Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Beyond the Book Report

We recently had the opportunity to review a new product from Analytical Grammar called Beyond the Book Report.  As suggested by the title, this program is designed to help teach or improve your middle grade student's writing.  

There are three seasons in this program, and they can be used alone or in conjunction with the Analytical Grammar program.  Each season costs $24.95, or you can purchase a bundle that includes all three for $69.95.  Seasons 1 & 2 are recommended for grades 6-8, while Season 3 is for slightly older children (grades 8-10).  You can view different recommended schedules, depending on what grade you start the program in.

Season 1 teaches:

  1. Basic Book Report:  In this unit, your child will focus on paraphrasing and summarizing.  They'll also learn about conflict, point of view, climax, and protagonist/antagonist
  2. Pamphlet Book Report:  Your child will produce a book report in pamphlet form in this unit. They'll be introduced to plot elements, mood and tone, setting, and genre.
  3. News Article Book Report:  Your child will write a news article about their favorite scene in a book they chose, and then they'll have to rewrite the article from the opposite bias.  Since they're learning to write a news article, they'll learn about various concepts related to news articles (bylines, headlines, etc.), as well as bias and objectivity.
Season 2 teaches: 
  1. Poetry Book Report:  Your student will write a limerick, haiku, sonnet, and narrative poem based on the book they read.  They'll also study metaphors, alliteration, personification, and other figures of speech. 
  2. Drama Book Report:  In this unit, your student will dramatize their favorite scene.  They'll be introduced to different genres (such as comedy and melodrama) and different terms (monologue, dialogue, and more).
Season 3 teaches:
  1. Essay:  This unit breaks writing an essay (personal, literary, and SAT) down into easy steps.
  2. Oral Report:  Your student will learn how to dive an oral report with a power point presentation.
  3. Research Paper:  This unit teaches your student how to write a research paper through easy steps.
Each Season comes shrink wrapped with a teacher packet and DVD.  The teacher packets contain a hardcopy of the different scheduling options, a teaching guide, answer keys, examples, and reference pages.  The DVDs contain lectures, as well as printable student materials and rubrics in PDF format.  

Beyond the Book Report can be used with any book you or your child chooses.  They do encourage reading good books, preferably classics, but any book will do.  By not being tied to a booklist the authors thought up, you are able to tailor this program to what your child is interested in or to what you're already reading for school.

The teaching is broken down into different teaching days.  These teaching days don't happen one right after the other, but instead are spread out over the unit.  The amount of time a unit takes will depend on your student and the books they choose to write about.

For example, in the Basic Book Report unit in Season 1, there are four teaching days.  On the first day, you will watch the introductory video on the DVD, talk about potential books for the student to read for the unit, and watch a video on summary vs. paraphrase.  On the second day, you'll watch a video on literary terms, and a video that contains the instructions for the Basic Book Report.  On the third day, your student will submit their book choice to you, and it is assigned.  Then there will be a gap while the student completes the book and assignments before the fourth teaching day.  On this day, the student will turn in their report and you will evaluate the report (with your student) according to the enclosed rubric.  While the number of teaching days vary according to the season and unit, they are all flexible and the amount of time it takes to complete a unit will not be the same for every student.

Note taking is also introduced through this program.  There are PDFs for you to print out that have small versions of the teaching slides on the DVD lessons, with lines next to the slides.  Your student is encouraged to take notes during the lecture.

Jacob and I spent time on Season 1, spending about 30 minutes 3 days a week.  We would watch the DVD lecture if there was one, and then we would discuss what we had watched and any assignment that he was supposed to do.  We went over how to use the reading log, which he then kept up with, and we worked on paraphrasing and summarizing.  We spent a lot of time on paraphrasing as it is taught in this program.

There were pros and cons to this program. I liked that it can be used with any number of students by printing out any PDFs needed for your children.  I liked that there were teaching DVDs, but both Jacob and I were distracted by the quality (they appear to have been filmed at a dining room table, and if this isn't the case they do not have a "professional" feel to them).  I loved that there were rubrics for each assignment, but some of the requirements for the rubric seemed better suited for a classroom setting (and you're told not to deviate from the rubric).  For example, the student gets 5 points for having the teacher physically sign off on their book choice.  Another portion had the student write either study questions or a crossword puzzle for their book, and this was worth 20 points. However, I did like the easy instructions for grading the actual writing assignments that were included with the rubric.

Overall, though, this wasn't a great fit for our family.  However, just because it wasn't a great fit for ours, doesn't mean it won't be a great fit for yours.  Click on the Schoolhouse Review Crew banner below to read more reviews about Beyond the Book Report.

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