January Literacy Tip

Happy New Year Colleagues!

Do you jot personal ideas in the margins of books or keep a log of the books you read?  Thinking back on the books read in 2012, I know that a reading journal would make the reflection process more rewarding, a walk down memory lane would be enhanced by a formal capturing of my thinking before I ventured on to the next book.  Make 2013 a year for recording ideas from books you and your students read in reading journals. 
The November Literacy Tip emphasized the importance of student talk to increase comprehension and learning.  Like talking, writing provides students an avenue for making knowledge their own.  Journals help students sift out important and memorable ideas as they reflect on what they have read.  Writing is the visible and recorded surface of thinking.

What is a Reading Journal?

Reading Journals, also called Response Journals or Logs, encourage the reader to react, respond, and extend thinking about a story.  Students not only record the books they are reading but capture thoughts and reactions.  There is no right or wrong in a reader’s response journal; it is a collection of the reader’s exploration, questions, and thoughts as they read.  Each reading journal is as unique as the writers themselves.
Reading journals are student driven; they can replace traditional study guides.  Instead of answering teacher-designed questions to show comprehension of text, students can ask their own questions prior to reading, keep track of discoveries, connections, and reactions during reading, and summarize and evaluate after reading.

Getting Started With a Reading Journal

The main goal of a reading journal is to simply interact with what was read.  For many students new to reading journals, telling them to write down their thoughts and feelings will elicit a blank stare.  They may need more structure than an open-ended task and blank paper.  Idea starters or prompts (changed often) will jump-start readers’ thinking.  Starters can be open-ended or specific to the topic they are reading.  Some suggestions:

  • Today I spent about ___ minutes reading.   (This is one way teachers can notice if students aren’t finding time for independent reading.)
  • Some things I have read today are _____ (include math problems, science articles, magazines, newspapers, recipes, ALL reading)
  • A new word I encountered is ____ which means ____
  • One of the memorable things I read today is _____ because ____
  • I talked about what I am reading with _______ who is reading _______
  • A quote from the book that is especially meaningful to me is  ______ because
  • The next thing I plan to read is ____

Teachers can show a list of prompts and say to students, “Focus on two or three of the prompts each day.  Spend 5-10 minutes recording ideas in your journal.  Avoid retelling the story. ”  The goal is READING, mind the delicate balance between the amount of time reading and time spent reflecting in writing,
Other ideas to make reading journals a positive and productive experience are:

  • Model the value of recording ideas and thinking.  Share your reading journal.
  • Help students understand what reflective writing is by reading entries from masters, such as Van Gogh, Franklin or Churchill.
  • Respond to student journal entries.  Reading journals are evaluation-free; the goal is to create independent, thoughtful readers.  Reflective questions or comments are best.  For example,  “This fascinates me because. . . ” or “What questions are you asking yourself about . . .?”  or “What do you think will happen next?”

Examples of reading journals, reader response, and learning logs can be found in the Literacy and Learning Trilogy.  See Strategic Reading in the Content Areas, 2nd edition for: Reader Response Inner Voice Sheet, page 91, Strategic Reading Journal, page 136 and Learning Logs for the Reluctant Reader, page 218.  The Writing to Learn strategy is outlined on page 129 of Strategies to Engage the Mind of the Learner, 2nd edition.
When readers keep track of their learning through writing they can revisit their thinking and chart their growth as learners and thinkers.  Reading journals are rewarding, they provide the reader a tangible sense of accomplishment and are worthy of celebration.  Yes, reading journals are a valuable tool creating independent, life-long readers.
Please forward this email to other interested colleagues.  Interested readers can go to www.rachelbillmeyer.com to sign up for future Literacy Tips.  For more information about literacy and reading strategies check out the Literacy and Learning Trilogy at www.rachelbillmeyer.com.
Happy New Year,
Rachel and Associates