Raising Rigor in Readers’ Notebooks

I used to look with envy at those spiffy Readers’ Notebooks available through a nationally known publisher.  In fact I envied them so much, I figured out how to customize a similar notebook for my students to use.

And while they seemed to work pretty well, I’ve come to realize that maybe the beautifully GBC-bound notebooks and forms I’d created were not all that.

Asking my students to write a weekly response in the form of a letter to which I would write back produced writing about reading. But what I mostly got was a retelling (plot) or even worse, an “I like this book….” without a “because”.

I’m reading Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Connections and discovering something about what has passed for a reader’s response in my classroom. Because my students were so wrapped up in writing a letter to the teacher – and maybe even in getting it done over revealing something they were thinking – the thoughts about reading and literacy were pretty much on the surface.

I want my students to learn to do more than that! Upping the rigor of a response means that I will need to teach students to first notice their thinking and then record it.  And then dive deeper into what the author chooses to do when writing; it’s all interconnected.

So I’m no longer envying teachers who can purchase those fancy Readers’ Notebooks for kids. I want to raise the rigor on what students write in reading responses. I want them to think in depth about a text and wonder. I want them to notice an author’s craft and how it impacts a reader.

What I am thinking about for next year is a much more simple tool for holding ideas than the fill-in the form I’ve grown comfortable with over the last 2 years.  Students need a space to record a year’s growth in becoming literate, a place to keep track of genres and kinds of books (given the opportunity, some of my kids would only read Arthur books!), and a place to record and notice not only their own thoughts as they read but how an author crafts writing.

It’s a tall order with many opportunities for missteps on my part. By breaking down the Readers’ Notebook to what is essential, I hope for depth in thinking. A spiral notebook and some self-sticking tabs should do the trick.


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