Building Better Book Projects
My primary goal is to encourage students to read widely and to think about what texts mean, and why the ideas in those texts matter. Do book projects support this goal?
As a motivated reader who knows countless other motivated readers, I can tell you I have never once had or overheard a conversation like this:
"I just finished the most incredibly 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 book clubs, 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 it is also 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 an improve in our readers? Or is that 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 how we please other adults - or are they designed to promote reading and thinking about texts? If collaboration, long-term planning, and project development are the goals, artistic book projects might be a useful vehicle. They might also be an inviting option as a response to texts for some students, provided other students have different options.
There are a number of thought-provoking tools students can use, including coding programs, to create responses to books. However, when the primary focus is to develop students' reading comprehension skills, I want to think carefully about how to use that instructional time. I find that meaningful re-reading, analysis, discussion, and writing are generally at the heart of this process.
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I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!