My primary goal is to encourage students to read widely and to think about what texts mean, and why the ideas matter. Do book projects support this goal?
As a motivated reader who knows countless motivated readers, I can tell you that I have never once had or overheard a conversation like this:
"I just finished the most incredible, powerful book!"
"Great! Hey, we should create a diorama to represent the climactic scene!"
I worry that the creation and assessment of book projects during reading time is more about art - or even about a family's ability to spend money at Michael's - than it is about reading comprehension. I worry that book projects take valuable time that could be spent reading, discussing, and considering important ideas in texts. I know some students enjoy crafting projects, just as some adults like making book-themed food to host a book club, but I worry about the ones who are discouraged from reading because of these kinds of expectations.
I think it is appropriate for students to respond to texts, but I think it's important for teachers and parents to be mindful about the purpose. If we have book quizzes to manage accountability for reading and understanding texts, does that encourage and improve what we want to encourage and improve in readers - or is it something that is easy to measure? If we have beautiful book projects showcased in the library, do they represent labors of love and student inquiry, or two-week intentions stretched into six weeks of compliant tedium that robbed a class of other interactive experiences with books? Are the reading activities we offer students more about our own habits - are they how we "do" school and please community adults - or are they designed to promote reading and thinking about texts?
Time is precious, and educators are almost always overburdened. They cannot possibly read or invent everything that will perfectly suit each student they encounter. Homeschooling educators are much better situated in this respect, since they can often spend much more time discussing texts with individual students in depth. Rather than shunning or embracing a single method, here are a few ideas for students to respond to texts in meaningful ways.
1) RAFT menus
We just examined whether book projects were meaningful, and in this case, they can be. These menus give students options for examining different perspectives through Role, Audience, Format, and Topic choices. See an example of a book project RAFT menu from my older website for A Single Shard here.
Extension: After students are comfortable using the RAFT menu with a shared text or with their independent reading books, ask them to design RAFT menus about issues related to other areas of study, such as conflict over resources or community building or advertising, and encourage real-world opportunities to take positive action.
2) Peer Discussions
Discussion protocols for appropriate participation are critical for these conversations to be meaningful. Even if students are reading different texts, it's still possible for them to have on-topic discussions about their books. If they are reading and analyzing the same texts, a peer conversation can offer insights to an individual reader, and help clarify meaning, or at least prompt questions about what is still unclear for the whole group. Assorted question stems and discussion cards are coming soon.
3) Writing About Texts
This is a traditional school activity, and many students dislike it. However, this is frequently because they don't understand the expectations, especially if they have been taught to seek one right answer and move on, rather than to explore issues within a text. Written responses to texts require students to craft thoughtful arguments, re-read portions of texts, and examine perspectives. These are essential thinking skills to promote and develop. Peer discussion as a rehearsal for writing can be helpful for reluctant writers, as well as offering brainstorming and outlining options and sample responses to texts. Voice to text and short responses are useful accommodations for all kinds of students. Writing also includes multi-media presentations, because the organization of videos, for example, requires the same kind of decision-making about which graphics to include or cut, and which order to present the information that writing several paragraphs (or sentences) requires.
4) Reading Challenges
These are not motivating for all students. Some students thrive on competition, and others become stressed out by it and can no longer focus on the primary goal. However, it's possible to set up individual goals through menus and visual tracking systems to make progress more concrete for students, whether they are trying to finish more books, read different types of genres, read longer or more complex books, or find a series they genuinely enjoy picking up to read. Visual checkpoints toward self-set goals can often be motivating and illustrate progress for students. Community or whole-group goals can also be visually tracked, and, if they are set up constructively, these allow highly engaged students to contribute as much as they like, without creating the pressure of individual student comparisons.
5) Socialize About Books
I tend not to be in favor of programs that offer pizza or other items to reward students for reading, because if a reader needs a pizza for motivation, that reader hasn't met the right book yet. Building a culture of positive feelings about reading can be a surprisingly powerful force. Even if some reluctant readers are not inspired by the teacher's enthusiasm, the recommendations from their peers can be a difference-maker. Book talks by the teacher and by students, small group peer check-ins about books in progress, teacher/student conferences about reading habits and specific texts, and celebrating some successes together ("I finished the trilogy and I cried because it was over," "I read every night this week," "I made it all the way through a science fiction book and I didn't totally hate it") can make students more aware of their reading habits, preferences, and strengths. Author visits - whether in-person or via Skype - can be another social way to encourage reading, in addition to communicating with classes around the world about particular books. The Global Read Aloud is a good way to connect with other classrooms who prioritize reading.
If you are looking for some other book project ideas to try something new, this menu with 40 Creative Book Projects is one resource.
The link above will take you to a Google Doc.
Teachers and parents may share these free resources for non-commercial use, but please keep the author credit visible and provide a link back to this website on digital versions.
Reading Challenge Menu Your Name:
An optional way to try some new and different books
Add the title and date completed for each menu item you complete
A book set outside of North America
A book that isn’t part of a series
A book recommended by a classmate
A book with only one word in the title
A book by an author you’ve never read before
A book written more than 10 years ago
A book you wouldn’t normally read
A book with an appealing cover
A book more than 200 pages long
A biography or autobiography
A book by an author you like
A Texas Bluebonnet book for this year
A picture book
A how-to book
A book written within the last two years
The second book in a series
A book you’ve been wanting to read, but haven’t yet
A book with a memorable character
A book that has won an award
A book about an important topic