Putting the Pieces Together: Finding Balance in Book Reports

One of our favorite family vacation activities is tackling a good jigsaw puzzle. There’s something very calming about the act of spreading out hundreds of small pieces to a new puzzle and thinking about where and how you might find the next “perfect fit”. Each family member approaches the task with a different strategy, yet we all find great satisfaction in finding the perfect fit. So much so that as pieces are assembled, we often celebrate with cheers, chants, and/or songs!

I have found something similar to be true for my third grade readers. When presented with the challenge of a book report, some of the boys tackle the challenge immediately. They are excited to get into their book of choice and eagerly begin. Others are a little bit more hesitant. They may check out two or three books before committing to a book and starting the assignment. Still others may wait until the very last day that books may be approved before committing to a book, and even then they may choose their books reluctantly or at an adult’s suggestion. And just like puzzles, completion is almost always celebrated with cheers, chants, and/or songs!

Book reports have value. They help our boys plan and use their time wisely; they invite boys to creatively reflect on what they have read; and they provide an opportunity for boys to apply their learning.

When planning a book report to connect with our recent study of mysteries I knew that I wanted the boys to complete the majority of their report at school. The boys used class time each day to read, record, and reflect on the mystery they had chosen to read. As they read, each boy recorded information detailing the story elements of their mystery, including important clues used to solve the mystery.

At home the boys were asked to create a border for their puzzle that reflected the theme of their book. Again, each reader approached the task employing a different strategy. Some used 3-D objects, felt, and/or glitter while others chose to create their own illustrations for the border. Each image reflected the reader’s creative thinking and problem solving as they considered the theme of their book.

Working with our amazing Learning Commons team, the boys then utilized the digital tool Wixie to publish their story elements onto digital puzzle pieces. Boys used both text and graphics to retell the puzzle of the mystery they had read. They were given the choice to use images available in the program or to create their own. Those who chose to create their own did so with such personal style, creativity, and patience. Drawing/painting on the computer is not easy!

Finally, the boys were ready to print, cut, and assemble their own nine-piece puzzle version of the mystery they had read. Instead of orally presenting their project to the class, boys were invited to assemble each other’s puzzles, giving attention to the story details described on each of the puzzle pieces. Each completed puzzle was its own presentation and reflected the creator’s understanding of the story he had read.

Interacting with the boys as they read, recorded, and created, I was thrilled with their level of engagement. They were not only excited about creating their own digital puzzle, but they were attentive to detail and intentionally applying comprehension strategies practiced in class.

Looking at the boys’ completed puzzles, their pieces don’t always fit together perfectly. (We continue to working on cutting carefully!) Thankfully, when you’re working with children, growth and excitement about learning are the goals, not perfection.

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