I have always hated “book reports.” (Wait, I told my wife I would try to stop using that word.) I didn’t like writing them (took all the fun out of the book), I didn’t like reading them back when I thought I had to assign them. I don’t like the summarize kind, the analyze kind, the combo kind, the form letter kind, or the “make a diorama” kind.  (Well, some of the dioramas I used to get WERE pretty cool; the Lego version of the murder in the graveyard in Tom Sawyer was very detailed and boss, and I still have a shoebox/popcicle stick Tom Sawyer whitewashing scene from 1995. If you like book reports, here are some less boring ideas.)  I figure KBAR takes care of most of my “need” to make them read/respond outside of class, and I certainly don’t need more work to grade. But I do see a large value in having the kids share with each other what they are reading and enjoying. They always need new material to try out.

I have always disliked “presentations.” Especially long ones. After 15-20 minutes of whatever riveting presentations are being performed, the rest of the class (including yours truly) is fading and drifting. Then, they drag out over days, and interrupt the flow of everything else in the class, and while there can be significant learning during the prep for the presentation, there usually isn’t a whole lot of learning going on during the performances. Sorry, maybe I’m just a crab. But I do see the value in them rehearsing and getting up there and speaking in public.

Also;  the kids these days aren’t very good at reading aloud, and they hate getting up and making speeches. And both are skills they need to have.

So. I wanted to take into account our short attention spans and their need to share, and try to combine torturing them with some badly needed skills practice. Et voila!

120 Seconds.

It begins with the speech I’ll give them on Monday (where’d vacation go?), and the handout. Read it and come back. Go ahead.

I ease into it, by asking them,

“How many of you like to do book reports?”

No hands. Well, there is sometimes one of those OCD readers, but they’re usually too busy reading surreptitiously to even hear me.

“Good. I don’t like reading them either.”

Then I bust the alternative on them. 120 Seconds. Half of it telling us about a great book they’ve read (are reading), and half of it reading a passage from it. We have judges (3 + me), we have an uh counter (who also counts unnecessary likes, as in “he was, like, 17…”), and we have a timer.

2 minutes. That’s it. No time for padding. No time to hem and haw. You better be rehearsed, because you’re being judged. And if it’s a nightmare, it’s over in 120 seconds.

(Click to Enlarge.)
(Click to Enlarge.)

They get a week to prepare. I get a lot of questions about the level of difficulty.

“What would Harry Potter be? The Hobbit?”

“It would depend on the particular passage, pick one and show it to me before Tuesday.”

And they ask a lot about the uh/umm/like counting. Sometimes even as they ask their questions, I just hold up a hand and start ticking off each time they say like or uh/umm. They get all flustered, and then they say it even more. It’s a real eye-opener for some of them.

(Click to Enlarge.)

During the performances, I set up a web cam that just broadcasts to my lcd projector. I have software that lets you add masks or avatars to your image, and when I added that feature a couple of years ago, it seemed to take the edge off somewhat. Most of the audience  looks at the big screen which faces the performer, so the performer doesn’t feel quite so stared at. That’s the idea anyway. Some years I post some of the performaces as “podcasts.” Mostly it’s so they can show Gramma..

On the day of each show (I try to do 5/day until we’re finished), I choose 3 judges, pass out the ballots, explain the rubric again, and choose from the multitude of volunteers for Uh Counter.

To be continued.