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.
Vocabulary Strategies That Help
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.
A Blended Approach to Reading and Writing Conferences
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.
Once I did away with the basal many years ago and adopted the Reading Workshop approach in my classroom, I quickly realized that my students needed a place to organize their reading materials, keep track of the books they read, and record the thinking they do about their reading. After trying out a variety of different versions of a Reader's Notebook, including a spiral notebook and a Duo-Tang folder, I finally determined that a binder was the most user-friendly solution.
A binder works so well for my readers because it provides them with an efficient way to add new handouts, quickly access information, and easily refer to previous reading responses in the six carefully organized sections of the binder.
I can't imagine running my Reading Workshop without having my students maintain a Reader's Notebook. It is in this notebook that students build their reading lives over the course of the year. READ ON to learn more about the sections I include in my Reader's Notebook and find links to download the resources I include in each section.
The Reader's Notebook
My Reader's Notebook is a one-inch view binder with a personalized cover and a spine labeled with each student's name. The binder has six sections that are separated with colored, labeled tabs.
Below is a description of what I include in each section.
1. Reading Log
I chose this as the first section in the notebook because it's something that students need to access easily and often. Every time my students complete a book, they record the book's title and author, and the date they complete the book. After learning about the different genres in our library, students also record the book's genre using a genre code. (See section two for more details about genre.) I find it necessary for my students to also include the book's color coded level and then determine if the book was E (easy), JR (just right), or C (challenging) after they have finished reading it.
Recording the actual level with their corresponding level of comfort with the book is an important component of my reading log because my students are constantly encouraged to reflect on their personal reading growth. It's through the regular recording of their books that students realize when a color code is becoming easier for them as the year progresses. It's at this point that they may decide to try out a book at a higher level. Students revisit their reading log often when making connections between books they are currently reading and books they have read previously. They also use their reading log to create genre graphs at the end of each unit of study (see section two).
I choose to print multiple copies of the reading log on card stock instead of regular paper so the reading log pages do not rip out of the students' binders. This record of reading is such an important reflection of each student's reading growth over the school year, so spending a little extra money on card stock to make sure the log stays in the binder is worth it to me!
Download Reading Log
The first resource in this section is the "Genre Overview" sheet. At the beginning of the year when students are still becoming familiar with the characteristics of each genre and the corresponding genre codes, I can direct them to this sheet without having to meet with students every time they're not sure of the genre of a particular book. I use the genre codes suggested by Fountas and Pinnell.
Download "Genre Overview"
At the end of every unit of study, students count up the number of books they have read in each genre and record the number on the "What Genres Am I Reading?" sheet. They then use the information to create a genre graph that reflects their variety (or lack of variety) of reading during IDR time. The graphs are often a wake-up call for students who get too comfortable reading a single genre, and they are a great way for me to get a quick overview of what each student is choosing to read. The results of the genre graphs often lead students to set genre-specific reading goals each month. (See more information about setting reading goals in section three.)
Download "What Genres Am I Reading?"
Download Genre Graph 0–5
Download Genre Graph 0–10
Download Genre Graph 0–20
Download Genre Graph 0–30
3. Goals and Progress
This is another important section on my Reader's Notebook because it is a place for students to really keep track of their growth as a reader throughout the year. This section is great for showing parents or referring to when completing report cards.
Students' Personal Reading Goals
The first resource in this section is the "My Reading Goals" sheet. At the beginning of each month, my students set goals for themselves as readers. Of course I do quite a bit of modeling prior to asking students to set their own goals. I encourage students to set a goal in at least three of the categories listed below. I added sample goals in each category.
Word Attack & Fluency Goals
• Use more expression when I read.
• Use the strategy ______________ to decode unfamiliar words.
• Pay more attention to punctuation when I read (periods, quotation marks, commas, etc.).
• Read a minimum of ___ pages each day.
• Read a book from the ________ genre this month.
• Read ___ books in the ___________ genre this month.
• Try reading a book from the __________ series this month because I haven’t tried this series before.
• Read ____ chapter books this month.
• Become an expert on _________ by reading books about this topic.
• Stop after every chapter and think about what I am reading.
• Use Post-it notes as stop signs to make myself “stop and think.”
• Reread when something doesn’t make sense.
Reading Behavior Goals
• Remember to record every book I read.
• Read without distracting others.
• Read only books that are just right for me.
• Always do the IDR task that is assigned.
Color Code Form
The second resource in this section is the "What Is My Just Right Color?" sheet. This sheet is used as a visual record of a student's progression through the color codes in our classroom library throughout the school year. When I see students choosing to read books well below or above their "just right" color code, I can quickly flip to this section of their notebook and remind them of the books they should be reading.
Download Color Code Form
Books I Plan to Read
Optional resources in this section include the "Books I Plan to Read" sheet and the "Chapter Books vs. Picture Books" recording sheet. Since students may find books in the classroom library that they are interested in reading but are too challenging for them at a certain point in the year, they are encouraged to record those books on the "Books I Plan to Read" sheet so that they can remember to choose those books when they do feel more comfortable at the higher level. Students may even use this sheet to plan future reading of "just right" books by certain authors or books that are part of a favorite series.
Download "Books I Plan to Read"
Chapter Books vs. Picture Books
The "Chapter Books vs. Picture Books" sheet is used when I have students who should be reading chapter books but who are instead reading picture books the majority of the time. Third grade is a transitional year for many readers. While students want to read chapter books at the beginning of the year, I find that many readers will fall back into picture books because they are a quick, "easy-to-read" choice. Setting goals in this area is helpful for some readers.
Download "Chapter Books vs. Picture Books"
4. Mini-Lesson Handouts
There are times when I want to provide students with a helpful handout that will assist them with an independent reading task or a sheet that I think they might want to reference when reading on their own. Examples include decoding strategies, class charts (that I type up after a mini-lesson), etc. I like this section because students can easily access resources from mini-lessons during independent reading, and I can also refer to the handouts when conferring with students if I find it necessary to reference a specific lesson or concept I have previously taught. I make sure to only ask students to add a handout to their table of contents if I truly think they may refer to it at a later time. Each time students add a handout to their binder, they write the title of the handout on their "Mini-Lesson Handout Table of Contents" and write a page number on the bottom of the handout.
Download "Mini-Lesson Handouts Table of Contents"
5. Reading Partnerships
I will do a separate post on reading partnerships later in the year, but this section is a place for students to keep all of the recording sheets from this unit in one safe place so that they are not misplaced when students need to meet with their partners. Take a look at my Reading Partnership Unit.
6. Reading Response
When transitioning from an actual notebook to a binder, it was difficult for me to determine what this section of my Reader's Notebook would look like. When using a spiral notebook, it was hard for my 3rd graders to keep their responses organized, and I was frustrated when trying to read their responses. This section of my binder is now more structured. There are three ways that students respond to their reading on a daily basis.
IDR Task Sheets
I ask students to use these task sheets when I just want them to do a quick task when reading during IDR (individualized daily reading) time. I want my students reading for the majority of IDR time and am careful not to always give them tasks that take up the entire time that should be spent reading self-selected texts from their book box.
Download IDR Task Sheet
Sticky Note Tracker Sheet
There are other times when I just want them to write about their reading on sticky notes as they make their way through their books. I tell my students to "talk back" to their books as they read. Whenever they talk back to their book, they leave a sticky note on that page. Although I confer with students often, I can't be there with them during every book they read. For this reason, I ask them to take the sticky notes out of their books when they are done and attach them to a "Sticky Note Tracker Sheet" that is then added to their Reader's Notebook. This way I can see the thinking that is taking place on a regular basis and use it as a tool to guide my individual conversations and necessary instruction with specific students.
Download "Sticky Note Tracker Sheet"
Reading Response Topics
Students also have lined paper in this last section of their notebook. While the IDR task sheets and the "Sticky Note Tracker Sheets" are used when I want students to quickly record their thinking as they read or show their understanding of a mini-lesson concept, the reading response topics are to be used when I expect students to truly write about their reading. As a class, we create a rubric that is used to evaluate the quality of students' responses. Students are required to complete a reading response entry twice a month. For students who I believe need to be challenged, I may ask request weekly responses.
Download Reading Response Topics
Reader's Notebook Assessment
Since students are constantly using their Reader's Notebook to record books they've read, reflect on their reading, track their reading progress, talk back to their books, and set reading goals, it is important that I take time to check in on their work. It is also important to hold my students accountable for maintaining their Reader's Notebook and using it to improve their reading. For this reason, I created a Reader's Notebook Rubric that I use to assess the effort, care, and thought that is put into each student's notebook.
Whenever I formally assess the notebooks, I have the students take them home for their parents to review as well. It is important for parents to observe their child's reading growth over the year, and the Reader's Notebook is a very concrete way for parents to see it.
Download Reader's Notebook Rubric
Reader's Notebook Storage
I like to have my students' Reader's Notebooks kept with their book boxes in one place. This way students need to make only one stop on their way to the reading carpet for the mini-lesson. Their notebooks are kept right next to their book boxes on special bookshelves in our classroom.
Assessment in the Reading Workshop
Check back soon for my next post that will focus on assessment in the Reading Workshop. I will describe the ways I formally and informally assess my readers on a regular basis and how I then use the information to guide my future teaching.