The Reader's Notebook: Grades 3–12

By Angela Bunyi on September 9, 2010


One of the nice advantages of moving from grade 3 to grade 5 online with Scholastic is that I can pull up old posts and enhance them and share how I have modified certain materials and resources to fit different grade levels. One of my staples has been the use of a Reader's Notebook. I believe they are beneficial all the way from grade 3 to grade 12, and I would love to share multiple resources and tools you can use to launch, implement, and manage the use of a Reader's Notebook in your classroom this year.    


Part I: Using a Reader's Notebook in Grades 3–6

(This portion of the post was originally published 11/08.)

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What Is a Reader's Notebook?

My students use Fountas and Pinnell's Reader's Notebook to record what they are reading, what they are thinking (through a weekly reading reflection), and what they were wondering or learned through guided reading. It's a nice organizational tool and showcases growth throughout the year. It's extremely sturdy and has lasted each of my students the entire school year. You can view each section at Heinemann's site.

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Photo: Each colored section is printed on sturdy card stock that won't rip with normal wear and tear.

If you don't have the finances to afford these notebooks, our very own Beth Newingham has provided a free Reader's Notebook template in PDF form. This would then require that each student have a personal binder and copies are made for each student.  I have personally tried both methods, and keep finding myself back with Heinemann's products, this year included. 

Why Should We Use a Reader's Notebook?

My students use Fountas and Pinnell's Reader's Notebook to record what they are reading, what they are thinking (through a weekly reading reflection), and what they are wondering about or learning through guided reading. It's a nice organizational tool and showcases growth throughout the year. The various sections allow your students to record books they're reading, books they want to read in the future, the different genres completed, and notes for book talks or guided reading sessions. It also gives them the opportunity to reflect on and respond to what they're reading. Throughout the year, growth is so evident. The Reader's Notebook becomes a valuable assessment tool for you, the parents, and your students.

How Do You Use the Different Sections of a Reader's Notebook?

Reading Log: When a book is picked up, it goes into the log. This helps me see if there is a pattern of books being dropped uncompleted. It also allows me to see how long students are taking to complete books, and how they're perceiving the genres and levels of difficulty.

Books to Be Read: I encourage my students to use this section during share time when a book of interest is mentioned. It prevents students from hoarding a book in their personal book bin, when another student could be reading it during that time. 

Guided Reading/Book Club: There is a lot of flexibility on utilizing this section, but I really enjoy the guidelines on working in small groups. 

Reading Reflection Letters: Using the workshop approach, I ask students to complete a weekly reading reflection the day before meeting with me. So, for example, if you are going to meet with me on Wednesday, Tuesday would be the day to stop and reflect in your notebook. It's also a good time to make sure the reading log is updated. Students are free to write these letters during our reading or writing block.

How Does Reading Reflection Work?

1. Grammar

For the first two grading periods, I make sure to focus on the content of the letters, not the grammar. Though it's very tempting to correct grammar at times, I save my observations for my writing conferences. For example, if I note that a student is not uppercasing their characters' names, I look for that teaching point in their Writer's Notebook. Most of the time, if a grammar error is found in the reflection, it can be found in their everyday writing. At most, I offer my suggestion orally, in passing. It sounds something like this: "I noticed you didn't underline the title of the book. Make sure you do that next time." For the first two weeks, I never make corrections to the actual letter.

2. Feedback

"I ain't going to the fair," the student tells me.

"Oh, you aren't going to the fair. Why not?" I reply.

I essentially do the same thing when I respond back to my students' reading reflections. If the title of the story isn't underlined or uppercased, I make it a point to put that somewhere in my letter. For example, I'll write: "I also love Maniac Magee. Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorite authors."

I would like to share some ways I model deeper thinking through written feedback:

For example, a student writes: "I like this book. It is really, really, really funny. You should read it to the class Mrs. Bunyi."

When I receive this sort of reflection, I usually respond with something like, " What makes this book so funny? Is it like any other book we have read together so far? Please tell me more in your next letter to me!" Again, I am encouraging that student to dig deeper with her reading response with little to no work at all.

"I just started this book. I am on page 14, so I can't really tell you much."

It was a student that helped me figure this one out. If you are at the beginning of a book, you might want to spend some time inferring what is going to happen. You only need a few pages of reading to do that. You can also write down the questions that you have before and during reading. So when I read a statement like this, I usually write, "I am happy to see you are trying this book. It would be really interesting to read what you are inferring or questioning about this novel at this point. Can you take a moment to jot those thoughts down? You might want to look at our thinking stem charts for help."

3. Taking a Deeper Look at Reading Strategies, Conventions, and Format

Bring in the anchor charts!  Instead of handing my students a long list of possible writing stems, we have slowly added different ways to reflect about our reading on anchor charts. These charts have stayed on our walls all year and will continue to grow as we discuss more reading strategies. At this point in the year, we have addressed three reading strategies in depth and just introduced determining importance. Following is an outline of how we have modeled the use of reading letters each week.

Friendly_letter

The first thing we address at the beginning of the year is the friendly letter format found in the Reader's Notebook. This is a handy resource that stays with each child throughout the year.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Making Connections

Metacognition_chart

Good for during and after reading. Reading responses might use natural language instead of something formal like, "I had a text to text connection." Who says that anyway? This was the first thing we modeled and discussed this year.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Inferring

Infer_chart

Good for before and during reading. After a short introduction to the meaning of schema, this is the next reading strategy that we address during Reader's Workshop. It continues to be the most popular area of reflection in our weekly letters.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Questioning

Question_chart

Good for beforeduring, and after reading. Never stop asking questions! This chart includes some of the thinking stems that can be included in our reading reflections. I particularly like "It confused me," as it allows a student to share what they are not understanding.

Reading Strategy and Thinking Stems: Determining Importance

Determing_importance_stems

Good for after reading. Rather than just saying, "I finished the book," students can take a moment to write about what was important in the story. These thinking stems really help support deeper thinking and reflection.

Stop and Reflect on What We've Learned So Far

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Reflection_letter_sample

Review Chart: Now that we have spent ample time working on our reading responses, we step up the standards with care to format, content, and conventions. This chart shows how we review what we have learned so far. Regarding grammar, I will still refrain from making corrections to the actual letter. I will, however, make note of it in my conference book and remind the student to correct or add this in future letters.

Student Examples: I also think showing exemplar reading responses is a great thing. With permission, you can copy and share some writing from your students. In the above example, the student talks about his reading partnership meetings, he includes a quick summary, and uses wording such as "I am inferring" to discuss a character's actions. With regard to conventions, care has been given to following the friendly letter format (closing and signature not shown for privacy purposes). 

Part II: Using a Reader's Notebook in Grades 512

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A Different  Reader's Notebook With More Options!

I am entirely pleased with Linda Reif's version of a Reader's/Writer's Notebook. She created her notebooks after years of trial and error in her own classroom. As a result, she has hit a home run in the Reading Notebook field. She not only offers all of the components laid out above, but she has two additional sections that we heavily rely on for vocabulary and spelling. I'll write about these three additional sections before addressing how I manage and help students maintain their notebooks for the school year. 

Here is a PDF sample of several sections of the in-depth Reader's and Writer's Notebook.

Vocabulary

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Each week my students are on the lookout for four to five new interesting vocabulary words. Just as in real life, most of our learned vocabulary comes from the million or so words we read and encounter each year. By providing five small sticky tabs, students are free to pull out a tab and mark a word while reading. They don't have to stop what they are doing and look up the meaning, but can just use a strategy taught in class, such as replacing the word or using context clues. However, once a week students stop and take the time to go back and look at those words again. They decide if it is a word they will try to use in their future writing or conversation. If it passes this test, the students use the vocabulary section to do the following:

~ Record the title of the book.

~ Record the page where the word was found.

~ Record the excerpt where the word was found.

~ Infer or look up the definition of the word.

~ Bonuses include researching the etymology or including a picture scene that supports the definition.

This component is so routine that it has become part of our homework assignment for the week. Students come to our one-on-one conferences ready to showcase their collected words. Every other week a rubric is used to help increase the depth of this assignment. 

Spelling

In addition to Words Their Way, I utilize our Reader's Notebook to address high frequency words and words misspelled in students' writing each week. I teach students that spelling really does matter, and to try all spelling strategies possible when writing. However, after several attempts to spell a word, they simply circle it and move on. During our writing conference time, we select which words will be recorded in their spelling section of the notebook. Although it is not shown here, it's a simple page with Words to Learn. Students will take time throughout the week focusing on four to five of those words with a partner in order to learn how to spell them correctly. This can be learned about in depth through a post I wrote last year on individualizing spelling instruction.  

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Photo: In addition to the spelling list, there are several built-in spelling lessons you can use with your class.

Book Log

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One addition I found under this reading log, created by Rief, was a better rating system than the 3–6 version. This includes a 1–5 rating as well as a best one-word (or short phrase) description. I think it works very well for my 5th graders, and some of them are quite amusing. "Earth shattering" is a pretty high ranking, for example.


Reading Letters

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Quality Reflections

The best thing about this Reader's Notebook is that you can fully model and discuss how to artfully and deeply write about what you are reading. 

That's because there is direct support in a book by Linda Rief titled Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook. Thinking stems are replaced with concrete reading letters from real students that go beyond a simple connection or summary. In fact, half of the book is filled with sample letters you can share with your classroom. This includes various ways you can help your students respond to their reading, such as addressing one scene or creating poetry.

For now, my students are required to spend twenty minutes for this weekly letter. It is part of homework and students are starting to use their post-it note thoughts to help guide them with their writing and reflections. I respond back to each student at the start of our individual conference time while the student makes corrections to their writing and looks for words that may be misspelled.

I would highly recommend this book and found it to be an easy read. You can purchase it through Heinemann.


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Topics That Support the Reader's Notebook

Here are a few links that support how you can utilize a Reader's Notebook to the highest potential. Please ask any questions you have here, and I will be happy to answer them for you.

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Vocabulary Strategies That Help

Excerpt: It is estimated that students learn between 3,000 and 4,000 new words each year, with the typical student knowing some 25,000 words by the end of elementary school. It is obvious that learning five preselected vocabulary words from a basal textbook doesn't make the grade. Even if a new word is taught each day, in addition to the five preselected vocabulary words for the week, that is still fewer than 400 words a year. So, how can we maximize vocabulary acquisition? In the link above, you'll find five ways to support your readers in becoming vocabulary virtuosos.

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A Blended Approach to Reading and Writing Conferences

Excerpt: I have been utilizing the Reading and Writing Workshop method for almost a decade now. As a former literacy coach and a current teacher of the gifted and high achieving, I most often have other teachers ask me for help or suggestions with regard to reading and writing conferences. The questions I am asked most often are: How do you manage meeting with your students? How do you organize conferences and/or do you have any forms or notebooks that you use? What do you talk about during a conference? How do you share this information with parents or use it for assessment?

Videos and several printables are provided in this post.

Individualizing Spelling Instruction and Strategies

Photo: These students are practicing their self-selected spelling words with the "Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check" form.


Excerpt: Whether your district mandates a certain spelling program or allows some flexibility in meeting your students' specific needs with individualized spelling lists, I have some easy to incorporate strategies to help your students become more efficient, self-reliant spellers. This includes five printables, student work samples, and three easy to use spelling strategies for your students.

Best,

Angela

Comments

How many students do you use this with. I am teaching 5th grade reading departmentalized, so I will have 5 classes of 22 students for 50 mins each day, 5 days a week. How would you suggest a way to set this up. I would really would like to do this but I'm having a hard time figuring out the best way to do all of this for 100+ students. Thank you for any help, ideas, and suggestions.

Try having your students write a book sell...like Reading Rainbow

Angela,

A few of my students are growing bored of writing letters. I like to offer my students choice but also want to be sure the assignement demonstrates not only understanding of the text but gives me a glimpse of the thinking strategies they used while reading. Any suggestions?

Hi Angela,

I`m not sure it will help, she knows my child is giving only 20% of her potential and she thinks is kids falt. It`s an american school in Brazil, so we have the same curriculum as you. My kid is gifted, the thinking process is faster than the teacher, but she likes the teacher a lot so she is hidding herself. I have a meeting with the head master looking for help in how to say those thinks to the teacher or not. How to help my kid that loves school. Bye Lilian

Labramo,

First, how neat to hear from a reader in Brazil. I'm glad that you have enjoyed my posts.

Regarding your child's current teacher, the most I can suggest is to build a relationship with the teacher...volunteer in the classroom and work closely with your child at home. Last year, I had several parents that were in the room to help every week. When they suggested a particular lesson or idea, I listened! In fact, one of my parents I flat our depended on. You can do the same and start by sending out posts/articles that may assist your teacher and her students. Even with varying teaching styles, we are always willing to learn more and try something new. :)

I hope that helps!

Best,

Angela

I am falling in love with your teaching style, beliefs and practices.I'm a mother of a 8 years old girl with a very fast thinking and abbility to make connections. She is an Indigo/cristal girl. An we have a very conservative third grade teacher that is not feeling the kid. She told me the class is boring and explain it to me like that: Miss ... teachind is like "LAZY Town and me I'm myself" - she thinks this serie is for babies, mummy - she said- the pencils and pens are all the time calling me to play when she is teachin and I can not resist...", when she is focosing is like she is making a favor to the teacher that she likes as a person and thinks she is sweet. There is much more...belive me, can yuo help me? We are in Brazil in an American School. Thank you in advanced,bye.

Bridget,

I can relate. Do you have the book I suggested above from Linda Reif? It's a huge help, to at least model what a letter should sound like and how it might be focused...especially at the 5th grade level. I have also been busy copying good examples from our class for another teacher who is struggling with this as well. The more examples, the better.

However, with your students taking post-it notes while reading, it sounds like you are on the right track. You might just need to give it time!

Angela

Angela, I also use a version of the readers' notebook and my students write to me weekly about their reading and their thinking. However, they are really struggling with telling me about their thinking. I teach thinking strategies and have modeled how to use post-its, etc... but still find that this is difficult for the kiddos. Any suggestions? Thanks for your posts. I'm a 5th grade teacher and I thank you for your inspiration and ideas!

Hello Brooke,

I am not sure my rubric would truly work for you because it is tightly tied to the reader's notebook sections detailed above. This includes a rating for:

~ the book log being updated

~ weekly reflection letter completed with the following components: letter took 20+ minutes to complete, includes higher thinking with a focus on comprehension strategies (eg- I am wondering/inferring), and follows proper letter guidelines.

~ the note section is updated and follows proper conventions

~ the vocabulary section is updated and follows guidelines (title of book, page number, word underlined, excerpt where word was found, and definition- 4-5 a week).

~ Spelling list is updated.

My rubric came out to 20 points possible, which you can switch to a percent pretty easily.

I hope that helps! If you want my copy, let me know. I simply created three columns: the criteria, student rating 1-5, and my rating. I included a comment box below this for additional notes.

Best,

Angela

omg doesnt ypur hand get sore !!!!!!??? i think that thats exhoustig
how can u write all of that ..................
:O

Angela, I really love all of your ideas and find them extremely helpful. I do a type of reading response journals with my 4th graders and am looking for a good rubric to grade their responses. Could you post the rubric you use to grade your responses? Thanks for giving us insight into your wonderful teaching ideas!

Stephanie,

I promise I responded, but I was surprised to see my comment was not here anymore (or maybe never at all). So, forgive me for a quicker version, but here it goes:

Assessment is here to stay, and I too spent much of my first weeks giving out mandated assessments. Test, test, test. It's part of the monster, so don't beat yourself up about using class time for any test prep. In fact, I'd be worried for you if you didn't include some. It just doesn't need to be a diet...minor connections and applications. For example, if you have been focusing on questioning for a reading strategy, how does that apply to standardized testing? Take a short passage and have students ID which questions are thick vs. thin questions. Thin questions require highlighting where the answer was found, while thick questions require strategically eliminating wrong answers.

I think this will answer your other question on assessment. Assessment types- It takes a few minutes to give the above assessment, while class time is spent on reading. Rubrics, our reader's notebooks, writing about our reading, Dinah Zike flip books, and yes, an occasional worksheet. The world will keep on turning, and you'll still be considered a great teacher by your students, faculty, and parents. I promise. :)

Finally, based on my grade level last year, our team had a variety of teaching methods and styles. Our test scores were pretty close to each other in the literacy department. The important question is which style makes the life-long impact that has meaning? I'll let you decide that for yourself...I've figured that one out for sure.

Angela

Angela, I am falling in love with your teaching style, beliefs and practices. There are best practices and there are Bunyi practices - a combination of theory, research and reality. I am truly blessed to stumble across your blog and I kick myself for not looking online sooner. It is my first year teaching 3rd grade and I am in love with all the possibilities. Especially since I was able to loop up with 14/18 of my students from last year. But I am completely weighed down with the daily/weekly/monthly battle of keeping high stakes test preparation out of my plans. I swore to myself I wouldn't mention the test until it was time to worry about it. (unless of course it was brought up by one of my students because I do not want to undermine their feelings about it.) But I failed at least twice already. We are now on day 20 of third grade and I can honestly say that for about 7 of those days, the main activity of the day was formal assessment. (For the obvious purpose of establishing baseline data) But seriously!! I feel like all I do is test, test, test. I am not even completely done yet- one of my personal favorites, the DRA still has to be done. But the point of my post here is to ask: how confident are you that all the efforts put forth in the reading/writing workshops that you foster and conduct will not only produce lifelong learners, but also students who can pass those darned standardized high stakes tests? I began the year with F&Pinnell's 20 days of school. Our reading workshop is underway. Unfortunately I am also mandated to teach from our reading anthology series "with fidelity." I believe I have found a way to find a happy medium between both (workshop/basal) but I that ugly test monster is constantly haunting me at night tempting me to print and run off a whole load of test prep. I guess what I am looking for is assurance in the form of proof, proven results, and sweet advice from someone who has been through it. (I did enjoy your blog on test prep with the "Great Bunyi"

Uggh... and one more question. What elements of the reading workshop do you use for reading grades on your report cards? What do you do outside of the workshop to assess them and count towards that report card grade? I know how to assess each individual as a learner. I am working quickly towards achieving my reading "doctorate" so I can be a physician!! But that report card piece is always tricky...

Thanks for your help and good luck in your running. You completely inspire me!

Raye,

That sounds great. When Beth and I spoke, that was one of the advantages of printing the reader's notebook out. You can add sections, pages, etc. that you want for your students. However, in my case, the 5-12 reader's notebook has everything I need...it feels like it was made for our class and fits perfectly. Glad to hear you have one that is working for you as well. :)

Best,

Angela

Hey Josh,

Great question on managing them. I address 5 notebooks a day informally during individual conferences. I use a rubric to address the various components and have a parent that picks them up on Fridays and returns them in the afternoon (I know. Lucky!). I do have a rubric that I have used for a grade. I'll get it posted here shortly for you. But other than grades, I am perfectly fine with not using it as a grade anyway. I do like it to make it home once a week so parents can see what we are doing (eg- notes section, reading log, our letters to each other, vocabulary collected, etc.).

I hope that helps...

Angela

I love Reader's Notebooks. I made my own using some ideas from Beth and your idea of blended conferences (because otherwise I feel like I never have enough time to do the conferences justice) and we just started school so we'll see how they go. I printed and bound them myself because in the long run, it was cheaper and offered me custom options. I love them!

Angela,

I love the Reader's Notebook idea, I just have difficulty managing everyone's notebooks. Do you collect them on a daily basis and respond to letters? On a weekly basis? Is there a rubric you use when grading these responses?

Of course you are given richer insight as to each student's ability and mastery of skills and concepts with this approach, but how do grades play into the Reader's Notebook for the "almighty gradebook"? :)

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