194. Reports

One of the many rituals in schools `is the report. Children are asked to learn about a subject or read a book, and then teach other children about the subject or book. Reports can be written, spoken, or both. They can include visual displays, demonstrations, and countless other devices. Children who may have difficulty with other activities in school may excel at reporting. And vice versa.
There’s a tendency, among some teachers and parents, to believe that there is a “right” way to do reports. That there is a certain amount of parent involvement that is ideal. That note cards must be used. That all good reports must include posters. The list goes on, and varies from parent to parent, teacher to teacher.
When I was in elementary school, I saw what I thought was a great report a classmate did. It included a diarama in a wooden box. I decided at that moment that the way to do a good report was to get a good wooden box, and my parents obligingly provided a great wooden box. I used it for several reports, and though teachers didn’t seem to be impressed, I thought that was their problem, not mine. To me, a good wooden box, appropriately painted and decorated, was a good report.
Since then, I’ve been to undergraduate college and graduate school. I didn’t do any wooden-box reports there. I’d learned my lesson pretty quickly before junior high. Reports, it turned out, were speeches or papers, not boxes or posters. Reporting was still not my forte, but I knew enough to get by.
As a teacher, I tried hard to give children a better sense of what reporting was all about than I’d gotten in elementary school. It took years to develop a format that worked for me, but once my format started working, it was pretty good, as were the reports kids did in my class. So I’ll tell you about my system. Since other systems didn’t work in my class, I won’t be surprised if mine doesn’t work in other classes.
First of all, I had children spend about a week deciding what to report about. They had to pick a subject they didn’t already know about, but could learn about without too much trouble. Then they decided what they wanted to learn, and dived into the subject. They read books, called experts (when experts were available) – used whatever means they could think of. I asked parents to use their own judgment in deciding how much to participate, and to let me know how much they did. The note cards and posters looked about the way such things usually look. Note cards, though, could not be used during the report. Children could choose between three ways to present the reports. They could speak directly to the class, speak to me in a talk show format, or speak to me privately. Most chose the talk show format.
I was quite impressed with the quality of the reports. But I offer this system fully aware that it’s only what worked for me. I encourage you to figure out what works for you, and to avoid thinking that there’s one “right” way to do reports.

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