Me, circa 1982
Cross-posted at Learning and Leading with Technology
How many times have students written mundane, uninspired book reports that were handed in, read over by the teacher and handed back to the student, never to be seen again? I wrote so many boring book reports as a kid that it nearly turned me off to reading altogether. I remember my 6th grade teacher, Ms. Arnese, gave a book report assignment to the class back in 1982, and before my fellow classmates and I began the traditional, “Ah, do we have to?” whine, Ms. Arnese astutely informed us that this book report would be different. For this book report, we (the students) would be in charge of how it’s done. We would be allowed to deliver it however we see fit. We could work in pairs, we could use props, we could sing, we could dance – the sky was the limit. I remember how my imagination began to work overtime as Ms. Arnese talked more about the assignment. I began thinking grandiose thoughts about my book report. I couldn’t wait to begin reading, so that I could begin creating. The book I chose was The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford and it was definitely a page turner. I was really not a big reader at the time, but just the thought of being in charge of my learning inspired me to delve into the book with an open mind. After finishing the book in one weekend, my book partner Brian and I set to work. We turned an old refrigerator box into a puppet show theater, and made all the characters into wonderfully colorful stick-puppets using any supplies we could get our hands on. Luath, Bodger and Tao were drawn in exquisite detail (I was a horrible artist in my mind, but for this project, I was an inspired genius). We took a long piece of butcher paper and painted the background and attached it to two sticks so that our scenery was constantly changing during the show by Brain and I rotating the sticks with our free hands. We recorded the play that we wrote on an old tape player that we borrowed from my dad and brought our 20 minute blockbuster into class a month later, and proudly gave the performance of our lifetimes. We received a standing ovation from the class, and a big hug from Ms. Arnese (not to mention an A+ on the project) and I remember feeling proud. Not because of the clapping or the grade, but proud because I knew, deep inside that I had done something special. That feeling still arises today as I think back on that special book report.
Students today still cringe when they’re told they’ll be doing a book report. Teachers spend hours reading through their work (or in some cases they never read through them at all – gasp!). Best case scenario, the book report may find its way onto a bulletin board in the classroom where other students may glance at it and on their way to recess. Lisa Nielson writes in a recent blog post:
The authentic publication of student work should be a part of EVERY SINGLE UNIT OF STUDY. If an educator can’t figure out a way to help students publish anything in a unit of study they need to either 1) Rethink the unit or 2) Rethink the assessment. While data in an expensive database may be impressive to educators, leaders, and test prep companies, it is not intrinsically meaningful for students or helping them in an authentic way. So how can teachers change practice and move from a “Hand it in” to a “Publish it” culture?
For the last few years, I’ve worked with fifth grade students on creating book trailers. For this project, students are asked to choose a book they have read recently and would like to recommend to the class. They then create a synopsis, or overview of the book, keeping in mind what the pull factor about the book is for them. Next, they create a storyboard for their trailer with key phrases and words, letting the class know about the book, without telling them the entire book. After the storyboards are complete, students begin gathering photos from Flickr to represent the key elements in the book. As they are gathering their photos, they are also creating a photo citation page in Word so that they may give credit to their sources at the end of their movies.
To create the book trailers we use Window MovieMaker (free download). I have the students first import and arrange their photos, adding transitions between each scene. Next, they add titles to the beginning, credits at the end and either on, or before given photos throughout the movie. Students are constantly referring to their storyboards they’ve previously written to insure that their trailer plays out they way they want. After all the text is in and the timings are fluid, they import the audio. For this we use SoundzAbound, a royalty free music library with a huge variety of music selections.
When the project is complete there usually is a viewing day in the classroom with popcorn. Awards can be handed out – “Best Trailer for a Biography,” “Most Dynamic Transitions,” “Most Suspenseful,” etc. Viewing day is also a great time to reflect on what worked, what went well, what were the challenges, and what was learned. This also gets students excited about reading other books – books they may not have ever considered before watching the trailers.
Reprinted from Learning and Leading with Technology (L&L) vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 30-31, copyright 2010, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 1.800.336.5191 (U.S. and Canada) or 1.541.302.3777 (Int’l), firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.iste.org. All rights reserved.
I don’t know that my students will look back on this project 27 years later and be filled with prideful emotion as I was; but I do know that they enjoy the process, are thoughtful and imaginative throughout the project, and are glowing when their trailer is played for the class, and potentially, the world.