The Bearcat Bookclub: Reinventing the Book Report
“You read a lot, don’t you?” Mrs. Grego, my junior English teacher, said as she handed back my graded essay with a red “A” printed largely on top.
She’d woken me from a semi-napping state, so I mumbled, “I guess so. Why?”
“Good readers are good writers, and you have a beautiful, natural prose.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what the heck she meant at the time, but that one little comment changed the course of my destiny. I had a learning disability in math so naturally, I was in all regular classes. I’d spent my first two high school years being unchallenged by a teacher who probably managed to not get fired because she was the wife of the superintendent.
Unlike some of my other rowdy classmates, I read. I read everything my teachers gave me and much more at home. We were too financially strapped for cable or Nintendo, so when I complained to my mom that I was bored, she’d toss me a book. As it turns out, reading was my salvation.
Mrs. Grego promptly put me in charge of other struggling students in my class, and voila, an English teacher was born. The girl whose parents were warned might not graduate from high school, now carries a master’s in English and writes blogs for Schoology.
This might easily be a post about the power of teachers, and I have many to thank for their encouragement along the way, but instead I want to focus on another saving grace: reading. Good readers are more likely to exceed in all areas of study, and outside reading plays a significant role in their success. But due to mandatory reading programs in the lower levels, I find that many students are burned out on reading by the time they reach their freshman year.
My own 6th grade son, who reads at an 11th grade level was a voracious reader until the 5th grade. He quickly discovered that he could read the hardest level of book, gain the maximum amount of points and be done within a few days. He stopped reading for pleasure because he said, “I’ve already got my points for the week, so why do more?”
Kelly Gallagher shares my sentiments and has coined the term, “Readicide,” in his book by the same name. Gallagher defines it as, “The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in school.”
I stopped giving book reports several years ago due to the lack of interest and subsequent pulling of teeth it took to get students to actually do them, but inspired by Mr. Gallagher’s book, I decided to bring the book report back. I knew that in order to gain student interest, I was going to have to reinvent the book report in a way that they had never seen before.
I thought briefly back to a lesson that Kelly Gallagher explained in, Write Like This. In it, he makes the excellent point that every student knows about Amazon stars or Rotten Tomatoes. Why not use this as an opportunity to reinvent the boring old book report and get students back into books and off of their phones?
An interesting piece to this is that students also need a real audience in order to take their writing seriously. And it must be done electronically in a method most like social media in order for them to pay it any attention.
I pondered how I could make this work with my favorite form of communication and collaboration. In response, I’ve created what I call, The Bearcat Book Club using Schoology groups and Media Albums.
The Bearcat Bookclub Begins
Students read a book of their own choosing, fill out a form linked to Schoology where I will edit and approve of their remarks. With some guidance from me, they will upload their book cover to the media album under the correct genre, copy and paste their edited and approved review, and post it as a comment in the caption section.
Students will also rate their book on a scale of 1-5, using ***** (asterisks as stars), then “tag” two of their friends who might be interested in the book. Below is an example of what the form might look like:
The Bearcat Book Club Review
Step 1: Draft
- What is the name and author of your book? What is the genre?
- In one paragraph, write a brief 2-3 sentence synopsis of the book followed by a second paragraph reviewing the book for your peers. Rate the book on a scale of 1-5 stars with 5 being the best.
I rate this book: * * * * *
Here’s what their reports will look like:Step 2: Editing & Revising
Step 3: Publish to The Bearcat Book Club
When I pitched the idea to my students, they seemed to think it was pretty cool. When I told them that although the minimum was one book per six weeks, they could read and review as many books as they liked and would receive points for them, they were intrigued. Finally, when I explained that I would add up those points at the end of the year and award prizes like iTunes and restaurant gift cards for the winners, they could hardly contain themselves.
I’m so excited to get started that I can hardly contain myself. This is absolutely going to revolutionize the book report in my classroom.
First, students are reading and thinking critically about literature for a very real audience of their peers. Second, the students who are tagged in the report will no doubt read the review written by their friend and quite possibly read and review the book themselves, generating discussion at the lunch table about the book. Lastly, multiple students who are looking for library books to read have a place to browse in their favorite genre and read the thoughts and literary criticisms of their peers. What could be more memorable or influential than getting high school kids interested in books again?
Although, my students are busy reading right now, as soon as we begin the reviews, I promise to share my findings with all my fellow teachers in the trenches.
I have traveled the world examining art and literature including a month-long stay in London where I studied Shakespeare. When I finished globe trotting in 2004, I decided to settle down and become a teacher and start a family. My husband and I have three kids ages 11, 6, and 4. I love to garden, sing, read, and attend theatrical performances, but my passion is to teach students through the use of technology.