When I first started into homeschooling, and especially as I began following various homeschooling blogs and Facebook pages, I was pretty amused at the things I found were controversial in the homeschooling community. I once got wrapped up in a pretty heated discussion about whether or not kids should be taught cursive. I won’t tell you what side of the argument I was on, but I will confess to being very much in the minority! I came out of it a little bruised, (in only the most virtual sense,) but no less convinced of my position on the subject.
The truth is, we all have our opinions about the best way to teach our children and encourage their love for learning, and I think a little healthy debate and disagreement on the details of it all can be a very good thing, so long as we are careful not to take our differences of opinion too personally. Disagreements about the “right way to homeschool” can do much to open our eyes to new ideas and methods, or else confirm to us the rightness of our own homeschooling choices, both of which can be helpful to our homeschool.
I say all of that because I discovered early in my days of homeschooling that doing book reports was actually one of those sometimes controversial subjects among homeschoolers. I do everything in my power to encourage my children toward good books, but are book reports a good way of testing a child’s reading retention and comprehension, or are they really just needless busywork that discourages reading?
It’s all in the eye of the beholder. But in case you’re interested, here are a few reasons why I’m firmly settled in the No Book Reports camp…
I say that mostly because I did a few book reports in school on books I never even read. Or at least books I never completed. (More about that in a second.)
It isn’t hard to skim through a book and get enough of the gist of it to write a fairly sensible book report. I can’t tell you the kids I knew in school who never read an assigned book. Cliffs Notes were invaluable when I was in high school, but today all a kid needs is access to a computer or smartphone and in a couple of minutes they can find out all they need to know about a book, including characters, plot, summary, etc.
Getting away with something like that in your homeschool may be more difficult. Maybe. But just because a child can produce a decent synopsis of a book doesn’t really mean they comprehended it. It doesn’t even mean they finished reading it!
Doesn’t an oral summary, (call it an oral book report if you want,) accomplish the same thing? Why ask my child to spend an hour writing a book report when they could do the same thing orally in 3 or 4 minutes?
Not that I’m opposed to writing assignments to coincide with their reading! That’s not the case at all. But I do believe writing assignments can be far more interesting than a plain ol’ book report.
Personally, I like writing assignments like character analyses and thought-provoking questions about various events or themes of the book. To me, they reflect better my child’s comprehension of what they just read.
Not that every assignment I give my children has to thrill them down to their socks. I realize some aspects of school just aren’t so fun no matter how you try to wrap them up and present them to your children.
But I also see a huge difference in my kids’ response when I come up with a more interesting book-related assignment than a mere book report, like when I have them write a letter to Liberty from the Rush Revere series, or write a set of entries from Gertrude’s, (Hamlet’s mother’s,) diary. It’s just a more creative approach to writing about the book. And it’s way, WAY more interesting than a boring ol’ summary, which is all most book reports end up being.
But, believe it or not, I (gasp) don’t even give reading-related writing assignments much of the time. My kids will learn more throughout their lives from personal reading than they will ever learn from me as their teacher, so I want them reading as much as possible. I never want to turn reading into a drudgery for them by always tying it to written work. Especially where my little guys are concerned, if they start out associating books with work, they’re less likely to develop a real love for reading.
Granted, as homeschoolers we have the freedom and flexibility to give our kids as much time as they need to read a book, but I’m not sure that always happens as it should. Especially when people follow a stricter, more scheduled curriculum, and book reports are part of the daily plans, reading can be rushed so the report can be finished and the student can move on to the next assignment.
And here lies the reason I did book reports on books I never finished reading: I am and have always been a slow reader. Always. And, no, I don’t have a reading disability. In fact, I’ve always read very well and with very good comprehension.
But I read slowly. Chalk it up to a love for language, but I have always appreciated books not only for what they say, but for the way they say it, so much so that I read to myself only slightly faster than I read out loud. And considering some of the articles I’ve read recently dealing with the disservice we’ve done our children in teaching them to speed-read and the awful way it hampers comprehension, I’m actually pretty glad it’s something I never mastered!
In elementary school teachers would hand us a book and tell us a book report was due in one week and I would go into a panic! I knew I couldn’t complete the book that quickly and I was afraid to say so for fear I would either look really dumb or really lazy, so I would do the best I could and then skim the rest of the book well enough to scribble down a decent book report. In one English class in high school I had to read a certain number of books from a list of 100 classics. Fortunately I could choose my own, so I went with plays because I knew they were the only books on the list I could finish in time and I didn’t want to be dishonest by saying I read books when I really only skimmed them. (It’s NOT the same thing!) While, granted, I read some very good plays that year, I wish I had had time enough to read some of the books on the list as well.
I want my kids to read. But I never, ever want to push them to read quickly. Book reports don’t have to do that, but they certainly can.