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Being forced to read books you have no interest in also often becomes a reason for taking a nap. Image: PAKUTASO

Should Japanese schools stop making kids write book reports?

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Summer vacation is coming up, and since it happens in the middle of the school year in Japan, students can expect to have some homework to do during the break. One Japanese teacher, though, set off a debate on Twitter recently by asking whether there was any point to one of the most common assignments: writing a book report.

In a series of since deleted tweets, the Twitter user, who claimed to be a Japanese language teacher in Japan (i.e. a teacher of Japanese for native speakers, equivalent to an English teacher in the U.S.), asked “Aren’t book reports unnecessary?” It’s an unexpected stance for someone whose job includes teaching literature, but the teacher went on to explain the logic behind it.

“Book reports make reading books depressing. It’s not like you normally write down a report every time you finish reading a book in your private life, is it?” “Reading books isn’t something you should be forced to do,” the teacher asserted. “You read books because you want to learn something. You read books because you like reading. You just read what you’re interested in. That’s what adults do, isn’t it? Reading is a form of entertainment, right?”

It’s definitely true that just about any task becomes less enjoyable when you have to do it, and a number of Twitter commenters voiced their agreement with the teacher’s position that book reports are a poor choice of assignment for teachers to give. “It really isn’t the sort of thing you should make students do,” said one. “It’ll just become a reason for them to hate books.”

However, on the other side of the debate were those who said that book reports serve an important purpose in the educational process. As a bit of linguistic background, in Japanese book reports are called dokusho kanosobun, which literally translates to “book reading impression essay.” Some commenters see book reports as a necessary opportunity for students to express their own thoughts and feelings. “Writing book reports gives you practice in developing your own opinions, and that’s a skill that’ll definitely be useful in your adult life,” said one member of the pro-book report camp.

With curriculums in Japanese schools often criticized as rigid and overly focused on rote memorization (in comparison to education in many other countries), one could argue that book reports are especially worthwhile in Japan. “Reading something, then going back and thinking about it again in various different ways gives you new ways to enjoy the material” said one commenter. And while Japanese society may pride itself on the supposed virtues of tacit, unspoken understanding, there’s still a limit to how well anyone can be expected without speaking for themselves. “Book reports are an important way to develop the ability to thoroughly understand your thoughts, and then convey them clearly to others” said another supporter.

While the teacher has a valid concern that heavy-handedly forcing students to write book reports will make them less likely to enjoy reading and seek out new material on their own, switching over to “Just read whatever you want, and leave it at that” could result in children who don’t have a pre-existing interest in books simply not reading anything at all, and also struggling to express themselves in writing. Ultimately, there’s probably a happy medium to be found somewhere, perhaps by giving students wider options in choosing what books they’ll read, or greater freedom in how they want to structure their reports (the teacher also mentioned that he doesn’t like it when educators dictate precisely how the reports are to be formatted and written).

All of that sounds like a tricky balancing act, but for those teachers who’re talented and dedicated enough to pull it off, they’ll be doing a great thing for their students.

Sources: Livedoor News/Biglobe News via JinTwitter/@nanngin via Hachima Kiko

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© SoraNews24

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It's not only the rote memorization which kills education in Japan so much as the stifling of students' thoughts, feelings, opinions. There is little or no discussion. There is almost no opportunity for them to express themselves. They don't write essays. And if they do, they are graded, criticised and sometimes ridiculed. They are not permitted to think about their subjects. The teacher just drones on and on and on, hour after hour. Most high school classes I've observed, the students are in a state of semi-consciousness.

There is very little actual education in Japan. Mostly it's a form of mind control.

Writing a book report at least gives them some space to offer an opinion. Do they want to take that away too?

10 ( +10 / -0 )

This is a teacher? Maybe they'd like a paragraph or two memorized & repeated. Seems the teacher needs more education on educating.

Look at the ability to analyze, what the favorite part of the book was, did the reader seem to understand the author's mind a bit?

Years ago a woman I know was a student bin a top private university here. She studied sociology. She & others went to Vietnam on a school trip. They went to a village for a few days to see village life.

Upon her return I asked her a few questions about the people, families she was with. She had no clue. She said no one had asked her these questions before. I was totally puzzled at what they were studying.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I can't recall my kids being told to do this. It sounds okay provided the text is not too long.

My biggest issue with homework in Japan is that it is all due the following day. This does not teach kids time management and keeps them under constant low-level pressure. A family trip to baseball game or a weekday meal out for a birthday should not be blighted with homework. Likewise if your child has two activities, say swimming school and English, which just happen to be on the same day.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Writing a book reports involves basic critical thinking, something that is quite rare in the Japanese education system, so it would be sane to stop it. Also, reading a book you wouldn’t normally choose can you open up subjects, themes and authors you would usually ignore. For both O and A levels some of the books on the reading list I never would have chosen myself, but really enjoyed. How many 16 year olds would choose to read The Canterbury Tales?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Rather than spend summer vacation doing homework (the book report is just part of it), students should be asked to write reports throughout the year. And not 100-character reports but reports that require both thought and a teacher who can supervise writing. Finding a teacher who can teach thinking & writing might be a problem.

I taught a university class of education majors (hoping to be junior high school teachers) and when I asked for a report on a topic I was met with a chorus of ‘Ehhhhhh?!’ It was their first report. And their first attempts were mostly fairly badly written, too.

Actually, rather than spend summer vacation doing homework, students should be allowed to forget all about school and enjoy themselves.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Everyone in any program (Phd or lower) is using Google and other methods to write book reports and research papers. The person only needs to change the word order and use a Thesaurus to pass the computer program that checks the originality of the document. Here is the solution. The student brings one sheet of notes that are reviewed by the supervising teacher to a designated area. The student has one hour to write, and at the end of the hour, it is given to the teacher. Book reports, research papers, etc. are supposed to show what the student learned. In the real world today, nobody can be expected to know everything that is available on the net. Medical doctors can't even keep up with all the new drugs. The real skill is how to search the net for information, then apply it to the student's or society's situation. Book reports differ by countries. The purpose is not to ask what happened in the story, but how does this apply to modern society, the student's life, or some other question. If the teacher is interested is having the student show proficiency in one of the languages used in Japan, then that is another goal.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

When I was at school back in my country, we hardly had any work during the summer. We either played, took a job, had a holiday or just did something completely different. I actually did do a bit of studying on my own because I wanted to. And everything still turned out ok. We didn't need cram school, didn't go to school on the weekends, and finished school by 3:30pm. We still managed to get to university.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@Pukey2 Me too, no holiday homework, no compulsory clubs and no cram school.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There is nothing wrong with being critical about something and voicing your opinion, especially in regards to the Japanese education system, but please have an alternative idea or suggestion.

Book reports may not be the most popular learning activity for many, but we desperately need to get these kids reading and off their mobile devices.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Actually, rather than spend summer vacation doing homework, students should be allowed to forget all about school and enjoy themselves.

I totally agree. In Canada we had two months off in the summer and of course no homework. Thats another reason why Japan needs a September school start. In fact, many of my students despise long holidays because of the homework and the lack of fun summer activities which many Western countries have. Many of them just sit around at home waiting for school to start. Maybe two months is too long, but they need a break from the hw.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

First off, I oppose any homework for summer vacation. During summer vacation you should free of all institutions, but especially schools. Summer vacation should be when you learn things you want to learn on your own.

About book reports.

The book report is called kansobun. It follows a simple pattern. First summarize the book and then add your feelings. The feelings are not most often Proust. It's on the order of "I feel sorry all main character who got run over by the truck. But it shows you should not expect much from people."

The trouble is that that students do not learn how to think and writing critically.

The terrible book report is an unfortunate model too many students use at university.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

vacation time is for leisure not work. its important to have that divide.

during term time however learning to analyse any body of work (book/film or art) and express their own thoughts and feelings. on it is an important skill. But as i said vacation time is for leisure not work.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The more you read, the better you can write.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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