Reflections on My Year Part 2: Reader’s and Writer’s Notebooks

I’ve been thinking a lot about Reader’s Notebooks and how my students used them.  I’ve wanted the Reader’s Notebook to show students’ thinking about and process while reading; ultimately showing their growth as readers over the year. Now I’m wondering, after reading and rereading Linda Rief’s book Read, Write, Teach, if I have overlooked something important. In Rief’s 8th grade classroom, students have a WRN, a Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook that co-mingles their reading responses and their writing entries. Would this work for 5th graders? Could my students’ reading lives feed their writing lives? Could this mix create better readers?

I had to try this out. Honestly, authentically. But first a  confession.

Reader’s notebooks are a tough sell.  Students either just want to read, or they just don’t like doing it.  I get their point. I take notes on reading (often informational or for a book club), but these notes usually end up in the books I’m reading. I annotate, use post its and leave loose leaf pages in books, but I haven’t  used a reader’s notebook to keep track of my reading thoughts over time. “Teacher me” can see the potential, but “Reader me” hasn’t owned this.

What I discovered. First off, it was difficult to develop the habit. I kept forgetting. And, it is a less natural thing (for me) to do with fiction.  After three weeks, with the notebook near by,  I’m writing responses to the text and pulling quotes. I write about what mattered to me. I write when things kept hitting me again and again, or when characters surprise me or irritate me. More importantly, I’m noticing a shift in my engagement in and attitude toward writing about reading.

The payoff. After a few reads, my writing about reading is becoming a collection. Those lines that come from multiple texts are there in one place and are easy to set beside one another and see connections. (Ooo, Teacher me is seeing Reading Standards 1 and 9 in flashing lights, and Reader me is just thinking that’s so cool!)

And a writing bonus: Quotes and responses from reading  have become  jumping off points for writing entries. This line from Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy  started an entry on naming my kids and one on the importance my mom placed on naming me.

2014-06-26 09.50.11Then I noticed another quote pulled from Snicker of Magic and I thought about the connection to names in that read as well.






Rief’s Writer’s-Reader’s Notebooks include sections on response, classroom lessons, vocabulary, and spelling. Lots of valuable writing and reading connections all in one place. In the response section she asks students to do a multitude of things with text and life. It is all about noticing and responding to what you encounter be it text or the world.

*to collect/respond to/react to/reflect on reading (books, magazines, instructions, other classes, etc.), writing, observations, and discoveries about yourself, others, and the world with writing, collected pictures, charts, cartoons, lists, drawing

I love these thoughts Rief gives her students for inspiration:

Your notebook is a room of your own. It provides a safe place for you to ask: What do I notice? What do I care about? What really matters? What moves the deepest part of me? What haunts me? What do I want to remember—in my life, in this world—for the rest of my life? What do I want to write about?” —Ralph Fletcher, Breathing In, Breathing Out, p.3

The point of a notebook (journal) is to jumpstart your mind.” —John Gregory Dunn from Shoptalk (1990, Don Murray)

My notebook is who I am/everything I want to remember as a writer, reader, thinker, listener, observer of the world around me.” —Linda Rief

I’m keeping the last quote for the front of my notebook. One I will share with my students at the end of the summer.

While the idea of a combined Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook breaks away from my original construct of a separate Writer’s Notebook, introduced at my school in 3rd grade and then developed in 4th, I think next year I’d like to venture into this hybrid idea. I’ve noticed  my students’ Writer’s Notebooks are not used very heavily.  This trend speaks to the earlier drafting and revising work they are doing outside of the notebook. Which is good, but their independent writing lives seem underdeveloped. Perhaps bringing the two notebooks together will motivate readers to write more about their reading and find more inspiration for their own narratives and opinions.

How have you and your students document your reading lives? Does the work support your writing life?

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