Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing about Reading - Reader's Notebooks

When I was in elementary school, I remember the dreaded workbooks that we used for reading.  I hated answering the comprehension questions and I tried writing anything for the answer so I could just get it over with and go out to recess...but my teacher always caught on and I then missed recess to re-do my answers.  I realize now that I disliked the reading questions so much because I didn't understand "why" I had to do it and didn't know "how" it helped me as a reader.  It also was very boring!

As a teacher, I make a point of always explaining the purpose of why we do certain tasks and units of study so students know "why" they are doing it and "how" it can help them as learners and people.  So when I decided to use reader's notebooks in class almost 10 years ago, I made the promise to myself that I would make the purpose clear and encourage students to have fun with their notebooks!
Personalized Reader's Notebook
I am a firm believer that having conversations and writing about reading increases comprehension.   When we give students the opportunity to write about their reading, they are able to try out the strategies in a written form which allows them to process the information and reflect.  Writing about reading can take many forms from writing on post-its to writing in reader's notebooks This is also another form of data to use to informally assess each student and see what skills we still need to teach and reinforce and what skills students have internalized.
Students need a consistent amount of time they can depend on to write in their reader’s notebook, but we want to make sure it is not taking up their reading time; we want them to read more than they write during reading workshop.  One way to provide students with a predictable and consistent amount of time is to make certain days of the week "writing days" at the end of reading workshop.  For example, in our classroom, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are “talk days” when they have conversations with their reading partner and Tuesdays and Thursdays are "writing days" when they write about their reading at the end of reading workshop. They write for about ten minutes and if they don't finish in class, they can continue working on it for homework.  This way, students know they will have the chance to write every Tuesday and Thursday and it becomes a classroom ritual without taking up reading time during reading workshop.  

Reader's notebooks are not just a place for students to write paragraph responses, but also to be creative in how they express and deepen their thinking. Some students create charts in the form of baseball fields, flowers, staircases, basketballs, etc.  For example, I have had baseball fans draw a baseball field to show how they have extended their thinking by writing their original idea on 1st base, revised thinking on 2nd and 3rd bases, and their final thinking on home plate.  While others have drawn a flower with their theory in the center of the flower and their evidence/thinking on the petals.  The list goes on with the creative ways students have used their notebooks to deepen their thinking in visual ways in their notebooks.  Once students are given the permission to be creative, they jump on the opportunity and impress me each year with their originality and how they visually show others how they extend their thinking to higher levels.  This is where the reader's notebook bulletin boards or foam boards come in handy, because students can share  examples of how they are using their notebooks with their classmates.  Then the buzz of reader's notebooks comes alive; students become engaged in writing about reading because they understand the purpose and make it their own.  

It is important to give students specific feedback on their writing about reading.  That way, students know they are writing for a purpose, and they give us more insight into what they are thinking as readers. I collect their reader’s notebooks as often as I can to leave my feedback in the back of their notebooks on post-its.  I also read their responses/charts whenever I can during the school day.   Students enjoy the positive reinforcement and they become increasingly willing to try new strategies!
Reader's Notebook Examples:

Happy Reading & Writing! :)

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