Reading Response Journals

During parent-teacher interviews this year, there were a number of parents asking for homework. Now, if you know me, you know my thoughts on homework – it’s a waste of time! Ok…before getting upset with me, please hear me out. A child either understands a concept or they don’t. Without guidance and specific support, sending home that same concept that they struggled with all day, just brings the struggle into their home life and I don’t think that’s fair. If they get it, why are they having to do more practice? Students also have lives outside of the classroom where rich learning is happening. Through sports, clubs, or areas of interest that they are investigating on their own, valuable life lessons are being learned, some of which aren’t or can’t be taught in the classroom. I have a bunch of other reasons that I can add and perhaps that’s a whole other blog post! Back to my point. Parents were asking for additional practice at home, many holding a genuine fear that their child would be “behind” due to the effects of the pandemic on schooling, particularly at the end of the last school year. Wanting to honour their feeling, we started Reading Response Journals. 

I teach Grade 5 students and have asked them to read for at least 20 minutes a day.  I have noticed that many have been unsure of what they like reading and I was worried that attaching a task to the reading might take away from the enjoyment of reading for some. I also knew that for others, this “task” might encourage them to read and possibly explore different texts. That being said, I know that it is challenging for some to find texts at this time due to library closures. In class, we have had discussions about texts and students are aware of our virtual library where they can find texts online and I also shared the link to chapters of short stories that I like reading. I also gifted students 2 books this year so that we could ensure that they had something to read, particularly since the expectation is to respond to what they read. Equipped with something to read, we identified that this journal is a place where students can write about their reactions to what they are reading. A place for students to try to explain why a text made them laugh, or cry, or angry, or surprised, or made them think of something entirely unrelated. It is a place to write down their questions or predictions about what will happen next. Students were given a variety of prompts to help get them started. Some of which include:

  • This is different from …
  • I wish …
  • I wonder if …/  I wonder why…
  • This gives me an idea to …
  • It is hard to believe that…

I also wanted the journal to be a place to also have students reflect on themselves as a reader. As such, they were also given questions to consider. Some of which include:

  • Give your own opinions about issues that have arisen from your reading the book. In what ways has reading this text helped you to better understand some of the issues in the world?
  • Didn’t quite like a book? Why is that? Please share your difficulties and struggles as you read the book or your reason for abandoning it.
  • As you read, what difficulties did you find in understanding the text? What strategies did you use to help you overcome this challenge?
  • How do you know when you are not understanding during reading? What do you notice? What changes do you make?

The goal of the journal is to also help students further develop their writing fluency, confidence, and personal writing style. Students are asked to remember to re-read their work before handing it in; being sure to check for the writing conventions we have spoken about – punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc. 

Due on Friday mornings, the goal is to be able to have at least 3 entries to share with me every week. One of the first questions that I got was about length. “Ms. Lambert, how long does each entry have to be?” I told them that I was looking at quality over quantity and that I really wanted them to take the time to read, and then share with me what they felt about what they were reading. Every weekend, I’ve taken their response journals home and have truly enjoyed reading them.  Sure some have forgotten to hand in their work and others have written anthologies. It’s also really neat to see how excited they are to share them with each other. Many have asked to read them aloud or have me read them. All-in-all, the feedback on our reading response journals has been positive and while there is no grade attached to their response journals, students are taking the time to write and the feedback is leading to an improvement in their writing. I still stick by my feelings against homework but I must admit that I enjoy reading their thoughts on the books they are reading. Speaking of which, I have a stack that I need to get back to!

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Updated: December 29, 2020 — 11:21 am

The Author

Arianna Lambert

I'm a grade 4/5 Teacher in the Toronto District School Board who loves integrating technology and mindfulness in the classroom. Through inquiry and design, I work with students who are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities; developing core competencies, while creating ways to make the world an even better place. I am the recipient of a TDSB Excellence Award for the co-creation of #tdsbEd, Twitter chats for educators. Through conversations on trends in Education from STEAM to Mindfulness, it has become an online community of educators dedicated to improving their practice to ensure greater student success, well-being and achievement.

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