Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reading Journal Fridays

So last night I received a question on Teachers Pay Teachers about my reading journal that I do on Fridays with my fifth graders.  I answered it, and I thought it was a great opportunity to talk about it here.  I have a freebie for you too, all the way at the bottom.  So hear me out...

There's so little time in the day to really relax, be creative, and slowly learn how to be better at something.  It's CCS madness where I teach, and we are go, go, go all the time.  I know they need a break, and frankly by Friday, I do too!  So my grade level partner and I had a pow wow (love her) and Reading Journal Friday was born.

My students are assigned independent reading as part of their homework in the 5th grade: 800 pages in the first semester, 1200 in the second, and 1500 in the third semester.  It's hard keeping track of that (I use reading logs, reading responses for hw, and parent volunteers for book chats.  If anyone can chime in on how you tackle this, PLEASE share...I'm always looking for ways to change it up a bit). That boils down to about 100 pages a week for each student.  And I'm aware that they all do not reach that goal, but I want them to try.  Just read, people!  It's a good thing!  Anyways, I digress....

Friday morning comes and that's when they get to relax and write in their journals.  I turn on Pandora Film Scores Channel (or something similar) and let them write for 20 minutes.  They write about their independent reading for the week.  I structure it so they tell me a summary in the first paragraph of their letter, and a reaction paragraph as the second.  It's written in a form of a letter (so this doubles as letter-writing instruction) to me.  There's a specific rubric they follow so they know exactly what is expected.  
Anecdote time:

I had a student last year who HATED writing, I mean LOATHED it with all of his being!  He had 0’s on all of his district writing prompts because of his simple refusal to write.  Not that he couldn’t, he just “didn’t like it.”  And this is a bright boy, my friends!  When I sprang it on him that his new teacher in a new school was actually expecting him to write everysinglefridaymorning there was a lot of resistance.  However, by June, it was ahhhmazing to see how far he had come.  “Hey, when we gonna listen to music and write?” was a common question each Friday morning as he would walk into the classroom with his backpack wrapped around his forehead (everysingleday, forehead wrap).  I was so excited that my most reluctant writer ever, in my history of teaching, was actually asking me to write.  It’s the small things… So the moral of this story is that it is classroom tested and the students love it--even the tough ones.  

I also learned the hard way that you have to model, model, model EACH week.  When we first start this activity at the end of September, they need a solid model of what I am looking for.  I respond to the current read aloud so all students are aware of the book/characters, etc. I found that if I fail to model, their journals suffer.  I literally hand-write a letter to them, modeling grammar, penmanship, etc and we have a conversation as a class about the criteria for their letters to me. 

Now, responding to each and every child is the tricky part.  In my first year of teaching, I was completely overwhelmed to read 20+ journals on a weekly basis.  I vowed there had to be a better way! So, my refined-but-definitely-not-perfect way is this: I color code the journals with ribbon (usually 4-5 different colors, hot glued to the back cover). Some days, I might collect the only one color to read. That leaves 4-5 journals to respond to nightly, which is more manageable. Sometimes, I might collect a couple colors, depending on what's going on or how much time I have. Other options that I have tried are having the kids trade journals and write a letter back to their peer or having a parent respond to the journal for weekend homework.  On busy days where I want to check all the students’ journals, I might have them write a list of some sort that is easier and quicker to check. This might give you the opportunity to flip back in their journals and do a quick inventory of how their writing is progressing.  My goal is to write a letter back to each and every student on a weekly basis. It doesn’t have to be something long and drawn out, but just something that connects you to that child.

Second anecdote:

I had a select mute last year.  She would rarely talk to me or make eye contact with me, however, she was excellent at expressing herself through writing.  I learned more about that little girl through these journals than I would have if I spent a year on a deserted island with her.  She just felt comfortable writing…she didn’t have to share, her friends didn’t see, just me.  To top it off, she had great ideas and thoughts, and deep down she was just another bubbly, girly, pink-loving 11 year old.  And that’s something special.

So, here it is.  It’s always up for free here.  I just ask that you leave feedback. I'd love to hear how to improve upon this, or any ideas that you do in your classroom as part of a written response.  I know this was a wordy post, and thanks if you made it all the way to the end!  

Here's some pictures of my student's journals from last year:

Happy mid-hot July!

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