Many of the students I work with are reluctant readers so asking them to write something down, too, can be challenging at times. To get kids into the habit of journaling each time they read, I use a journal entry called "What's Happening?"
After we've spent 10-15 minutes of reading time in class, I spend a few minutes talking about the importance of keeping track of what's happening in our books. One way we keep track of what we're reading is by completing this sentence starter before/after we read: I'm at the part where... For the book I'm currently reading, my journal entry would look and sound like this:
What's Happening? if i stay by Gayle Forman July 18, 2011
I'm at the part where Mia (the narrator) is remembering one of the fights that she and Adam (her boyfriend) had. Mia downplays her Julliard audition because she's feeling guilty about the fact that she forgot to mention to Adam that she was applying to Juliard in the first place.
My next step is to share this entry with my students and then ask them to give it a try. We spend 5-7 minutes writing our entries and then another 3-5 minutes sharing them as a class, or in small groups. Then, I ask them to read for another 10-15 minutes and we write down this entry a second time for this chunk of text.
During this work time, I walk around to a few different groups. I pick up one student's book, quickly skim the page, and when he/she is done writing his/her journal entry, I ask him/her to share it with me. As I do so, I'm listening/checking for enough information to tell if this student is:
- Actually reading his/her book
- Paying attention to what's happening
- Knows who's involved
- Can recall what's happening
This quick reading conference is one way that I can assess a student's basic understanding of what he/she is reading. As we adopt journaling as part of our regular reading practice, the next time we read/journal in class, I'll have the chance to check other student work as well.
As a way to remember where they left off the last time they read, often, reluctant readers will spend a lot of their reading time re-reading, but they don't have to. Instead, the next time they read their books, they can open up their reading journals, re-read this entry and quickly remember what's happening.
Throughout the first term, my students and I spend a lot of time working with simple journal entries like this. Showing students the importance of remembering what they read helps them develop a positive habit many good readers do automatically without any help. More importantly, it builds their skill and confidence as readers, which lays the foundation for the more challenging journaling work we'll do later.