How To Write “Long” About Reading

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This statement is sticking with me following a session at a conference with Kate Roberts.

As I prepare for the next school year I am thinking, processing and evaluating where I am in my education as a teacher. I recently found out that I will be teaching THIRD GRADE! There was some shifting in staff and I was asked if I would be interested in the challenge. I am very excited, nervous…nervous, excited! I’ve been teaching preschool, kindergarten or first grade for the past fourteen years. This will be a big change for me, but one I am ready to take.

Let’s face it, writing about reading is tough. It can turn into a chore that students don’t enjoy if we are not careful about how we use it. When we find ourselves strictly using it for constructed response only to a prompt or strictly for checking to see if students are actually reading, it takes a lot of the joy out of the process. Once the joy is gone, well, there goes the learning too. We might as well stop doing it altogether if that is our only purpose. When I begin to think about how writing about reading enhances the learning, I am also trying to wrap my head around making it enjoyable.

One of the first skills students need to effectively respond is, learn when and where a good spot to pause comes in a text and then be thoughtful about what they want to annotate. Kate said, often their notes reflect very general information. She used a funny example. When asking a student what he thought about a character, the student responded with, “She’s brave. Really, really brave.” Though this might be accurate and even reflect some surface ideas, we want our students to think a little more deeply about why the character demonstrates this trait. What in the text made you stop and think, “She’s brave,” and why is this important?

Kate also made the point that students should gain a lot from the act of writing about what they are reading. To do this, kids really need to write “long” about their reading, not just annotate. How do we make this task attainable without risking a long boring retell? She listed some prompts for students to use throughout their writing that would hopefully help move them along. It’s important to note, as she did, that the students should think on their own when using the prompts and not just go through and use each prompt because it’s there.

Here are Kate’s prompts that push a student’s thinking:

  • I think…
  • For example…
  • This is important because…
  • The reason for this is…
  • On the other hand…
  • So, what I am really trying to say is…

Kate demonstrated how to take an annotation and then expand it into a long passage about her thinking. As she did this, when she began to struggle a bit with her verbal composition, we yelled out a prompt to continue the movement of her piece. I thought this was a great idea. As the teacher, we should demonstrate the struggle a bit. She recommends writing “long” about reading once a week. Annotating happens along the way, but when we really want kids to dive into their thinking a little deeper, once a week is enough.

What did I take away from all of this? I need to learn more about writing about reading if I am going to teach third grade. There is a lot I don’t know yet and I’m not sure I know, right now, how to make it joyful. I might have thought a general retell or summary was acceptable, but I learned it really isn’t. I need to help students stretch their thinking and decide on the important parts, not just any part. I will have to practice this myself over the summer. Blogging has allowed me to write long about my reading in the past, but I’m not sure I really thought about why or how it has stretched me as a learner, as a reader and a writer. I’d like to examine that a bit so I can share my findings with my students.

As I take all my notes from the conference I attended this week and begin processing my new adventure, I’m going to be like that character, brave, really, really brave.