Variety is the Spice of Life (and it keeps writing about reading alive!)

by Toni Czekanski, Intermediate & Middle School Collaborative Trainer

In our January 26th blog we began to talk about writing about reading and how it can be introduced through letter writing between the student and teacher using the texts that students read during independent reading time as the source of reflection.  This accomplishes several things.  It allows the teacher to have a window into the student’s thinking about texts that are at the independent level for that student.  The student has time to reflect on reading, and compose a letter to share thinking, and receive feedback from the teacher in a conversational way.  The teacher can gather assessment data about how the student understands text, and lift or deepen thinking through the response, which can ask for evidence or prompt the student to think more about specific comments.

Once letters have been established, it is helpful to expand the students’ repertoire to include other genres of writing.  Some of these are informal, like note taking, while others stretch along a continuum from double column entries to lists; story boards to poems; blogs to literary essays.  The options are almost endless.  We want to give students the opportunity not only to learn about the variety of ways to respond, but to find ways that allow them to express themselves and show their strengths as readers and writers.

Whatever genre or form we decide to introduce to students, we need to consider how to support them in learning how to use that form.  This can generally be accomplished through showing an example or two of the form and analyzing its features.  Then we would demonstrate how we might compose it.  Once that has been done, the next step would be to do some shared writing in that form or genre.  This would be done around a shared text.  Since all students will have to know the text well in order to draw or write about it together, using an interactive read aloud that has been previously read aloud is a useful thing to do.  In shared writing the students and teacher compose the text together, so it is important for students to contribute ideas both about content and about the elements of the form of writing.

During the shared writing you first think together about what was evident from the model response to reading that the teacher demonstrated.  What did the students notice about how it was constructed? The features that it contained?   What did they notice the teacher do as she constructed her own text…identify the process as well as the characteristics of the response, and then try it out.  Once the elements of the form are understood, the students can compose the response…short or long, formal or informal.  Using what they understand about the text, they construct the response, using the form that was modeled.  This process could take two or three days, or a week, depending on the students’ age, and the amount of support they need, as well as the complexity of the reading response form.  A two-column response might take less time to teach than a literary essay.

A few possible forms and genres for responding to reading might include:

letters                         notes                           sketches                     storyboards

graphic organizers    plot summaries         critiques                     book reviews

blog posts                   wiki discussions         slide shows                posters

biographical sketch   interviews                  outlines                      poetic response

scripts                         analysis grids             literary essays           diagrams

illustrator study        response to interesting language or quotes

Some of these are less formal and might be done on a weekly basis, others might require more time, including time for revision and editing before being submitted, and be done less frequently.

Once you have introduced the form and process for a few of these genres of drawing and writing about reading, students can choose from a menu of options that will allow them to consider what forms they enjoy, or what response fits best with the type of reading they are doing.  There may be times when you require specific kinds of response, and others where you leave the choice to the students.  The important thing is that students have a variety of ways to express their thinking, and that this is a valuable tool for reflection before, during, and after reading.  For the teacher, it provides a record of the students’ thinking that allows for assessment and planning for future instruction.   For further information see Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2006). Teaching for comprehending and fluency:  Thinking, talking, and writing about reading, K-8. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, chapter 28,  “Writing about Reading in a Variety of Genres.”

2 thoughts on “Variety is the Spice of Life (and it keeps writing about reading alive!)

    • Thanks for your comment, Gen. Spreading the news about writing about reading to your content area teachers might be a great place to go next year…thinking of ways to respond to science or social studies reading…to give students more time to write about their reading in a variety of content areas as well as in ELA class:)

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