Do Books Belong to the Last Generation? - Books, Reading and Book Reports

An extremely interesting discussion took place on the ETNI discussion list recently (November 2006) concerning whether books are relevant to our pupils' lives. It was kicked off by Phyllis Oded's letter below, quoting the candid opinion of one of her pupils. From here, the discussion veered onto the problem of whether writing book reports is an effective or appropriate way to encourage reading.

We feel that the various strands of this discussion are directly relevant to the Jade Bar Shalom Books for Israel Project, and so we've reproduced the teachers' opinions here. What do YOU think? Please click onto the Discussion tab to express your opinion.
If you'd like to see the poll on ETNI regarding what teachers think of book reports, click here.

Phyllis' letter
Yesterday I gave my 10th. grade class an assignment. First I read them the following poem [that I had written]:

ME read a book? You must think I'm crazy!
It's not that I can't, it's just that I'm lazy.
It's easier watching the film than reading the book.
Why have to THINK, when I can just LOOK?

The written assignment in class was as follows:
Write your opinion of the BOOK TASKS. Suggest alternatives, if you wish.

Below is the [very sad] reply of one of my students:

I firmly believe book tasks are a bad idea, but I like to think that reading books is a very positive thing. The people who read books not only improve their language, but also use that language in their daily lives.
The problem is that the teachers are wrong. Almost none of the students really reads the book. They have a T.V., they have a computer, they can watch the film instead of reading 100-200 boring pages. When someone watches a film, he enjoys himself and is able to concentrate more than when that person reads a book. He/She can't wait to stop reading it, because the reality is: "Books belong to the last generation!"
In summary, any person that doesn't like to read books in daily life will not read a book for his task; instead, he'll watch the film, like me!

My comment was: HOW SAD! I wonder what other teachers think. DO books belong to the last generation?

Idith Kessel:

Sad indeed!!! I truly believe Prof. Yuli Tamir should read these very words coming from a fairly intelligent student who, I believe, has voiced the attitude of very many others.

I feel we, as English teachers, to whom the written word is almost sacred, should take action and start a mini-revolution which will eventually lead to the introduction of reading sessions in Hebrew and later on in English, as early as 1st grade.

I know there are story-time sessions in kindergartens and my kids used to come home with "library books" already at the age of 4, so...

Maybe there should be a forum set up for that sole purpose where teachers could make their suggestions which will later be passed on to Dr. Steiner and further up in the Ministry.

What do you think???

Toby Dror:

Sadly books are remnants of the past for many of our pupils. They are so used to sitting and being entertained. They are not used to sitting down quietly and relaxing. They seem to need action all of the time. I wonder if it is our fault as parents. Did we find time to sit with our children quietly and read to them when they were younger? Did we help them develop reading habits, or did we shove them in front of the TV?

I teach in a rural religious school. Some of my pupils do not have TV sets at home. They are still avid readers. I am surprised to see them reading under their desks. They read the classics as well as Harry Potter. Sometimes they are late for class because they were so absorbed in a book in the library that they didn't hear the bell! When I began teaching in my school years ago,I was shocked when a father "punished' his son for being rude in English class by not taking the child to the library for a week. The library is far from home, and the child really suffered.

I must say that most of the kids I know out of school, (I live in a secular moshav) only read books when given assignments in English.

Leonie Lachmish:

In response to Phyllis Oded - do books belong to the previous generation?, I think "Ein hadash tachat hashemesh". When I was at school in London a generation ago, most pupils would have taken the film option and I'm sure it's the same the world over . Before technology came in, reading and playing instruments were the way people entertained themselves. I don't think it means they were more cultured by nature but rather that there weren't other options.

Maybe in another fifty (ten?) years, teachers will bemoan that children don't want to sit at their computers anymore because they're up in their space ships all day or ? . But it seems there will always be the minority that loves reading. Even with our own children growing up in the same home, my friends and I have marvelled at how different they are from each other in many ways, including their reading habits - from bookworm, to never opening a book if they can avoid it. If a pupil of yours wrote that communicative and clear essay in 10th grade, he or she must be getting intellectual stimulation somewhere else, maybe your lessons!

It could also be that hyperactivity and concentration difficulties in their various forms make reading a boring, even punitive, option !
Sad? The price of progress ...

Robin Flam:

Does anyone have a good ideas how to really get our pupils to really read the book instead of cheating their way through the book report. I find this discouraging for the kids that actually do read the books.

Some of my pupils, that have read the books have actually begun reading more on their own. I also have several kids that love reading, so I think the pupil that wrote the essay speaks for him/herself.

Hagar Sheehan:

As a homeroom teacher of the 9th grade, I still have reading sessions with my class. I read to them once a week (In Hebrew of course) and whenever we have spare time (its the flu season-many teachers are absent). Last year it was "Huckleberry Finn" and now we read David Grossman's "Someone To Run With". The kids absolutely love it as it's only done for the appreciation of a good book and is NEVER followed by any assignments. The kids are always silent and attentive. Their eyes follow me as I read, and I do, sometimes, feel like a kindergarten teacher. My biggest reward was, when some of the kids went to our library and asked for Tom Sawyer", following the reading of Huck' Finn.

So, there is hope after all.

Reuben Moses:
One of the things I try to do is to spend an hour each with my youd class. They keep a reading journal which I read through each week in class while they are getting on with their reading. In it they record the date, the page number they have reached, any major developments in the plot and / or their reactions to these. I simply look at what they have written for content (with absolutely no comment or corrections made to the English), and comment or ask a question, which they are expected to respond to the following week. It works quite well with this 5-point class, but with my elevnth-grade Mabar, I am told in no uncertain terms "It is boring...I do not even read in Hebrew....What do you want from me...? or the equivalent...

One of the problems with the weaker pupils is that they cannot process and absorb what they have read in a way that enables them to pick up the strands from where they last left off. Do you agree? Is there any solution to that particular problem?

John Snider, Canada:

As a recently retired Canadian teacher I can only say that some of the most gratifying times in my teaching career were those wonderful moments I spent reading aloud daily to my class and opened a whole new world of adventure, excitement and ideas to my students from the ages of five all the way up to thirteen and fourteen and in some cases inspired them to become involved in the wonderful world of literature. A day did not go by without sharing the love of reading and turning kids on to books. A wise selection of material and an enthusiastic and loving delivery can inspire even the most reluctant readers It truly is and act of love and an art.(By the way I plan on making aliyah along with my wife in the new year and would be thrilled to share what I have learned from a lifetime in education) READ TO THEM DAILY!!

Ruth Sheffer:

I hate the Book Report syndrome. If I had to write a book report after each book I finished I would never want to finish the book either! I try to make the silent reading lesson an enjoyable experience,let the kids slouch,listen to their mp3s ,chew gum and stuff they are forbidden to do in the regular lesson. Then as they are reading silently I call kids to me to just tell me orally about what they have read ,how they like the book ,is it hard/boring etc. I find this works better than making the SSR session into a chore. They have to see reading as a private activity , something between them and the author as we adults do. Unless that happens it is just another thing that schools make them do...

Renee Wahl

I'm sure you'll get plenty of other responses to your email, but I'd just like to add mine.

It might be true that this generation doesn't believe that they get anything from reading books that they can't get by watching films/video/tv. However, research proves that they are wrong and you might want to share some of the benefits of reading with them.

1) Reading makes a demand on parts of the brain that are important for everyday life. Centers in the brain are activated during reading that are not/less activated when watching tv. This is especially true for the ability to visualize both the physical and emotional aspects of the subject. The connections between what you see in your mind's eye and how this is relevant to the action, to put together a logical or spiritual connection to the situation to interpret and/or make the connections personally relevant. When you watch a film, you get only one person's 'take' on what's happening - the director's. How often have we read a book, seen the characters as beautiful or ugly, blond or dark, watched the movie and been surprised at what we are shown?

2) Reading allows us to process what we read, to pause and think about it. To read it again, to ponder, to predict, to savor. Viewing throws everything at you often at MTV speed. No processing involved.

3) Last but not least for us language teachers, reading involves a much richer vocabulary, range of expression, sense of organization. The appreciation of literature is enhanced and performance - the ability to express what you need to express both orally and in writing - to communicate with others is greatly enhanced.

My thoughts. How to get it across to the kids....sigh. Maybe tell them that they are letting themselves be turned into puppets that can't think for themselves. They are much more vulnerable to manipulation - slaves to styles. They probably won't be turned on to reading by all these arguments, but it's our job to give them something to think about when they're ready for it.

Aviva Shapiro:

Here is my opinion on books and if they are a thing of the past. NO!!! Books are not history.(unless they are history books!!) . There are many ways to encourage our kids to read and we have to keep trying.. Sometimes they only 'wake up' later in life and start to read books whether in Hebrew or English. Take my son for example. In High School I had to beg him to read.books for his book reports.. But during his army service he found himself with time on his hands and started reading in ENGLISH !! Today he actually prefers reading in English..So we should NEVER despair..

We must keep exposing them to books, like Laurie said even reading chapter by chapter in class. I am now reading "Night" to my 11th graders and they are riveted to their seats. Reading to them whether they are strong students or weak is a great way to expose them to the written word but also a way to teach them how to pronounce words, use their imagination and learn to listen. (another important skill)

As for extended reading for book reports.---. Well I have had kids read books ONLY to improve their grade (and probably get me off their backs !!) but then they have told me that they actually enjoyed the book.

Yes, we may have kids who never read and maybe even will never read in the future. However we will succeed with many kids so we mustn't see reading as a thing of the past.

Well I must run.. I have a great book waiting for me ...


With the plethora of messages coming in about reading books, I'd like to share this idea with you.

I'm presently reading aloud to my 5 point 11th grade class, "The Little Prince". Each lesson I read one chapter. The kids really enjoy it. Here and there I explain a word or throw in a question to make sure they understand, but mostly I just read and they listen. I was spurred to read this book to them because their textbook, Bridges, introduces them to the novel and its author. The chapters are also short and sweet and many of the kids have already read it in Hebrew which makes it easier for them all around.

If anyone could recommend another book to read aloud, one with short chapters and not too difficult, please speak up! Thanks. And raise a glass to reading!

Sharon Tzur:

I've also decided to read my students a book. I'm reading "Of Mice and of Men" to my 5 point 10th grade class. However, some students find it hard to listen and not read along. I'm offering them the option of buying the book so that they can follow- I'll see what happens.

As for preferences - I agree with those who say we can only do so much to change the way they feel about reading - show our own enthusiasm, let students who do read show their enthusiasm.

Ariella Kopels:

I agree that there is a sad state of affairs when it comes to our students'reading. In my opinion there are several contributing factors: First, the kids don't read in their mother tongue. They rarely have to do book reports in Hebrew, for example, so the assignments in English do look as if they've landed from another planet. We have a wonderful library in our school & the staff does its best - but it's not enough.At parent- teachers' meetings I always ask my students' parents if their children see them reading at home - not the newspaper or the Internet, but a real, live, honest to goodness book. I really don't care what language they read in, but I truely believe that kids learn from example. About a year ago there was a public service ad campaign about reading in Hebrew. It was lovely & went off the air rather quickly. I think that the Ministry has to encourage reading for the public in general and that will help make our job easier.

Rivka Lewenstein:

No, I don't believe books belong to the last generation. It's really just a question of introducing books to kids in a positive way . But that assignment does confirm my belief that silent reading should be a part of every lesson - that way kids have no choice but to read in class. (OK, they could just pretend to read, but if you create the right atmosphere, they're more likely to read than not.) That was the crux of my presentation on "reading for pleasure" in the ETAI conference this past July.

Tova T.:

Reading the various letters about the place of books and reading I have come to the conclusion that I must have had a deprived education and a blighted childhood growing up in Australia. As far as I remember, I was NEVER asked to write a book report on anything that I read. .That must be the reason that I am such a bookworm and can hardly survive without reading at least 4 books a month. On a cold, wintery Shabbat I can even finish 3 books over the 24 hours of Shabbat. I only "discovered" book reports when I came in contact with American trained teachers. I truly feel asking kids to write book reports is a fool proof recipe to kill the desire to read. Reading for pleasure is an intense, emotional and cognitive activity. Why would anyone want to share these personal feelings?! Besides if you read a lot , then you don't have the time to write book reports. There are many activities and tasks that a teacher can give her class without asking them to write a book report!

I heartily agree with what Tova wrote. I feel we are checking not as much as what the child read but HOW he wrote his book report. I too grew up in England and never remember having to do a book report in French and nevertheless learning the language adequately!

May we encourage reading by silent reading, including teacher, for 20 mins in the classroom WITHOUT, requiring book reports. In this way pupils may learn to enjoy reading as opposed to associating it with writing a BR.

Batya Medad:
We are EFL teachers, teaching a foreign language, here in Israel. For some peculiar reason, our curriculum is modeled on that of a native speaker. Maybe the "powers" wish they were teaching in Tempe, Chicago or Portland.

Our job should be teaching English, not bookreports, research papers (projects) etc. It's bad enough that we are frequently the only teachers the kids meet who demand summarizing and well-written compositions. We really should be improving our Hebrew and branching out into the general curriculum where our talents and ambitions could be properly utilized.

Pnina Allali

For the past 5-6 years, my pupils have been reading books and not doing book reports.

In Yod and Yod Aleph, they read in class - about 30-45 minutes a week. And I read a book also while they're reading. Those who don't read do not get full points in their semester grade but those who do, get the points without writing it up. Pupils,especially 3 pointers, need help choosing a book and I try and help them choose a book that suits their level and taste.

In weak classes, I use a set of books. The kids get a book to a table and I read out to them. They love it. They follow more or less, and we stop every so often to clarify points. Last year we read The Wave and watched the movie at the end. Why should they write a report and ruin the whole experience?

5 point Yod Bet kids read at home and every couple of weeks hand up an abbreviated summary of what they have read. Obviously there are those who can't be bothered and they lose 10 points. They are aware of this and if they choose not to read then it's their choice. I remind them every so often, but I can't force it on them.

In the past I have tried creative book tasks, oral testing, regular book reports - whatever, just to make them read. But those who wanted to cheat, succeeded and I had no way of proving that they were cheating. And so they got 10 unmerited, dishonest points.

The best part is when they don't want to stop reading at the end of the reading session and we go on till the end of the lesson. Or when they tell me that they don't read in Hebrew but they're really enjoying the English book they have.

I am lucky that I had and have coordinators who allowed me to scrap book reports.

Laurie Ornstein:

Here's my plan for extensive reading this year. I've decided to devote 1full lesson per week to reading library books in class (or in the library
for a change of pace). I've already implemented this in my 9th and 10th grade classes. I'll do the same in 11th grade when we finish our projects. I might add that I've chosen the late hour lessons for this purpose. A quiet reading lesson is preferable at such times. And the kids seem to be enjoying their reading.

I am, however, struggling with the book report "thing". I also don't like it and feel that a book task, oral or written, does not truly reflect the
reading experience. How can I grade a kid on reading a book by listening to his talk or reading his written report? In addition, we all know some have honestly read their books and others have chosen the movie. My pupils have always written their book reports in class so I know they're not downloaded.

So, it's with interest that I read Pnina's message about trashing book reports. I'd love to do the same. But how do we then come up with a grade; I'm referring to the school grade for the Bagrut?

To round off this discussion, here is an article written to the Washington Post in 2001 on the same general subject: Weeks, L. The No-Book Report: Skim It and Weep. Washington Post, May 14, 2001.

See the LINKS section of this website for other articles about encouraging reading.