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Reading Response: Creating Quality Reflections

Revisiting the Reader's Notebook


My class takes some time each week to reflect on their reading and growth as a reader. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these letters each week. Recently, however, the writing quality has started to deteriorate for a few students. I knew it was time to stop, reflect, and model what meaningful reflections look like with my kids. And although I have posted on the use of a reader's notebook in our classroom, I thought it might be helpful to share how I got our writing "back on track" with a little modeling and review time.

Where Do They Reflect?

My students use Fountas and Pinnell's Reader's Notebook to record what they are reading, what they are thinking (through a weekly reading reflection), and what they were wondering or learned through guided reading. It's a nice organizational tool and showcases growth throughout the year. I have posted on this topic before, so if you are interested in learning more visit my blog: A Blended Approach to Reading and Writing Conferences.

When Do They Reflect?

Using the workshop approach, I ask students to complete a weekly reading reflection the day before meeting with me. So, for example, if you are going to meet with me on Wednesday, Tuesday would be the day to stop and reflect in your notebook. It's also a good time to make sure the reading log is updated. Students are free to write these letters during our reading or writing block.

How and What Do They Reflect?

1. Grammar

For the first two grading periods, I made sure to focus on the content of the letters, not the grammar. This was very tempting for me at times, but I also took my observations and used them for my writing conferences. For example, if I noted that a student was not uppercasing their characters' names I looked for that teaching point in their writer's notebook. Most of the time, if a grammar error is found in the reflection, it can be found in their everyday writing. At most, I would offer my suggestion orally, in passing. It might have sounded something like this, "I noticed you didn't underline the title of the book. Make sure you do that next time." For the first two weeks, I never made corrections to the actual letter.

2. Feedback

"I ain't going to the fair," the student tells me.

"Oh, you aren't going to the fair. Why not?" I reply.

I essentially do the same thing when I respond back to my students' reading reflection. If the title of the story wasn't underlined or uppercased, I make it a point to put that somewhere in my letter. For example, "I also love Maniac Magee. Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorite authors."

I would like to share some ways I model deeper thinking through written feedback:

"I like this book. It is really, really, really funny. You should read it to the class Mrs. Bunyi."

When I receive this sort of reflection, I usually respond with something like, " What makes this book so funny? Is it like any other book we have read together so far? Please tell me more in your next letter to me!" Again, I am encouraging that student to dig deeper with their reading response with little to no work at all.

"I just started this book. I am on page 14, so I can't really tell you much."

It was a student that helped me figure this one out. If you are at the beginning of a book, you might want to spend some time inferring about what is going to happen. You only need a few pages of reading to do that. You can also write down your questions that you have before and during reading. So when I read a statement like this I usually write, "I am happy to see you are trying this book. It would be really interesting to read what you are inferring or questioning about this novel at this point. Can you take a moment to jot those thoughts down? You might want to look at our thinking stem charts for help."

3. Taking a Deeper Look at Reading Strategies, Conventions, and Format

Bring in the anchor charts! If you have followed this blog, several of these charts have been posted before. Instead of handing my students a long list of possible writing stems, we have slowly added different ways to reflect about our reading on anchor charts. These charts have stayed on our walls all year and will continue to grow as we discuss more reading strategies. At this point in the year, we have addressed three reading strategies in depth and just introduced determining importance. Here is the order of how we have modeled the use of reading letters each week.


The first thing we addressed at the beginning of the year was the friendly letter format found in the reader's notebook. This is a handy resource that stays with each child throughout the year.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Making Connections


Good for during and after reading- Reading responses might include this natural language instead of the wording " I had a text to text connection." Who says that anyway? This was the first thing we modeled and discussed this year.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Inferring


Good for before and during reading- After a short introduction to the meaning of schema, this was our next reading strategy that we addressed during reader's workshop. It continues to be the most popular area of reflection in our weekly letters.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Questioning


Good for before, during, and after reading- Never stop asking questions! This chart includes some of the thinking stems that can be included in our reading reflections. I particularly like "It confused me," as it allows a student to share what they are not understanding.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Determining Importance


Good for after reading- Rather than just say, "I finished the book," students can take a moment to write about what was important in the story. These thinking stems really help support deeper thinking and reflection.

Stop and Reflect on What We've Learned So Far



Review Chart: Now that we have spent an ample time working on our reading responses, we are stepping up the standards with care to our format, content, and conventions. This chart shows how we reviewed what we have learned so far. Regarding grammar, I will still refrain from making corrections to the actual letter. I will, however, make note of it in my conference book and remind the student to correct or add this into their future letters.

Student Examples: I also think showing exemplar reading responses is a great thing. With permission, you can copy and share some writing from your students. In the above example, the student talks about his reading partnership meetings, he includes a quick summary, and uses wording such as I am inferring to discuss a character's actions. With regards to conventions, care has been given to follow the friendly letter format (closing and signature not shown).

Do You Have Any Tips to Share?

Don't be afraid to post your tips here. I am posting on this because it is an area we are working on. I am sure other teachers and students are working on increasing the quality and meaning as well. I'd love to hear what is working in your classroom!

To learn more about our classroom, visit us here.


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Angela Bunyi

Hello again,

So, when you say hiring outside help, I'm wondering if you mean hiring an RTI Coach. Our school has one, and when students are placed in Tier III they meet with her on a daily basis. Based on last year's test scores (when our population was 1,150), I believe 100% of students in RTI scored at least proficient. That's pretty impresive. What I do like about RTI is that pullout does not become an option until you have spent a significant amount of extra time working with the child without success. Fragmenting a child's day is avoided until it is well documented that additional help is needed. So, good luck to you. The paperwork, however, is not fun.

And regarding anecodotal notes- I have tried many things myself. I am currently using typing paper hole punched in a notebook with tabs. I have a few tabbed files where I can hold onto Thinklink results, guided reading groups, and notes to myself. It's simple, but it works. One year I used a clip board with flip index cards. After each six weeks I removed it and placed the cards in an alphabetized bin. I've thought about using my laptop or a small digital tool to just input my conference notes...

And now, I am rambling as well. I'll answer your other post in just a second.

Rachel Lamb

Hey Angela! Thanks for the quick response, just what I thought you'd say! We have just incorporated RTI and I can only imagine what it will entail soon! Its funny, one of my grad classes focused on RTI and of course the successful examples ones hired outside help! if only...
I can't wait for the individual conferences, as I know I will be getting a much better picture of my readers. What sort of form/system do you use for anecdotal notes? I have tried notebooks, binders, even stickies, and can't find that perfect thing.
I just posted on your general blog page about not being able to find this exact page! oh, too much info and I'm in overload...excuse my rambling!
Thanks again-Rachel

Angela Bunyi

Hey Rachel,

My struggling students are under the RTI mandates and require an additional 60 minutes of one on one or small group instruction each week, so 4 students meet with me more frequently (every second I get actually, including before school once a week). The other students meet with me once during the week and then follow up with a reading partner sometime shortly after that. With the one on one conferences mixed in, I think we have made the most of the schedule. I'd like to do more...

And post-it chart paper is really expensive. It is the absolute only thing I have asked parents for this year when they ask what is needed. I have been really lucky and received them all from parents (including a new one on Dec. 19). Because I want to stretch it out as long as possible, if I don't plan on posting the chart paper on the wall, I often use butcher paper instead. If you cut it right, you can't even tell. On my last blog (the animated cell blog), you can see a photo of our planning using butcher paper. It actually worked better...

Rachel Lamb

How often do you meet with each group (found the 1 on 1 schedule)? Right now I meet with my lowest fourth graders (PP level) every day and the rest 1-2 times per week. I loved how you set up the one on one and am excited to incorporate that into our schedule. And do you have a great place to purchase post it chart paper!!?? is there a cheaper version out there?

Angela Bunyi

Hello Christina,

That's great to hear you are trying writer's workshop...with 35 students you clearly have a big job ahead of you! I am assuming you are in middle school based on that number. If I were in your shoes, I would still try to meet with 5 students a day and try to meet with each student every 7 days rather than every week. You could use a pocket chart to keep up with who has meet with you and who hasn't. In addition to one on one conferences, we also hold small guided reading groups daily.

Let me know if you have any other questions. I'd be happy to answer them.

Christina Gilstrap

I am trying the Readers Workshop format for the first time this year, and I love it. I have 35 students, how many should I try and conference with a day? Right now I have no formal amount, I'm getting in as many as possible. I try to feel the moment and not be on a shot clock, but I feel that I am not reaching enough students. Also, do you often hold small group conferences or do you hold mainly one on one? I love your website and you have inspired me in many ways! Thanks!

Angela Bunyi


I noticed your URL address of www.thereadingworkshop.com. Great site! It's also exciting to hear that more and more teachers are using the workshop method in grades 6 and above. It seems this age frame would appreciate the freedom of selection and independence more than anyone else and would benefit most.

Much respect,


P.S. You mentioned including music for reader's workshop. I have a few links under my post: Combining Reading Strategies and Multiple Intelligence Research.

Jim McGuire

Thanks for sharing this informative post. Using question stems (as they relate to Bloom's Taxonomy) for journals is a valuable tool to make sure students are thinking. I appreciate being reminded of the need to keep prompts challenging.

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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