When the Common Core of State Standards (CCSS) first were introduced, I examined them and thought about my own teaching. Many of the standards seemed to align themselves to daily life in my classroom. One section of the CCSS, however, did not seem to fit in as smoothly: Speaking and Listening. Sure, my students did presentations and participated in debates, but how was I going to address these new standards? The lightbulb went off and it came to me. I could use those old book reports I was assigning for independently read books as a tool to address the Speaking and Listening Standards.
A New Spin on an Old Concept
For many years, I have assigned book reports to my students. The reports were usually a twist on the traditional written format. My students wrote newspapers, did character monologues, used paper bags filled with items to tell their books’ stories. Heck, they even made juicy book hamburgers (posters of burgers with each section highlighting part of the book- burger was the juiciest part)! I would assign the report, hand out a rubric and students would be on their merry way. Some colleagues didn’t like the idea of book reports because they felt the parents helped too much. My approach was different. If a parent was spending time with his or her child, talking about a book, making creative decisions, I was fine with that.
Book Talks Instead of Reports
As these new Standards were added to my teaching plate, I realized that I could use my book reports as a way to address them. Not only could my students present their projects to their peers, but my time correcting these intricate projects could also be lessened. No longer, would projects be handed in and graded. Students would present their book on a given day. The types of presentations would vary. The would build upon each other. We would address the Speaking and Listening Standards through book talks. Students would still create burgers and newspapers, but they would present them as well.
Learning As You Go
The first few book talks with my students went well, but I quickly knew there were some things I needed to change. My rubrics needed to be tweaked. I added sections like, ‘volume,” “eye contact,” “class response,” and “ word crutches.” As a whole class, we discussed what made us want to pay attention and actively listen to a speaker. We talked about successes and failures one might have when presenting to his/her peers. As their facilitator, I took notes and used those notes to drive the expectations for presentations.
Introducing the Book Talk
Whenever my students are assigned a book talk, I always introduce it first through modeling. I create my own presentation and present it to the class. I tell them I am playing a student for the next few minutes. I want them to see what I am looking for. I want them to notice the small things. I want to give them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have.
When it comes time for presentation day, presenters and audience members both have jobs to do. The presenter not only does a presentation. S/he also scores her/himself on the rubric. This self assessment is a wonderful tool for teacher and student.
Audience members also have a job to do. At the end of presentations, I always take time for peer feedback. We use the sentence stems, “One thing you did well was…” and “One area of improvement is…” Students give verbal praise and advice. I also have them anonymously write their suggestions down and give them to the presenting student. These collegial discussions, are always positive and students look forward to them. The student then uses classmates’ suggestions to set goals for his/her next presentation.
As the teacher, I score my students on a rubric while they present. I address the Speaking and Listening Standards as well as the content area of focus (genre, character, theme, etc). All of the content focus is expected to be presented. This has cut down tremendously on my at home scoring.
A Literacy Community is Inevitable
When students see wonderful presentations, they are so proud of their peers. When they see less than stellar ones, they want to help. They love to hear each other express opinions. They get excited about the books their classmates have read. I have seen so many more students sharing books since I began book talks several years ago.
Book talks can be a fun, community building, book sharing event in your classroom. They can also provide you with a creative approach to the Speaking and Listening Standards of the CCSS.