The Reader's Notebook
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Once I did away with the basal many years ago and adopted the Reading Workshop approach in my classroom, I quickly realized that my students needed a place to organize their reading materials, keep track of the books they read, and record the thinking they do about their reading. After trying out a variety of different versions of a Reader's Notebook, including a spiral notebook and a Duo-Tang folder, I finally determined that a binder was the most user-friendly solution.
A binder works so well for my readers because it provides them with an efficient way to add new handouts, quickly access information, and easily refer to previous reading responses in the six carefully organized sections of the binder.
I can't imagine running my Reading Workshop without having my students maintain a Reader's Notebook. It is in this notebook that students build their reading lives over the course of the year. READ ON to learn more about the sections I include in my Reader's Notebook and find links to download the resources I include in each section.
The Reader's Notebook
My Reader's Notebook is a one-inch view binder with a personalized cover and a spine labeled with each student's name. The binder has six sections that are separated with colored, labeled tabs.
Below is a description of what I include in each section.
1. Reading Log
I chose this as the first section in the notebook because it's something that students need to access easily and often. Every time my students complete a book, they record the book's title and author, and the date they complete the book. After learning about the different genres in our library, students also record the book's genre using a genre code. (See section two for more details about genre.) I find it necessary for my students to also include the book's color coded level and then determine if the book was E (easy), JR (just right), or C (challenging) after they have finished reading it.
Recording the actual level with their corresponding level of comfort with the book is an important component of my reading log because my students are constantly encouraged to reflect on their personal reading growth. It's through the regular recording of their books that students realize when a color code is becoming easier for them as the year progresses. It's at this point that they may decide to try out a book at a higher level. Students revisit their reading log often when making connections between books they are currently reading and books they have read previously. They also use their reading log to create genre graphs at the end of each unit of study (see section two).
I choose to print multiple copies of the reading log on card stock instead of regular paper so the reading log pages do not rip out of the students' binders. This record of reading is such an important reflection of each student's reading growth over the school year, so spending a little extra money on card stock to make sure the log stays in the binder is worth it to me!
The first resource in this section is the "Genre Overview" sheet. At the beginning of the year when students are still becoming familiar with the characteristics of each genre and the corresponding genre codes, I can direct them to this sheet without having to meet with students every time they're not sure of the genre of a particular book. I use the genre codes suggested by Fountas and Pinnell.
At the end of every unit of study, students count up the number of books they have read in each genre and record the number on the "What Genres Am I Reading?" sheet. They then use the information to create a genre graph that reflects their variety (or lack of variety) of reading during IDR time. The graphs are often a wake-up call for students who get too comfortable reading a single genre, and they are a great way for me to get a quick overview of what each student is choosing to read. The results of the genre graphs often lead students to set genre-specific reading goals each month. (See more information about setting reading goals in section three.)
3. Goals and Progress
This is another important section on my Reader's Notebook because it is a place for students to really keep track of their growth as a reader throughout the year. This section is great for showing parents or referring to when completing report cards.
Students' Personal Reading Goals
The first resource in this section is the "My Reading Goals" sheet. At the beginning of each month, my students set goals for themselves as readers. Of course I do quite a bit of modeling prior to asking students to set their own goals. I encourage students to set a goal in at least three of the categories listed below. I added sample goals in each category.
Word Attack & Fluency Goals
• Use more expression when I read.
• Use the strategy ______________ to decode unfamiliar words.
• Pay more attention to punctuation when I read (periods, quotation marks, commas, etc.).
• Read a minimum of ___ pages each day.
• Read a book from the ________ genre this month.
• Read ___ books in the ___________ genre this month.
• Try reading a book from the __________ series this month because I haven’t tried this series before.
• Read ____ chapter books this month.
• Become an expert on _________ by reading books about this topic.
• Stop after every chapter and think about what I am reading.
• Use Post-it notes as stop signs to make myself “stop and think.”
• Reread when something doesn’t make sense.
Reading Behavior Goals
• Remember to record every book I read.
• Read without distracting others.
• Read only books that are just right for me.
• Always do the IDR task that is assigned.
Color Code Form
The second resource in this section is the "What Is My Just Right Color?" sheet. This sheet is used as a visual record of a student's progression through the color codes in our classroom library throughout the school year. When I see students choosing to read books well below or above their "just right" color code, I can quickly flip to this section of their notebook and remind them of the books they should be reading.
Books I Plan to Read
Optional resources in this section include the "Books I Plan to Read" sheet and the "Chapter Books vs. Picture Books" recording sheet. Since students may find books in the classroom library that they are interested in reading but are too challenging for them at a certain point in the year, they are encouraged to record those books on the "Books I Plan to Read" sheet so that they can remember to choose those books when they do feel more comfortable at the higher level. Students may even use this sheet to plan future reading of "just right" books by certain authors or books that are part of a favorite series.
Chapter Books vs. Picture Books
The "Chapter Books vs. Picture Books" sheet is used when I have students who should be reading chapter books but who are instead reading picture books the majority of the time. Third grade is a transitional year for many readers. While students want to read chapter books at the beginning of the year, I find that many readers will fall back into picture books because they are a quick, "easy-to-read" choice. Setting goals in this area is helpful for some readers.
4. Mini-Lesson Handouts
There are times when I want to provide students with a helpful handout that will assist them with an independent reading task or a sheet that I think they might want to reference when reading on their own. Examples include decoding strategies, class charts (that I type up after a mini-lesson), etc. I like this section because students can easily access resources from mini-lessons during independent reading, and I can also refer to the handouts when conferring with students if I find it necessary to reference a specific lesson or concept I have previously taught. I make sure to only ask students to add a handout to their table of contents if I truly think they may refer to it at a later time. Each time students add a handout to their binder, they write the title of the handout on their "Mini-Lesson Handout Table of Contents" and write a page number on the bottom of the handout.
I will do a separate post on reading partnerships later in the year, but this section is a place for students to keep all of the recording sheets from this unit in one safe place so that they are not misplaced when students need to meet with their partners. Take a look at my Reading Partnership Unit.
6. Reading Response
When transitioning from an actual notebook to a binder, it was difficult for me to determine what this section of my Reader's Notebook would look like. When using a spiral notebook, it was hard for my 3rd graders to keep their responses organized, and I was frustrated when trying to read their responses. This section of my binder is now more structured. There are three ways that students respond to their reading on a daily basis.
IDR Task Sheets
I ask students to use these task sheets when I just want them to do a quick task when reading during IDR (individualized daily reading) time. I want my students reading for the majority of IDR time and am careful not to always give them tasks that take up the entire time that should be spent reading self-selected texts from their book box.
Sticky Note Tracker Sheet
There are other times when I just want them to write about their reading on sticky notes as they make their way through their books. I tell my students to "talk back" to their books as they read. Whenever they talk back to their book, they leave a sticky note on that page. Although I confer with students often, I can't be there with them during every book they read. For this reason, I ask them to take the sticky notes out of their books when they are done and attach them to a "Sticky Note Tracker Sheet" that is then added to their Reader's Notebook. This way I can see the thinking that is taking place on a regular basis and use it as a tool to guide my individual conversations and necessary instruction with specific students.
Reading Response Topics
Students also have lined paper in this last section of their notebook. While the IDR task sheets and the "Sticky Note Tracker Sheets" are used when I want students to quickly record their thinking as they read or show their understanding of a mini-lesson concept, the reading response topics are to be used when I expect students to truly write about their reading. As a class, we create a rubric that is used to evaluate the quality of students' responses. Students are required to complete a reading response entry twice a month. For students who I believe need to be challenged, I may ask request weekly responses.
Reader's Notebook Assessment
Since students are constantly using their Reader's Notebook to record books they've read, reflect on their reading, track their reading progress, talk back to their books, and set reading goals, it is important that I take time to check in on their work. It is also important to hold my students accountable for maintaining their Reader's Notebook and using it to improve their reading. For this reason, I created a Reader's Notebook Rubric that I use to assess the effort, care, and thought that is put into each student's notebook.
Whenever I formally assess the notebooks, I have the students take them home for their parents to review as well. It is important for parents to observe their child's reading growth over the year, and the Reader's Notebook is a very concrete way for parents to see it.
Reader's Notebook Storage
I like to have my students' Reader's Notebooks kept with their book boxes in one place. This way students need to make only one stop on their way to the reading carpet for the mini-lesson. Their notebooks are kept right next to their book boxes on special bookshelves in our classroom.
Assessment in the Reading Workshop
Check back soon for my next post that will focus on assessment in the Reading Workshop. I will describe the ways I formally and informally assess my readers on a regular basis and how I then use the information to guide my future teaching.