Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Juggling Time for Reading and Response

In a May 30th comment box Mary raised the issue of there being a fine line between asking kids to respond in a thoughtful manner to texts they read and one that doesn’t take too much time away from their independent reading. She writes that her children often get caught up filling in their response sheets when perhaps time would be better spent reading.

I understand her dilemma and I have experienced it often myself. And admittedly if I went back to classroom teaching tomorrow I’d have to seriously reconsider the amount and type of response I ask students to make. Especially in light of the Carnegie Corporation’s 2010 Writing to Read Report that recommends, based on a meta-analysis of reading and writing research, that teachers have students write about texts they read to improve to improve their reading. The report states on page 5 that “students’ comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts is improved when they write about what they read, specifically when they:

•  respond to a text in writing (writing personal reactions, analyzing and interpreting the text)
•  write summaries of text
•  write notes about a text
•  answer questions about a text in writing, or create or answer written questions about a text.

So you see, not only would I need to consider how much kids should respond during the reading workshop but also how to get them to write more throughout the content-area times of day. How often and the types of responses I might ask them to make would, of course, depend on children's age and stage of reading development, but would certainly include more…more drawing, more writing, more quick writes, more writing about what they are learning. If studies cited in the Carnegie Report link writing to children's reading development then I’d be remise not to consider how this might play out in my own classroom. And unfortunately I’d still be left with the dilemma of how increase the amount of responding children to without taking precious time away from their reading. No quick fix here…just the challenge of figuring out a personal solution to this ever-so-important juggling dilemma. (Thanks Mary, for raising the issue.)


  1. With literature, I like to use a response journal that uses a specific format intended to guide readers toward reflection. There is a rubric-- it seems complicated at first glance, but students catch on very quickly!-- that outlines very clearly how to respond.

    Basically, I ask that students write a three paragraph response to reading and conclude with two questions.

    The first paragraph is a brief summary of the portion of the text they read-- if reading fiction, they need to tell me noteworthy events from the selection and provide some context.

    The second paragraph is what I call a "golden line" and their explanation: they choose a quotation from the text that they think is especially salient-- either it sticks with them or it really lends meaning or importance to the overall selection. They are asked to provide some context for the line and then explain why it was chosen and how it contributes to the text.

    Their third paragraph is for making connections; they should choose a type of connection (text to text, text to self, text to world) and illustrate and explain it.

    Finally, they conclude with two questions that either seek to clarify the reading (something they didn't quite understand) or to seek more information (extending beyond the text, perhaps predicting, etc.)

    I'm not sure if this is a great way to incorporate writing into the reading process, but it seems like an excellent way to get students to closely consider a text. Completing these responses to prepare for a discussion typically lead to fruitful talk about the readings.

  2. I'm so happy to see this addressed here. My 2nd graders kept response journals in their book bins this year, but I was so neglectful at asking them to do their thinking through writing that they were half-blank when I sent them home today. (Well, at least they were half-full, right?! lol) I think I need to schedule time for a 5-minute written reflection next year to make sure there's some sort of "talking back to your book" writing going on. This will help cement my kids' reading ideas as we close our workshop. I also am guilty of leaving out any sort of wrap-up where kids can share what worked in their reading and what might not have. So many ideas for next year.....

  3. Doing better with an "end of the workshop share" is on my list for next year, too!

    Any thoughts about homework? I ask students (1st grade) to read (alone or with a parent, sibling...) for at least 15 minutes each evening. They record titles and authors each night M-Th and there is typically some kind of related "job" each week. For example, if we've been working on making mental images, they might draw a picture about an image they made during their reading that week and write about how the strategy helps them as a reader. It seemed that the recording and assignments got "old" for the students this year, unlike others, and I didn't get a lot of quality work from home.

    Another thing I plan to work on next year is keeping my classroom library more organized, so that students (and I) can find "just right" books more conveniently. I have LOTS of books and don't feel that I make the best use of them. As in lots of classrooms, space is an issue. There are many times that I know I have a certain book, but can't find it. I'd love some brilliant ideas about organizing a large classroom library.

  4. hi jennifer, sorry for the delayed response. it really seems like you've thought this very important matter through and sound like it's working for you. i'm assuming you don't require this of students every day though...that would take a lot of time away from their independent reading. the important thing here is balance...balancing reading with opportunities to respond. hope to hear from you again.

  5. hi wendi, i know...i always used to hate sending notebooks home half empty--or as you said "half full." (much better way to think of it.) problem is we get so enthusiastic at the start of the year and try to start up too many things. i learned the hard way (and over many years) that less is more. it's better to select fewer things to do and recognize all that you're accomplishing by doing those fewer things well.

    and one of those things we should never give up is share time. it's so important as you so stated in your post. it's so tempting to say "i'll skip it for today." and then today becomes tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. share time's a keeper...i know you'll figure out a way to make it work. enjoy the summer.

  6. hi linda, homework's alway a bit of a concern. i tried to not let it take up too much of my thinking though. i did the same as you did with the 15 minutes of reading each night and logging the book and author. i didn't try to attach a strategy with it though. i doubt that asking my kids to do so on their own and outside a read-aloud demonstration would have made sense for most of them. the most important thing is that they practiced reading each night. i hope you have a wonderful and relaxing summer. stay in touch and enjoy...

  7. Hi Sharon! I was wondering if you could tell me where Ann Marie Corgill teaches now and what grade. Thanks! Lindsay

  8. hi lindsay, ann marie isn't in the classroom now. she's doing consulting—independent consulting and consulting through "developmental studies." you can probably reach her through her blog "AM Literacy Learning Log." sharon

  9. Hi Sharon and friends,
    As even more and more research comes out on how writing across the curriculum propels learning, the question of how much time should be spent on written response is becoming common in professional learning communities. Like anything else, balance is key. Many of these writing opportunities can be quick and informal--thus, not taking a lot of time but giving us a lot of bang for our buck. Another idea: integrate technology to expand opportunties for response. A classroom blog or digital space on voicethread can create additional options that are really motivating to students!
    Happy writing! -j

  10. hi janel, i've been hearing a lot of exciting possibilities about classroom blogs. they seem to be opening up tons of opportunities for kids to respond to what they're learning, thinking, and reading.

  11. Responding to reading has been something I've been reflecting about after finishing this year with my ESL first graders. In the beginning of the year my students filled out response sheets with sentence frames, my favorite part was when ____. I liked this part because____. And we worked on these responses throughout the year. We also did ___(character name) is____-. I think so because_____., with non fiction: I learned____.THese responses were most successful with read alouds, when we had in depth discussions and students practiced talking with their partner about what they may write. I would write possible responses on chart paper and then students would write either alone or with a partner. These lessons proved to be effective. With our discussion and sentence frames as a scaffold, my students were successful. I never felt that the majority of my students were successful with these responses with their independent level text and working independently. For next year I want students to do more of the responses independently at mid-year, I'm thinking once a week. I'm looking for suggestions... While the whole class/discussions/responses might increase to twice a week. I'm also wondering about the retellings, mentioned in the report you shared. That just seems to be so tedious and difficult for my students. I just never felt confident even modeling how I expected them to do these kinds of responses. We did many beginning, middle, endings, and students would add pictures to our chart, but on their own it was difficult. Any ideas?

  12. sharon--

    definitely not every time we read. something to note, though: i am teaching middle school, not elementary. i do find, however, that so many of the elementary ideas and methods are applicable to my practice as a language arts teacher.