Questions & Authors: Responding to reading journals

October 13th, 2008

If the stack of reading journals on your desk seems impossible to conquer and you find yourself at lunch quietly calculating the number of pages you have to read tonight, you are not alone. Many teachers across the country struggle with giving valuable, meaningful feedback to reader’s notebooks, but find it hard to keep up with the responses.

Pam Juday, a reading specialist from Elkhart, IN, said that teachers in her building would like to use reader’s notebooks, but they hesitate because of the time required to keep up with responses. “One teacher, who is responsible for around 50 students, reported that she saw a significant decline in quality and motivation when she failed to keep up with her responses,” Pam wrote, asking for suggestions from our authors.

So we asked Adrienne Gear, author of Reading Power, and Cheryl Dozier, author of Responsive Literacy Coaching to help Pam and teachers in her school find a solution to managing reader’s notebooks.

Adrienne’s response:
As a literacy mentor in the Vancouver School district (Canada), I have worked with many teachers who have begun to use reader’s notebooks in their classrooms. Successfully managing the marking of these notebooks has been an issue that often arises. Here are two ways that teachers in my district have attempted to solve this:

1) Students might write 3-4 entries in their reader’s notebook per week, however, the teacher will only respond to ONE of these entries. Students select, indicating with a star inside the margin, which response they would like the teacher to read and respond back to.
2) Another way to cut down on daily responding is to divide your class into 5 small groups. Each group is responsible for handing in their reader’s notebook on a different day during the week. (i.e. Gr. 1 – Monday, Gr. 2 – Tuesday) Groups and “hand-in” days are posted in the classroom. This way, if there are 30 students in the class, for example, the teacher will read and respond to six per day. This is more manageable than reading and responding to 30 notebooks two-three times each week.

I believe that we need to be realistic about the amount of responding we can manage each week. However, one careful and thoughtful response per week is, in the long run, of more benefit to the students than several short and “tired” responses. When students look forward to their teachers’ one longer response each week, motivation is less likely to be compromised.

Cheryl’s response:
While there are numerous benefits to reader’s notebooks, it can be daunting to take a pile of reader’s notebooks home over the weekend – especially if the pile remains untouched until Sunday evening. I now respond to a set number of reading responses each evening. Then, I am much more likely to engage deeply as I read. Sometimes my responses are short, sometimes they are lengthier. Regardless, when I write a response, my guiding question is: “Is this response thoughtful and genuine?” I want my responses to be open ended and focus on continuing conversations.

I see reader’s notebooks as places for conversations – reader to reader. I love reading children’s responses and seeing how they interpret, question, or read against texts. Through their responses (written, artistic), we can learn where children are confident as readers. What authors or genres resonate for them? We also learn what is harder for them to navigate. Do they take risks as readers and writers? When I read responses, I often gain additional perspectives, begin to ask new questions, or make connections I had not considered previously. I see reader’s notebooks as generative spaces to engage in a collaborative dialogue.

Writers write for an audience. When students do not receive a response, they may take their responses less seriously. I agree, it does take time to respond to letters written by students. The benefit? When we view these letters/responses as windows into children’s understandings and how they make sense of and connect to books, we learn from and with one another. Student responses serve as an anchor for continued conversations.

Several questions come to mind: How are we defining responding to students? What do our responses look like and sound like? Are there ways to open up responses (for both teachers and students)? In addition to responding in writing, I have also asked children to select a piece or sections they would like to share with the class to encourage multiple or contrasting viewpoints. Responses in notebooks can serve as conversation starters as children discuss texts together. After engaging in conversations with partners or with the whole class, students can then revise their responses. Younger children often sketch responses and are delighted to share these with their classmates.

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors,Reading

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abby  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I wonder if another approach could be to have the students maintain blogs as their reading journals. Teachers could reply to student entries from home without carrying all the journals back and forth, and the students could be given some of the responsibility to respond too, by asking them to comment on each others entries to push each others thinking and questioning.

  • 2. Diane  |  November 6th, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I have used a blog and a discussion board with my fourth and fifth grade learning disabled students. The discussion board was easier for them to navigate. The blog is in reverse chronological order and my students had difficulty finding responses. The discussion board was easier for them to navigate.

  • 3. Velina  |  November 7th, 2008 at 6:33 am

    In all the suggestions, the bulk of the responsibility for reading and responding to student work rests on the shoulders of the teacher, creating that seemingly unbreakable loop–student to teacher to student. Why not include the rest of the class in the response process as well? Have students either choose a fellow student with whom to share a response or randomly swap responses from one student to another. This broadens the audience and makes the response journal more authentic. Give them a true audience–they will love you for it.

  • 4. debrennersmith  |  November 8th, 2008 at 12:32 am I have found that my students especially appreciated the interaction of discussion. When I set down a John Grisham novel or Catherine Coulter FBI series book, I do not want to do a book response or a diorama. I don’t need a shoe box. Instead I pick up my phone or I discuss the book with someone. I encourage conversations between all my students about their books. I have the children respond in writing once a week in a one inch space based on Cris Tovani’s work. This way I can easily and accurately get to every student. Also, my students see reading as the goal, not as the assignment.

  • 5. Mike  |  November 8th, 2008 at 3:40 am

    I’ve pondered the idea of using Reader’s Notebooks (we already use Writer’s Notebooks), but the idea of lugging 30 composition books home to check is daunting.

    I have, however, thought more about the wiki and blog idea. This completely removes the concern of 30 composition books. Also, I type faster than I write. So commenting on student work would be more efficient.

  • 6. Patricia  |  November 12th, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Reader’s response notebooks are important to reading development for both the teacher and student. Assigning specific days per student groups is manageable. I think it’s important to follow up reading responses with student conferences. Also, students can be engaged in peer conferencing by sharing their responses which will contribute to perspectives that may assist with further comprehension, analysis, judgment of text material.

  • 7. Rob  |  November 13th, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I have used the Reader’s Notebooks with varying degrees of success for the last 8 years from first to sixth grades. I have toiled to find the best way to encourage deep and meaningful responses from the students. This year I decided to continually revisit the idea of “writing for an audience” while maintaining the necessity of comprehension during reading. I feel like there is no time that I can let the letters fly on auto-pilot (I believe that was my downfall in the past and why I had diminishing returns as the school year progressed.)

    I continually ask about student-thinking in class discussions of read-alouds or during guided reading. When a student shares an insightful idea I say,”wow that would make a great response for your Reader’s Notebook.” I’ve also begun to share student responses as part of our Reading Block (with permission of course) and then allowing peers to respond positively/constructively to the letter.

    As student responses have become more insightful, I’ve found it’s more enjoyable and less time-consuming for me to read and respond! It’s a wonderful cycle that has winners on all sides.

  • 8. Charmayne  |  November 22nd, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I teach fourth grade and use both reading journals Several teachers I know lug home half the books one Friday, then the other half the next Friday. That way every student is responded to every other week. But, that is still too much for me. I take home 3 every evening…which works out to be the same rate of response. Three composition books and evening is nothing! I read as I wait for supper to cook, or during TV commericails. And even if I can’t get to them one evening, three is nothing to read and respond too before class starts in the morning.

  • 9. Fosia  |  August 10th, 2009 at 6:11 am

    It was your blog that encouraged me to start blogging and yours is still one that I return again and again. Thank you!

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