Writing About Reading: Bringing Engagement and Color to Student Thinking

I love my notebook. I use it to jot reading reactions, quotes, writing thoughts, words that interest me. I carry it with me.

Like me, my students’ reading notebooks house thinking and work. But there are some differences. First, their work is a little lifeless, a little predicable, sort of cookie cutter like. The second bigger difference is that they don’t love their notebooks. They don’t feel lost without them. Some, those who like to hold pens and write on paper, like the process. Some do it dutifully; they have been trained well.  Some make messes, drill holes, doodle, skip pages. For most, the notebook is a workbook, school work.

I love my notebook and it’s taken time to find that love.  I’ve experimented with different ways to jot, different notebooks and pens. Another big reason I love my notebook is because it’s private. So what does this mean for my students? How do I get my students to love or a least like using notebooks. Do I stop looking at student notebooks? Loosen my “criteria.” And if so, what does that look like? How do I assess? What about accountability?

Fortunately, I’m not alone. The upper grade teachers at my school have these same thoughts, and we have the opportunity to build our thinking together with our staff developer Katie Clements from TCRWP.

Katie guided us through student reader’s notebooks using specific lenses: 1) quantity, 2) growth in thinking, 3) content – retell or ideas, 4) student initiated or teacher agenda

What we found: Strategies we taught  were there!  We saw growth across grade levels. What we didn’t see: Diversity in thinking, deep thinking, or personal approaches to writing about reading, bold thinking.

The good news: students are doing what we have taught them.  Nothing wrong with that. In fact it is cause for a little celebration.  What we need: more diverse, student driven thinking; for students to find value in their writing about reading, a reason for it. Something other than “because the teacher asked me to.”

With this in mind, Katie shared some ideas to move our students toward bigger, bolder, more engaged thinking about reading. And hopefully more individuality and more passion connected to writing about reading.

  • Bring color and drawing to writing about reading. Model it in read aloud and then let students have markers to bring their thinking to life. (I love using color in my notebook. Color says something and gives me energy. Why not give students this opportunity.)
  • Study notebooks and develop a menu of writing about reading options together. (Consider doing this as a staff with our own notebooks?? Or if that’s too scary, our students’ notebooks.)
  • Create an audience for writing with gallery walks, allowing students to study each other’s best and “steal” ideas (Audience always matters!! Note to self: need to really teach “how to study and steal.”)
  • Allow students to find one page they want to “publish” with some revision (Big aha here!! I do this when I prepare a mentor text for writing about reading, why should students be allowed to?!)
  • Create a wall of writing about reading. Celebrate it! (Blog it ? – Offer the option to students.)
  • Teach students to give feedback in ways that build thinking and reflection on their writing about reading (Student assessment drives students teaching students)

We started some of this work before the long Winter Break. Students loved the challenge and the opportunity to bring life to their work.  After read aloud and a debate on the one of the characters, students went to their own reading. Toward the end of workshop, I invited them to write about reading. The results were diverse, deeper and assessable.

2014-12-16 10.20.23
Response from read aloud – similar to my model but independent thinking
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Debate done on read aloud – interesting choice of color and positioning of thoughts


2014-12-16 10.19.09
Independent reading: Rules. Seems to have transferred the demonstration in read aloud to independent work


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Independent reading: Lost in the Sun

We are just starting this work and I’ve already see renewed energy, a celebratory feel, and bigger thinking that is assessable. Next week students will return and our writing about reading adventures will continue. Can’t wait to see where we will go!

5 thoughts on “Writing About Reading: Bringing Engagement and Color to Student Thinking

  1. Okay, after SIX days back, I am so bummed that your kiddos have not yet returned. However, no school had a “real” week due to the snow, frigid cold, and just general nasty Iowa winter. What great ways to breathe life into notebooks!

    I also love with teachers (when we do a gallery walk to see ideas) – each teacher only gets one post-it to begin . . . record ideas that you want to remember, borrow, steal . . . 90% need more post-its!!! (Their choice!!! and sneaky me!)

  2. Readers notebooks can be so powerful! Mary Ehrenworth shared some of these great ideas at a Sat Reunion. Gallery walls were very successful in my class when it came to inspiring and sharing diversity in the entries. Love this work!

  3. I have had my students blog about reading for a while now. For some it is the most difficult post to get done. I need new life to reader response. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. I especially like the examples of student work that you included. I plan to share your pictures with my fifth graders to help breathe some new life into their notebooks!

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