Tuesday, October 4, 2011

21st Century Learning: Say Goodbye to the Book Report

Growing up one of the first types of writing we learned was the book report. This was about as straightforward an assignment as there is:
  • What is the title? Who is the author? When was it written? Who published it?
  • Who are the main characters? What is an outline of the plot?
  • Did you like it? Why or why not? 
These were papers written for an audience of one: the teacher. Typically, the teacher would be looking to make sure you actually read the book and used proper grammar and sentence structure. Once handed back, the paper would go in the back of the binder, never to be seen again. 

Well, the book report is no longer relevant in our world. In a period that is so enmeshed in social media and search terms, the more applicable piece of writing would be the book review. The more relevant venue would be a blog and a more interesting audience is your grade at school. 

Tony Carrick, Karen Niegelsky, and John Schoultz have devised a unit to do just that. Karen and Tony teach literature to our middle school students and were searching for a way to spice up the classic book report assignment which always used to accompany summer reading. They decided that a more relevant type of writing was the book review, but they still struggled with how they might broaden the audience. 

This is where John Schoultz, our Technology Coordinator stepped in. Through our internal server, we have the ability to build wikis and blogs. Blogs allow students to create, as John calls it, a "virtual locker" which can be shared with their teachers and students alike. So, Tony and Karen worked with John to develop a unit that focused on the writing skills of a book review and the technological skills of managing and presenting a blog product. The book reviews appear in blog form and will be preserved in a review library for upcoming middle school students to view when they are choosing their independent reading books.

Students learned what distinguishes a good book review from a bad, how to determine a reviewers' bias, and the breakdown of a book review in terms of engaging the reader from the title through the plot summary to the analysis. On the technology side they learned to set up a blog, manage multiple subjects and labels, create and edit content, and incorporate multimedia into an otherwise wordy post (I'm sure your wishing I would audit this course and learn how to be more concise....) 

By the end of this Book Review Unit, our students have begun to develop the following 21st Century Skills (based on a list from NAIS Trendbook 2010-2011):
  • Analytical and Creative Thinking and Problem Solving
    • Detect bias, and distinguish between reliable and unsound information.
    • Control information overload
  • Complex Communication - Oral and Written
    • Write clearly and concisely - for a variety of audiences
    • Explain information and compellingly persuade others of its implications
  • Digital and Quantitative Literacy
    • Understand, use, and apply digital technologies
    • Create digital knowledge and media
    • Use multimedia resources to communicate ideas effectively in a variety of formats
Throughout this post you have seen screen shots of those book reviews. We are excited for the type of learning we are creating in the middle school and what it means for our students in the future. 

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