I wrote the following in a reflection after hearing Ellin Oliver Keene speak at Teachers College on April 3rd, 2006. I think what I wrote then is worthy of mentioning on this blog right now as we, as literacy educators, think about the ways in which we’ll assess our students after they read.
“Ever since Pat Werner encouraged me to have my students write me reader’s letters at the end of every book they read, rather than a book report, I’ve realized that there is not much thinking that goes into a book report. Loosely quoted from Lucy Calkins, “When was the last time you finished a book, went off and made a diorama?” It’s true. When an adult finishes a book, they do not sit down and write a summary of the plot line nor do take out a shoe box and create a diorama. However, too often in schools children are being asked to write book reports and do other pieces of “assessment” which do not actually assess their thinking about the book.
“As teachers, I think we need to push ourselves to push the kids to have them do a variety of work when they finish a book they read. I do not even think that reader’s letters should be the sole format that I should use to in my classroom to assess a student when they’re finished with a book. Hence, I’d love to work through this issue of “book reports” with other teachers who feel that the information presented on the sheet from Ellin Keene is worth exploring. I think we can push kids farther and expect them to do more thinking about their reading. If we expect that, then we should also hold them accountable for making their thinking work visible utilizing the written, artistic, oral or dramatic options on the sheet or having them come up with other alternatives to those “assessments” as well.”
Thoughts about my 2006 musings?
NOTE: Last year I gave my students the option of doing reader’s letters or online book report alternatives when they finished a book. However, I ask myself, even now, is that really what they should be doing? (No, but I had to document that they read 25 books during their fifth grade year somehow and this was the most authentic way I knew how to do it.)
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).