students to deconstruct a mentor text-in this case a nonfiction book review. Stay tuned!
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Inquiry involves a process of problem-posing and problem-solving as learners develop a critical lens on the word and the world in order to take action for social change (Short, 2012)
Inquiry is the driving force in a writing workshop classroom. Students and teachers, alike, use questions and questioning strategies to become active learners and participants in the community. Whether we are writers, readers, researchers, digital citizens, the impetus of our collective and individual learning is curiosity.
When was the last time your students were truly curious? If they are like mine, my students tell me that they stopped feeling curious about what they learn in upper elementary school as they moved into content specific classrooms and faced looming standardized tests. Young children learn about the world around them by asking questions, being curious, and exploring.
Many of us can quickly paint a picture of how inquiry works in the context of research. I-Search projects and social action research have become more and more prevalent. But, inquiry doesn’t just live in the context of research; its pulse frames all learning in the workshop community.
Looking to rekindle that curious spirit? Try these steps to tap into that natural curiosity in relation to your beliefs about student writing. Then, go one step further and try this strategy with your students!
“Maybe you’re naturally curious, a holdover from childhood when you were always asking, “Why?” Or maybe your curiosity paled as you got older, and you forgot that being curious is the best reason for wanting to learn things. Whatever condition it’s in, your curiosity must be the driving force…” (Ballenger, 2009, p. 27)
Forming a Burning Question
What are your beliefs about student writing?
What absolutes, values, norms, and principles do you hold near and dear when it comes to facilitating a writing community with your students? I invite you to spend a few moments writing about what you believe, in whatever format works best for you.
How do you know this to be true?
Take a couple of minutes thinking about how you have come to hold those beliefs. Are there stories or students from your own classrooms that have led you to forming these beliefs? Do you have professional mentors, authors, and teachers who have guided you in understanding these beliefs? What research, facts, theories, etc all demonstrate your belief to be true?
So what do I wonder?
Give yourself five, ten, even fifteen minutes to just brainstorm questions. What do you wonder about your students as writers or the writing community you share with them? Write as many questions as you can think of.
Share your questions with a peer or even your students. Ask them to show you which questions they feel most curious about. Do they have any questions they could add to the list to expand or narrow your questions?
Take a minute to consider the questions your peers marked as most interesting and any new questions they might have added. Do you see a pattern? Is there a question that seems to stand out more in your mind? Is it possible to write a new question that encompasses these questions?
What happens now that you’ve formed your own burning question? Is there a resource or strategy that you might integrate into your classroom to strengthen the writing community? Can you find a network of professionals and teachers to reach out to in order to further explore your question? What ways could you engage your students in exploring the question…or better yet, in creating their own questions.
This strategy lends itself well to research, of course. But, what I found is that this strategy became much, much more for our community than just a springboard into research. We began to utilize the same process to respond to what we read, respond to one another’s writing, and even develop new norms, policies, and community “rules.” When our we adopted curious minds and allowed ourselves the freedom to “wonder,” that’s when magic started.
What adaptations and applications can you imagine for this strategy? What is your burning question? How could you use this process to engage your campus or department in considering their individual and collective beliefs in order to transform instruction?
(Adapted from Bruce Ballenger (2009) “Finding the Questions” and “Finding the Focusing Questions” The Curious Researcher)
This post accompanies the presentation Writing Teachers (Re)Inventing Literacy Instruction by Following the North Star for NCTE 2013 in Boston, MA–Please message me for more information regarding this session or visit the North Star of Texas Writing Project’s Facebook page.
In Part I of this post, I introduce the web-based application Present.me as a potential tool for you and your students to create video presentations, tutorials, and lessons.
Two additional tools my students and I enjoy are ScreenChomp and Screen-cast-omatic.
ScreenChomp (available in iTunes) is-in essence- a white board that you can record. Teachers utilize ScreenChomp to record their drawings, diagrams, or text on a whiteboard or customizable background with audio explanation and guidance. You can pause the video, insert photos and PDFs, change the background, erase, and then publish as a link or save to your account to share with students. Want to be really efficient with your time? Connect your iPad to a project with AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV or a VGA adapter so you can record the demonstration or lesson while you are teaching face-to-face. Then, post the link of the ScreenChomp for students to review.
Check out the developer Tech Smith’s website for an overview of features.
Ideas for students:
- Demonstrate a process with a “think-aloud” like solving a math problem or conjugating a certain type of verb in a language class.
- Respond to a picture or prompt by annotating and talking about their responses.
- Crate a video lesson for their classmates on a focused topic or skill like mitosis vs. meiosis or allusions in literature.
Thinking about “flipping” your classroom? Looking for tools your students can use to demonstrate their learning? I’ve become a fan of three simple (and free) apps that you and your students can easily use to record and share tutorials, lessons, and demonstrations.
For those of you who miss the face-to-face quality of in-class tutorials and instruction, this website might be just what you are looking for to create and share tutorials or presentations with your students while maintaining that human and personal aspect. Present.me allows you to create presentations with slides and video, slides and audio, or just video. Upload your existing presentations, PDFs, or pictures and then record a video where you explain or teach in a split screen. Feeling a little camera shy? It’s just as easy to record audio alongside the slides as video.
Check out the fractured fairy tale book talk for my example and Present.me’s own list of simple tutorials.
The free version allows you to upload content and record video, audio, or video-only. You cannot download the video and save as a file with the free account, but you can embed the video in a web page or share through social media sites and the direct link.
A few things I learned while making my own Present.me:
- Write your content first if starting from scratch–If you have an existing lesson or PPT, then it should be relatively quick to create your own explanation or to record the lesson you are accustomed to. If starting from scratch, I definitely recommend writing a script, first. The better Present.Me videos do have more of an “off-the-cuff” feeling. I wasn’t quite there with my first attempt, so I split my screen and had a script up that I read from while clicking through the slides.
- Practice your timing before you record–I think I took something like 8 recordings before I got to the final version. Many of the deleted versions were due to clumsy fingers. When you record video or audio alongside slides, you have to click to advance the slides while you record…takes a couple of practice rounds to get used to, but then it’s a synch.
- If you video, use a high(er) quality camera–I went with the built-in camera on my iMac, but will try using my webcam next time. I wasn’t too happy with how pixelated the video came out, and there was a slight delay in motion with the audio. But, that’s a nit-picky thing.
Ideas for students:
- “Me-Presentation”–this platform lends itself well to a little bio about yourself or even an alternative to the paper resume.
- Explanatory/ Process–Students could create a presentation aimed at explaining a process or concept that utilizes examples or diagrams.
- Digital Storytelling–What if students narrated their own stories alongside a visual storytelling technique? We’ve been using MovieMaker, iMovie, and Animoto for digital storytelling, but those tools eliminate a lot of the power of students’ own voices when telling the story. Why not allow them to tell the story alongside the story for a dynamic narrative experience?
Prime time television is ripe this Fall with fairy tale spin-offs. ABC’s Once Upon a Time is a mash-up of some of your favorite heroes, heroines, and villains! This Present.me features popular Young Adult novels with a fairy tale twist in conjunction with our English I classes experimenting with their own fractured fairy tales.
Looking for more fantastic ideas for your teen readers? Visit
Media Mania—Magic and Mayhem: Mesmerizing Fairy Tale Retellings for Teens at SLJ.com for Joy Fleishhacker’s list of top pics.
What’s your favorite fractured fairy tale?