Before beginning a new school year with new things, last year’s notebook deserves a nod. My campus did a book study on Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer last summer. While you certainly could read what I have here, print some charts, and set up a notebook, I must insist you read this book. This notebook doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it was created over the course of Miller’s teaching career. The guiding philosophies of why to do something like this are best explained by her, and the anecdotal stories are very helpful. Beyond that, the book itself was not about just a Reader’s Notebook, it is an entire plan for how to teach Reading in a way that infects students with a passion for the subject, and will inspire you personally in your life as a reader.
Your first step would be to set up a model notebook, and actually use it. It is not just for the sake of showing what it looks like, but to show that you are a reader too. So, why am I not showing you pictures of my model notebook to effectively model it for you? It is locked in a cabinet at work :(. I am starting a new one for next year and thought I wouldn’t need to bring it home. You will need a composition book, tabs of some kind to mark off the sections, glue and some printed charts similar to the ones you will find further down. The notebooks my class used last year had these sections:
1.Reading List: This section is for recording which books you have read and your progress in the 40 book challenge. It the first section in the notebook and begins with the menu of the 40 book challenge, followed by several pages of reading list pages, followed by a graph if you are interested in that sort of thing.
The actual checklist is a little bit arbitrary, it is just supposed to make sure students have variety in their reading diet. It could be adjusted to reflect more directly the flow of your district’s curriculuar units. I will be tweaking mine some more. Does the 40 book challenge work? Surprisingly, yes. More of them read 40 or far surpassed it than did not. Those who did not still ranked above a respectable 20.
2.Reading Plans: This is a section for students to record the title, author and any other information on books they have heard about and want to read in the future. It may be that they saw some in the library, were recommended by a friend, listened to a peer’s book commercial, or read a review. I dedicated several pages in the notebook to this. We didn’t glue anything in. Students made a few pages of 3-column charts with headings of “Title”, “Author”, and “About.” I think that this upcoming year I will give only one page to this section and sticky notes can be added and removed, that way it never really fills up.
3. Reading Responses: In this part of the notebook, we section off thirty or so pages (enough for almost one per school week.) On the first pages we glue in a list of possible writing prompts. Each week, the student writes a letter to the teacher in this section of the notebook and the teacher writes them back. The prompts are just suggestions for those kids who have difficulty writing deeper than just a drive-by summary of what has happened so far. A reading response letter should be more reflective, the student’s personal response or reaction to the piece.
An Aside: Writing back to 50 or 60 kids is enough to drive you up a wall. Each weekend I was taking a laundry basket full of composition books home to answer letters. I would sit at my kitchen table while my son cried for me at the baby gate, and because I was pregnant I would cry too. Also because I was pregnant, I was full of a more than normal rage in my return letters to kids that after 6 weeks of modeling and responding and me writing back about how they should do it, are still either telling me the plot and nothing else or writing the blurb from the back cover like I won’t notice. When I returned from maternity leave, the kids were like, “When are you going to write letters again?”, and I was like, “”*cough* What letters?” Some suggest not making it weekly or having them write to each other. If they write to each other, you don’t really know what they are doing. I do believe that it is worthwhile if you can make it work. A lot of the kids who were doing it right and even some who weren’t loved that I was writing letters back to them. It made them feel respected as a fellow reader. If you can make this work in a traditional public school setting, more power to you. I will be trying something else this year for my own sanity. I think this method would be very well suited for homeschool, small private school or other more intimate educational settings where the student to teacher ratio is smaller. I can picture a mom and daughter each with their own notebook, writing back and forth in the reading response section to each other about what they are reading. Can you imagine what a strong bond and love of books would be born out of that?
4.Class Notes: Any notes that accompany a mini-lesson would be taken in this section. This and the Reading Response section would be your two largest chunks of the notebook.
5.New Words: I added this section (which was not in the book) with the hopes that I would create a specific assignment for new words that are found during independent reading. It got lost in the mix of keeping a balanced literacy schedule and ended up something that only my more driven students used as they saw fit. I’ve made my peace with that outcome. If you choose to include this section, figure out specifically what you want to do with it before the school year starts. This year I am more inclined to have them write it on a sticky note and we will do something with it in the writing notebook later.
There it is, the little world we created together in a notebook last year. I venture away from this model with some hesitation because it was a good one. In the coming week, I will explain my plans for the 2014-2015 Reader’s Notebook.