One of the nice advantages of moving from grade 3 to grade 5 online with Scholastic is that I can pull up old posts and enhance them and share how I have modified certain materials and resources to fit different grade levels. One of my staples has been the use of a Reader's Notebook. I believe they are beneficial all the way from grade 3 to grade 12, and I would love to share multiple resources and tools you can use to launch, implement, and manage the use of a Reader's Notebook in your classroom this year.
Part I: Using a Reader's Notebook in Grades 3–6
(This portion of the post was originally published 11/08.)
What Is a Reader's Notebook?
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. It's extremely sturdy and has lasted each of my students the entire school year. You can view each section at Heinemann's site.
Photo: Each colored section is printed on sturdy card stock that won't rip with normal wear and tear.
If you don't have the finances to afford these notebooks, our very own Beth Newingham has provided a free Reader's Notebook template in PDF form. This would then require that each student have a personal binder and copies are made for each student. I have personally tried both methods, and keep finding myself back with Heinemann's products, this year included.
Why Should We Use a Reader's Notebook?
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 are wondering about or learning through guided reading. It's a nice organizational tool and showcases growth throughout the year. The various sections allow your students to record books they're reading, books they want to read in the future, the different genres completed, and notes for book talks or guided reading sessions. It also gives them the opportunity to reflect on and respond to what they're reading. Throughout the year, growth is so evident. The Reader's Notebook becomes a valuable assessment tool for you, the parents, and your students.
How Do You Use the Different Sections of a Reader's Notebook?
Reading Log: When a book is picked up, it goes into the log. This helps me see if there is a pattern of books being dropped uncompleted. It also allows me to see how long students are taking to complete books, and how they're perceiving the genres and levels of difficulty.
Books to Be Read: I encourage my students to use this section during share time when a book of interest is mentioned. It prevents students from hoarding a book in their personal book bin, when another student could be reading it during that time.
Guided Reading/Book Club: There is a lot of flexibility on utilizing this section, but I really enjoy the guidelines on working in small groups.
Reading Reflection Letters: 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 Does Reading Reflection Work?
For the first two grading periods, I make sure to focus on the content of the letters, not the grammar. Though it's very tempting to correct grammar at times, I save my observations for my writing conferences. For example, if I note that a student is not uppercasing their characters' names, I look 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 offer my suggestion orally, in passing. It sounds 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 make corrections to the actual letter.
"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 reflections. If the title of the story isn't underlined or uppercased, I make it a point to put that somewhere in my letter. For example, I'll write: "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:
For example, a student writes: "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 her 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 what is going to happen. You only need a few pages of reading to do that. You can also write down the 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! 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. Following is an outline of how we have modeled the use of reading letters each week.
The first thing we address at the beginning of the year is 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 use natural language instead of something formal like, "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 is the next reading strategy that we address 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 saying, "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 ample time working on our reading responses, we step up the standards with care to format, content, and conventions. This chart shows how we review 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 in 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 regard to conventions, care has been given to following the friendly letter format (closing and signature not shown for privacy purposes).
Part II: Using a Reader's Notebook in Grades 5–12
A Different Reader's Notebook With More Options!
I am entirely pleased with Linda Reif's version of a Reader's/Writer's Notebook. She created her notebooks after years of trial and error in her own classroom. As a result, she has hit a home run in the Reading Notebook field. She not only offers all of the components laid out above, but she has two additional sections that we heavily rely on for vocabulary and spelling. I'll write about these three additional sections before addressing how I manage and help students maintain their notebooks for the school year.
Here is a PDF sample of several sections of the in-depth Reader's and Writer's Notebook.
Each week my students are on the lookout for four to five new interesting vocabulary words. Just as in real life, most of our learned vocabulary comes from the million or so words we read and encounter each year. By providing five small sticky tabs, students are free to pull out a tab and mark a word while reading. They don't have to stop what they are doing and look up the meaning, but can just use a strategy taught in class, such as replacing the word or using context clues. However, once a week students stop and take the time to go back and look at those words again. They decide if it is a word they will try to use in their future writing or conversation. If it passes this test, the students use the vocabulary section to do the following:
~ Record the title of the book.
~ Record the page where the word was found.
~ Record the excerpt where the word was found.
~ Infer or look up the definition of the word.
~ Bonuses include researching the etymology or including a picture scene that supports the definition.
This component is so routine that it has become part of our homework assignment for the week. Students come to our one-on-one conferences ready to showcase their collected words. Every other week a rubric is used to help increase the depth of this assignment.
In addition to Words Their Way, I utilize our Reader's Notebook to address high frequency words and words misspelled in students' writing each week. I teach students that spelling really does matter, and to try all spelling strategies possible when writing. However, after several attempts to spell a word, they simply circle it and move on. During our writing conference time, we select which words will be recorded in their spelling section of the notebook. Although it is not shown here, it's a simple page with Words to Learn. Students will take time throughout the week focusing on four to five of those words with a partner in order to learn how to spell them correctly. This can be learned about in depth through a post I wrote last year on individualizing spelling instruction.
Photo: In addition to the spelling list, there are several built-in spelling lessons you can use with your class.
One addition I found under this reading log, created by Rief, was a better rating system than the 3–6 version. This includes a 1–5 rating as well as a best one-word (or short phrase) description. I think it works very well for my 5th graders, and some of them are quite amusing. "Earth shattering" is a pretty high ranking, for example.
The best thing about this Reader's Notebook is that you can fully model and discuss how to artfully and deeply write about what you are reading.
That's because there is direct support in a book by Linda Rief titled Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook. Thinking stems are replaced with concrete reading letters from real students that go beyond a simple connection or summary. In fact, half of the book is filled with sample letters you can share with your classroom. This includes various ways you can help your students respond to their reading, such as addressing one scene or creating poetry.
For now, my students are required to spend twenty minutes for this weekly letter. It is part of homework and students are starting to use their post-it note thoughts to help guide them with their writing and reflections. I respond back to each student at the start of our individual conference time while the student makes corrections to their writing and looks for words that may be misspelled.
I would highly recommend this book and found it to be an easy read. You can purchase it through Heinemann.
Topics That Support the Reader's Notebook
Here are a few links that support how you can utilize a Reader's Notebook to the highest potential. Please ask any questions you have here, and I will be happy to answer them for you.
Excerpt: It is estimated that students learn between 3,000 and 4,000 new words each year, with the typical student knowing some 25,000 words by the end of elementary school. It is obvious that learning five preselected vocabulary words from a basal textbook doesn't make the grade. Even if a new word is taught each day, in addition to the five preselected vocabulary words for the week, that is still fewer than 400 words a year. So, how can we maximize vocabulary acquisition? In the link above, you'll find five ways to support your readers in becoming vocabulary virtuosos.
Excerpt: I have been utilizing the Reading and Writing Workshop method for almost a decade now. As a former literacy coach and a current teacher of the gifted and high achieving, I most often have other teachers ask me for help or suggestions with regard to reading and writing conferences. The questions I am asked most often are: How do you manage meeting with your students? How do you organize conferences and/or do you have any forms or notebooks that you use? What do you talk about during a conference? How do you share this information with parents or use it for assessment?
Videos and several printables are provided in this post.
Photo: These students are practicing their self-selected spelling words with the "Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check" form.
Excerpt: Whether your district mandates a certain spelling program or allows some flexibility in meeting your students' specific needs with individualized spelling lists, I have some easy to incorporate strategies to help your students become more efficient, self-reliant spellers. This includes five printables, student work samples, and three easy to use spelling strategies for your students.