Former students across the length of the west coast are groaning and rolling their eyes about now. I totally understand why. Although reading journals are wonderful tools to help students prove that they have read the material, they can be a complete drag. In my world, there are three parts to the reading journal: 1) writing a synopsis of what was read, 2) looking at the writing through the lens of the 6+1 writing traits, and 3) reflecting on what was read.
Students often love (okay, okay… like) to do either the synopsis or the reflection. Very few students enjoy doing both. I ask for five sentences for the synopsis and around 10 for the reflection. I ask that students take no more than 20 minutes for the whole process. It is interesting to watch students struggle with either writing too little for the synopsis or writing too much. The student who packs every idea into two sentences struggles, and the student who wants to continue writing on the back of the page struggles. Getting them to practice sequencing and pacing can be difficult.
For those who like the reflection part, they also struggle with saying enough, but there is more wiggle room because they can list their thoughts as they read, they can write questions for the author, or even write a poem. Some students list the words they learned and the definition. To be honest, the reflections are my favorite parts to read. Often, I read them out loud to the students to try to help them see what others thought. It can sometimes lead to great discussions on the text.
The middle section is the part where I’m trying to get students to think about the traits of strong writing. At first, I tell them which trait they need to consider. Later on they can choose between Idea and Content, Organization, Word Choice, or Voice. Right now, students have rubrics for Idea and Content and Organization which I encourage them to use as a reference.
I have had more luck with reading journals than I have had with Literature Circles. I tried those three years ago with some very competent students and I felt like it was a waste of time. But then I also feel that dioramas and cubes where kids write an idea on each side of the cube is a waste of time. I have a habit of trying to pack an assignment as full as I can because I want them to work.
Students are just now finishing up their first reading journals. I have said at least five times that they need at least five sentences for their synopsis, and there is plenty to say about the chapter. Yet, student after student has approached the desk with two and three sentence synopses. I scan their work and hand the paper right back. I also ask them to check their grammar and mechanics if it looks like they are forgetting things.
The first crack at reading journals is always difficult, and I often have to remind myself that with time and practice they will start to realize that reading is not just about what you take in, but also what you get out of reading.