Literacy Life

Reading, Writing and the pursuit of thinner thighs

Setting up a Reader’s Response Journal (Notebook)

on March 15, 2013

I will apologize now as I feel this might be a lengthy post…but I will attach lots of pictures! (That somehow makes up for so much talking right?)

When I say reading response notebooks – I am not talking about worksheets glued in a notebook. I am not talking about hours and hours of logging reading minutes. I am not talking about responding after every morsel of words read. I am talking about a place that readers can collect their knowledge and thinking about books. A place that provides conference points for readers to discuss reading. A place that shows growth of rich, delicate thinking over time. ~ Forgive the above two food references, I must be wishing for dessert. Since I will be going back into the classroom next year, I of course am planning out my response notebooks. Over the past years I have tweaked the layout, entry points and contents of  RRJs with teachers, but this next year they will be back in the hands of students. I am a processor so I need time to think through things. From now until the first day of school (and everyday after that) I will be processing the best use of my reading response journals.

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For me, a Reader’s Notebook has a clear function – to serve as a connection between students and myself. I am all about simplicity with clear purposes. Over time I have streamlined the purpose of a RRJ. I’ve used examples and ideas from many sources and made one that works for me. Here are the 4 pieces I find necessary: reading log, mini lessons, responses or thinking and wordsmithing. Remember, if we begin attaching a heavy “to-do” list with a student’s reading, we are not encouraging real reading, we are fostering the myth that reading is a “school thing.” By MS, students have this school game down. I want to break this cycle. I want each of my instructional practices to foster an idea that reading is not another school subject but is in fact something that will hand with you for a lifetime. I want the notebook to be the least intrusive it can be. Here’s how I do this…

Materials

composition notebooks (2 – 1 for fall semester, 1 for spring semester), a few foldables with colored or white paper to establish notebook expectations, ruler, colored pencils, strips of ribbons for bookmarks, tabs (small stickies can work too)

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Reading Log – The log’s purpose in my classroom is to serve as a conference point with students. It is simplistic in nature and records only basic needed information that answers these questions: How much is a student reading?, Does the student have a reading plan? and What kinds of texts is a student reading? I can answer these questions with a simple monthly log that requires the start/end date, book title/author, genre and a 1-5 star rating for each finished book. By using this format, students are only logging book information 2 times which allows them more time to actually read. That’s the goal anyway right? A quick look at the log gives the student and myself the talking points we need during a conference. For example, if a student logs 6 books in September and 2 in October and it’s halfway through the month, I have data. Why two?, Is a book bogging he/she down?, Is it a sport season? (less time at home), etc. See? Simple, yet very effective! The first pages of the journal will house the log. One month per page like this.

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Mini lessons – Students need to know how to take notes efficiently and effectively. It is part of my responsibility to help them become organized with their learning. By giving them a plan, framework and practice with our mini lessons, I do feel I am accomplishing my duty of teaching them organization. The mini-lesson section is the first tab. After tabbing the page I then count 25 pages (be happy my left brained, math friends) before adding the last tabbed section. Essentially these 25 pages give me 50 pages of lessons. More than I need for a semester, but there just in case! The tabbed page houses a table of contents for the mini lesson section and the following pages are numbered 1-50. Structured, yet simple. Zen-ness 🙂

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My Thinking or Responses – This is the bulk of the notebook and contains the most valuable data. The student’s thinking! Students need to understand that their thinking about the texts they’re reading is what helps them grow as readers. As a teacher, it’s important to have a record of how this thinking has grown over time. I don’t want students writing every time they read (remember school work=reading as school work.) However a few times a week gives me data for grading and conferences. How you structure these responses is of course up to you. I will post more about these responses later.

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Wordsmithing – We know the research connecting minutes of reading a day with number of words read in a year. But do our students? I want students to take ownership of what reading is doing for them. I have a little section in the back of their journals to house their wordsmithing work. In the past teachers have asked me what do you do with those words? Inside I’m thinking, why do we always have to give students work? Why can’t what we do in class match what it’s like in real life? As a reader, you don’t pull out a worksheet and begin matching definitions, you wonder and ponder and eventually go hmmm, so that’s how you spell “chaos” or something similar and you move on. That’s all. Nothing more. In the beginning I just want students to recognize they are coming across, learning and are exposed to words that are growing their vocabulary. That’s it. Nothing more. If I need to do grammar skills or word work in the future, I will have a collection of words to work from. Theirs – Not mine!

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So there you have the essential parts to my notebook. It works for me. It serves a purpose. It’s simple. I hope this has helped you think through the purpose of your notebook.

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