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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.

 

 

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

22 thoughts on “How To Write “Long” About Reading Leave a comment

  1. I have my middle school students write long about reading once a week and where we got off to a slow, boring start, followed by a little backlash that I was making them think too hard, our once- weekly long writes really showed growth in the area of deep thinking. I did lots of lessons on synthesis, layered with using the language of synthesis, and was really able to see my student’s growth as analytical writers about reading blossom. Trust the process!

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  2. Mandy,
    Thanks for sharing this post. I have been pondering writing about reading too, it seems the writing becomes too short, of if pressed for more of a retell. I love the idea of writing long as a demonstration lesson and asking the kids to push my thinking by using the prompts in your post. I looking forward to hearing more about all that you learned at your conference!

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  3. I’m inspired because I am always switching classes also as a spec ed teacher. The students need to write, especially the struggling students, yet I want to keep their enthusiasm for both reading and writing.

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  4. That is really good. I remember my third grade nearly 13 years ago, some vague ideas about writing had started to come. Unfortunately I won’t get a teacher who would recognize this for next 6 years! In ninth grade our English teacher gave us to write a poem as a summer vacation work and though I had written in Hindi, my mother tongue, writing in English was new and challenging. I finally came up with a long poem and that’s when my writing career began. Had I a someone to guide me back then I believe using a child imagination I could have written such wonderful tales that everyone would have been awestruck! Now I have to bang my head a thousand times for an idea. 😛
    Well as for you, congrats! You will love third grade. Kids are weird, whacko and really fun.

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  5. Thank you for this thoughtful post. The prompts are helpful. As I move into teaching 5th grade next year, I’ll be thinking about the same things..how to get kids to respond to their reading to deepen their understanding and not to just fill a requirement for me. Good luck with third grade. It’s such a great age!

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  6. Writing about reading is definitely a constant struggle–kids don’t do it particularly well (I teach 4th), they don’t like to do it, and when they do, they tend to fall back into retelling vs thinking about their reading. It’s a constant battle. it’s really helpful to model what a level 1, 2, 3, or 4 Stop and Jot (what we call it) looks like on various topics–questions, predictions, an inference, a surprising moment, character traits, etc. You can also let the kids see that stopping and jotting can be creative–they can draw a picture of a character and label it/describe the character (internal/external traits), they can sketch a scene and explain why it was meaningful, they can make a T-chart in historical fiction about what they are learning from the book about that historical time period vs what they think about that fact…Another helpful tool is book clubs. When kids write because they know they have to share it with their clubmates, it can help them write better (though again, they tend to fall into retelling–at least mine do!). Give kids a simple rubric for a stop and jot, and let them critique each other at a club meeting! They are more harsh than you will be! Best of luck in 3rd (I taught 3rd for 6 years…it’s super.)

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing, Betsy! It is such a challenge to show kids how to write long, without it becoming a chore, or a boring assignment. I can’t wait to hear more about your experiences moving to third grade!

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  8. I love using the signposts from Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst as a way to help the students notice when they should be stopping while reading and then noting the anchor questions that align to each signpost. These help the students really dig into the novel and see the connection between those natural “stopping/noticing” signpost moments and the character, plot, conflict, etc. As they finish a novel, I have my sixth graders reflect on the signposts and then write about how that signpost’s question provided them the opportunity to reflect on the character, plot, conflict, etc and think much more deeply about the novel.

    Another way I have my students write about reading is through using a Literary Magnifying Glass activity that I adapted from Ariel Sacks’ Whole Novels for the Whole Class. With this, I have my students select a scene from the novel that is particularly moving. Then they read it again, with their “read like a writer” hat on, looking for author’s craft elements and they write about how these craft elements contribute to setting the tone, mood, describe the character, setting, etc.

    I incorporated both these activities with my 6th graders last year and I was really happy with the way they helped the students write more deeply about their novels and reflect on how an author can draw you in. Bonus was they started to use the craft elements in their own writing.

    Good luck with 3rd…it will be a great adventure for both you and your students. Changing grades is a great way to stimulate our own teaching and learning.

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  9. This great post addresses the problem most of us face regarding written responses to reading – BOREDOM. I am anxious to share your insight and suggestions with my current “crop” of literacy workshop participants. Thank you – for all that you do to help teachers and kids.

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  10. I needed this post. I do have my students write about reading once a week, but they often struggle with writing long. The extra prompts will be helpful. So simple, but very effective. Thanks. And good luck with third grade! (My favorite grade to teach.)

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  11. There’s so much great thinking here!! I, too, struggle with making writing about reading meaningful AND enjoyable. I love the idea of showing the struggle and having the students yell out suggestions or prompts. When we did it this year in 6th grade, I was amazed at their thoughts! I need to have them do it more…I like the idea of about once a week. That makes sense to me. THANK YOU for sharing your thinking and learning. I’m so sad that I didn’t get to All Write, but I’m getting some of the best parts through posts like these! Oh and YAY!!!!!!! I’m so excited you’re moving to 3rd grade!!! You will be a wonderful 3rd grade teacher!!!!

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  12. You will love third grade and you are right on it when you write about the importance of them writing long about what they read once a week- not as a form of accountability, but as a way to develop as they write about literature. I like to use several different formats, in hopes that it does not feel stale.

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  13. I love this post!! Your story sounds like mine only I spent 14 years at grades 1 and 2 and took on the challenge of k-5 literacy coach last year. Same feeling :-). What you write about in this post is exactly what what our grade 2-5 teachers and I have discussed all year. I just couldn’t love this post more and thank you for sharing your story, your thoughts and your wisdom. It’s one I’ll come back to often and I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in third.

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  14. You’ll love third grade. I spent three glorious years there and was privileged to mentor one of “my” third graders as she began her teaching career.
    Betsy, I was in this session too. Now I have a “how to write a post about a conference session” mentor text! Thanks! I have to mention a favorite PD book on this same topic, Janet Angelillo’s Writing About Reading. If you don’t have it, you should.
    Stay brave, really brave for this new adventure.

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  15. Writing about reading really starts in 3rd grade. And you’re so right about the negative possible results if you make it an accountability move. By 5th grade they hate it if that happens. Looking at your own habits as a reader is a great place to start when considering what is reasonable. what builds the journey of thought. and when is it necessary. One of the best things that grows out of it is how it can build talk around books. Kate’s prompts are golden! I’m excited for your move to 3rd! I know your teaching mindset will bring much joy and learning to those kiddos!

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  16. I love this thinking.
    Especially about the idea of modeling writing long for the students. A perfect experience following up with that days read aloud.
    Good food for thought.

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  17. It is great to see how mindful you already are about focusing on the purpose & keeping the joy of writing about reading. You’ll find a healthy balance so it works for your third graders. Modeling and letting them struggle — as you know — is key.

    Btw: I have Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” In my head. Maybe that will become your theme song this year!

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  18. You will love third grade! I agree about reader response. those are struggles I face myself. It seems like I take the joy out of it because of accountability. But it seems like unless we make students accountable nothing gets done. This summer I am exploring other options. Good Luck and enjoy yourself…

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  19. Great post Betsy and welcome to third grade! I taught kindergarten for ten years and just this year made the switch to third grade. It has been a joyful, exciting year of learning! Writing about reading is challenging for all the reasons you describe. I’m in a Voxer group that Susan (LiteracyDocent) started specifically to discuss the Reading Notebook in third grade (Let us know if you want to join!). We’ve had a lot of rich conversations around accountability for reading and what we are asking students to do. Coming from K, I think my biggest mistake was expecting the students would be able to do some things without explicit modeling. Turns out they still need that! My favorite thing about the switch to third has been blogging with the students and also getting to read more complex chapter books. Third grade is a special place to be. Your class will be so lucky! Feel free to contact me if you want to talk more about the K to third transition! For me, it has completely revitalized my joy for teaching.

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    • I love all the points you bring up! I just spent my last 14 years at first and second grade. Then last year I took on the challenge of k-5 literacy coach. We’ve spent some time this year having the same conversations you speak of especially as it relates to reader’s notebooks. I usually keep up with your posts but in the last couple months I’ve not been so stellar. Let me know if you’ve written any posts on your readers notebooks. Would love to hear more!

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