Mrs. Leserman's Book Report Essentials

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One Bite at a Time
A note for teachers and parents
     California state literacy guidelines (grades eight through twelve) call for students to read and understand grade-level material, and to consume it at the rate of between one- and two-million words per year, on their own (meaning, in addition to what they get in the classroom). 
     The mere mention of those numbers can be overwhelming.  Tell a person that s/he has to do one- to two-million of ANYTHING, and you will meet with someone gasping with breath, running for cover, or simply slack-jawed in shock.  But when asked by my students, "How on earth do I read two million words?" I am always reminded of the children's riddle, "How do you eat an elephant?" 
     "One bite at a time."
     Typically, age-appropriate reading books for teenagers are about 150,000 words (on average).   So a good "rule of thumb" for independent student reading is about one book every two weeks during the school year, in order to get to the two-million-words-a-year breakpoint.
     Obviously, some students will be interested in reading less challenging books if left to their own devices.  There are high school students who will make teachers grind their teeth (or even rip out thinning hair) by asking for permission to do a book report on Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (very funny, but a cartoon book and written for second graders).  But some will instantly pick up Tolstoy's thickest tomes, or the collected works of Dickens. 
     So, the idea NO MATTER WHAT, is to give the student as much free reign as possible in choosing "free reading" material.  It is fair to give direction and encouragement, and some motivation to try new things, but the overarching big idea here is that the student gets to read for enjoyment, and people can't possibly read for enjoyment when they're being constantly hounded and hectored that they should be doing something else.
ACCOUNTABILITY -- Where book reports come in
     Despite the glory of this generous ideal, "free reading," students really are expected to chow down on at least one whole book every two weeks in pursuit of this state-mandated goal of wolfing down one- to two-million words, on their own, every year. 
     There are several ways to make students accountable for their reading.  The method students like the most is 1)  ASKING.  We ask "Did you read a book?"  They say, "Yes!"  This method is quick and painless, but it leads to little thought or literary analysis.  Regrettably, it also leads to a lot of lying and very little actual student reading.  This led teachers to institute a second method --
     Reading logs are charts where students indicate that they have read for half an hour a night, and parents initial it, indicating that they agree that the student sat far away from them under a light source for half an hour.  The completed charts are turned in every month. Teachers are loathe to contradict parent signatures, but the process still yields little literary analysis, and a lot of student lying and very little actual student reading.  This brings us back to the classic teacher method of requiring ....
     Book reports.  These yield probems too -- Sometimes a lot of cut and paste (when the teacher doesn't require a specific outline, though I do), and sometimes the possibility that the student is reporting on a book s/he read a long time ago.  But overall, this is still the best method I have of ensuring that a student actually reads, and actually engages in some kind of thinking of the reading that s/he has done.  And that is what this site and the following pages are about.

How to use these pages
     This site was created specifically for my students, and their parents, or for instructors and administrators at my school (Fulton College Prep, in Van Nuys, California).     Anyone who finds this site is, of course, welcome to use the resources within.
     However, I do request that if you are using any of the materials provided, that you provide appropriate citation (which you would ask your students to do, anyway).  I also respectfully request that you do not post student book reports anywhere online.  This is to ensure that students will not cut/paste book reports from the internet in the future.  We all place a premium on original work and are encouraging literacy among our students.  Publishing book reports, even as a reward for top-notch efforts, undermines our goals. 
Who is Mrs. Leserman?
Mrs. Leserman is an instructor at Fulton College Prep  in Van Nuys, California, a part of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Please check out Mrs. Leserman's Internet Classroom and see what is happening where the internet meets bricks-and-mortar learning spaces.

How many books make a million words?
     So, how much reading IS there, in two million words, anyway?
     A very effective way of demonstrating this to your class is to have them grab reading books from the shelf -- one book per kid.  Each student does the following calculations to estimate the number of words per book:
1) Open the book to a typical page and count the number of words per line: (a) __________________
2)  Count the number of lines on the page (b) __________________
3)  Check to see how many pages are in the book:(c)___________
     Explain to the students that this is now like finding the volume of a three dimensional figure:  They are to multiply (a) X (b) X (c) to get the approximate number of words in the book. 
     If a classroom full of students does this exercise, you'll wind up with a list on the whiteboard of 20-40 reading books and their approximate word counts, and here is what I think you'll find:
It adds up to about ONE age-appropriate book every TWO weeks.

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