When you walk into grade 3-6 classrooms during writing workshop, the covers of writing notebooks are often filled with photos, images, and quotes that remind young writers of stories in their lives. Right there on the cover, we see what is important to this writer. We learn a bit about their life, their interests, and their passions. The cover of the writing notebook is also a tool writers use when they are unsure what to write. The covers of the writing notebooks give us important information about the learners and serve as tools writers use when searching for new topics.
What about the cover of the reading notebook? Can the cover help us learn about our students’ reading lives? Can the cover be a tool to set learning goals?
We decided to use the front of the reading notebook as a place for students to reflect on their reading lives and the back as a place for setting goals. To jump-start this process we asked students to think about where they have come from as readers and how their reading lives have changed. Here are a few questions we asked readers to consider:
- What were your favorite read-alouds at home or at school?
- What do you like to read now?
- What did you like to read when you were younger?
- What was one of the first books you read on your own?
- What types of digital reading do you like to do?
- Where do you like to read?
- Who are your favorite authors and/or characters now?
- What authors and/or characters did you enjoy when you were younger?
Readers collected photos and images from their reading lives and organized them on the front of their notebooks. We also created our own notebooks so that we could share our reading lives with students and use them to model the process.
Here are the covers of our reading notebooks.
For Tammy, one turning-point book was Nickeled and Dimed in America, so she placed it in the middle. This is the first book she read when she joined a book club almost 11 years ago. This book helped her broaden the types of books she reads, so she keeps it at the center of her notebook to remind herself to continue to try new things. Tammy also added pictures of her family reading and pictures of the two of us with famous children’s book authors. We show this cover to students so that they can see that reading is not just what we do at school. It is a part of our lives. She also included photos of her Kindle app on her iPad and blogs she reads regularly. We want to make sure we show students she reads in many different forms. The rest of the books on the cover are ones she wants to share with teachers and students during the upcoming school year. She intentionally chose books for K-6 students since we work in all of those grade levels.
Clare has The Firm placed in the middle of her reading notebook. This book reminds her of when she first became a “wild reader.” When she joined her husband’s family vacation for the first time, she learned about their tradition. The night before they leave for Cape Cod, they all go book shopping—in stores, in libraries, and in each other’s homes. Everyone packs a bag of books and reads on vacation. Green Eggs and Ham is a book her mother always read to her, even though she stuttered and the rhymes were difficult for her. Although her mom has dementia, she can still recite the lines from this beloved text. Harry Potter is the series her family listened to as they drove cross country one summer. She also included photos of her Audible app to share the books she listens to. The rest of the books on the cover are ones she wants to share with teachers and students during the upcoming school year. She intentionally chose books for K-6 students since we work in all of those grade levels.
The images on our notebooks tell the stories of our reading lives and help us remember how we have grown and changed. This is important information we want to know about our students. Their images will open up conversations about reading, spark conversations between students, and help students realize how much they have already learned. We want our students to think about where they have been so they can set meaningful goals.
Setting New Goals
The back of the notebook we reserve for setting learning goals. As we launch reading workshop during these first few weeks of school, we share with students possibilities for learning. We share our reading goals and talk about how we hope to use our reading notebook over the course of the year. Here are some questions we pose to help students think about their own learning goals:
- What are you hoping to do more of as a reader?
- What would make reading easier and more enjoyable?
- Would learning new ways to solve tricky words make reading more enjoyable?
- Would learning strategies to help you focus interest you?
- What about strategies to help you know what to do when you are unsure what is happening in the book?
- What seems to get in your way when you are reading?
As students think about their answers to these questions, we also share the goals we posted on the back of our notebooks. These are goals we can share with students to help them think about their own learning.
Tammy posted pictures of the Skimm newsletter and Time magazine because one of her goals is to read more about current events. Babymouse is on the notebook because this fall she wants to read lots of graphic novels. She has also included pictures of Padlet and Kidblog because we want to try out some new digital tools.
Clare posted pictures of some articles she is reading to research a topic she wants to write about. She also has a picture of Tennessee. One of her dearest friends just moved there, and she wants to learn more about the area. Rutabaga The Adventure Chef is on the notebook because she is organizing a Graphic Novel Book Challenge and wants to read more of this genre. She also included pictures of Corkulous and QR codes because we are learning about these digital tools.
As readers see our goals, ponder their answers to our questions, participate in interactive read-aloud lessons, and watch as we show ways to use a reading notebook, they set some beginning goals. The students find images to represent their goals and paste them on their notebooks. These images spark important conversations about learning. As we look at these goals with students, we ask these questions:
- Why did you choose that goal?
- What are you hoping to get better at as a reader?
- What is your least favorite part about reading?
- What is easy about reading? What is difficult?
- How can we best support you this year?
- Let’s look at this assessment data together. How does it compare with the goals you set for yourself?
After students have had time to think about goals, their first entry in their notebook is a reflection about the front and/or back covers. We want students to take a few moments and write why they chose those particular images. These entries along with our classroom conversations give us a window into understanding students and a chance for students to understand themselves as learners. The reflections help learners take a step toward taking charge of their own learning. As we listen to student goals, and read their entries, we can weave their ideas about learning into classroom plans to create meaningful reading experiences for the students.
We believe that by beginning with reflection and goal setting, we are setting up our notebooks to be a reflective tool all year. Now as we learn new reading strategies, readers can revise and refine their goals and reflect on the progress they have made.