Kelsey Colbert, who teaches fourth-grade students at Sunflower Intermediate School, shows off the results of her students’ second-semester reading project. Colbert found examples of reading fair projects on the website Pinterest, then challenged her students to create their own displays. L&T photos/Rachel Coleman
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
The students in Kelsey Colbert’s fourth-grade class chattered as they lined the hallway at Sunflower Intermediate School, ready to present their reading fair reports. Colorful three-fold display boards crowded long tables, the culmination of more than a month’s work on “the hardest project we ever had,” in the words of student Abagail Echevarria.
Echevarria read the book “Phineas and Ferb” quickly, then labored over spring break to produce a colorful recap of the story, complete with pipe-cleaner letters that formed the title. Most students made use of the break to finish the project, said teacher Kelsey Colbert, who teamed up with fellow fourth-grade instructor Cresta Hooser to make the reading fair happen.
“We were super-excited about it,” said Colbert, who first encountered the notion of a reading fair — a kind of literary and artistic hybrid of the classic book report and elementary-age science fairs — on the Internet idea-swap site, Pinterest.
“I really wanted to do this because it was a fresh way to promote reading, and the fair part of it was a really good experience for the kids,” she said. Besides encouraging students to read thoughtfully, remember the plot of the story and the main facts, the fair also introduced them to an early form of literary criticism by asking them to identify messages in the book, and the overall feeling or tone of the story. Was it funny? Sad? Thoughtful?
Then there was the organizational component of the fair, which required the students to plan a display, choose colors and decorative items. To type and print the “book report” elements of the display, they used computers at school if their families did not have one at home.
Ivan Burciaga said the project appealed to him from the start. Other boys in his class, like Joseph Chavez, admitted to a bit more reluctance. Yet the popular “Hank the Cowdog” books by regional author John Erickson of Perryton won him over.
“The book was really good,” Chavez said. “I liked the part where they found the chicken was murdered.” Chavez has already started the second book in the series, and said he plans to read them all.
Several students said they’d grabbed books from the school library almost randomly, in a hurry to complete the requirement. Jennifer Oliva was one of them. However, the title she selected, “Dork Diaries,” was surprisingly enjoyable.
“I got shocked,” Oliva said with a smile.
Classmate Leslie Garcia admitted she didn’t want to do a report, “but I had to because I really wanted a good grade,” she said.
As she put the display together, “I almost ran out of paint,” she said with a sigh.
Colbert was pleased about the level of parent- and family participation in the project.
“I told the kids they might have to spend some time over spring break, and the families really came through in making sure they finished,” she said. Moms purchased spray paint to brighten the sheets of cardboard used as backing.
Fathers helped, too, as in the case of Shania Castro.
“I did a report on the book ‘My Worst Friend,’ and my dad helped me draw the picture,” she said. “He’s a good artist. I still colored it in.”
Raul Rodriguez credited his teacher for helping him cultivate more affection for reading, not only with the fair but in everyday scheduling. His mother gets credit for purchasing books he likes to read, and providing creative inspiration.
“Miss Colbert makes us read every day, for 20 minutes,” he said, “and it’s a really cool assignment. That’s what’s inspiring me to read more.” Rodriguez reported on a title in the wildly popular “39 Clues” series, which invites various children’s authors to continue the story of characters searching for treasure.
“I’m going to read all of them,” Rodriguez said. For his display, his mother suggested that he cut out construction-paper shoes traced from his little brother’s sneakers.
“I didn’t know what to do, and my mom said the display was kind of boring,” he said. “Then, boom! we added the shoes and it was great.”
Raquel Ramirez, a voracious reader, said the hardest part of the fair was choosing one book to feature. Whatever title she’s reading tends to be her favorite book at that moment.
“I did my report on a mouse named Geronimo Stilton,” she said. “It’s part of a series. I’ve already read 18 of them.”
Ramirez reads every night before she goes to sleep — which is not always a good thing, she said.
“My mother tells me to go to sleep and I keep reading,” she said. “Then she comes in and turns out the lights. Sometimes I still finish reading in the dark because the book is so good.”