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Responding to Reading: Monitoring Comprehension* Freebie!

I honestly don’t know how to teach reading without a notebook. When we write about our reading, we process, we explain, we explore, and we think new things about the text we read. We can generate ideas for our own writing, and think of things we hadn’t thought until they came pouring out of our pencils.

Share this with your students: share the value that writing about something brings; that you can think with a pencil better than with just your brain.

To support my readers in responding to literature, I had them make a reader’s notebook on the first day of school. I believe that, if it’s important, do it right away! So I did.

They decorated the covers with things that they enjoyed reading about.

Early in the year, I wanted to work with my students on monitoring their comprehension. In the upper grades, we often work with a whole crop of students who can decode like nobody’s business. And then you say, “Tell me about what you read,” and they give you blank stares. I’ve actually had a third grader glance at the pictures (after reading the whole story) and make a up a story just using the pictures.

Oh. My. Lord. That isn’t reading. That’s decoding. Decoding is not reading; they are not interchangeable.

So it was very clear to me that we had to start noticing our reading thoughts, and fast. I always start by reading a shocking book.

Yes, a very shocking book. One book I use to introduce this idea is It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way: A Barrio Story.

It’s a story about a boy who lives in the barrio, gets roped into being in a gang, and then almost loses his good friend to a gunshot.

Yes, shocking. Why? Why do I read this with my fourth graders? There are several reasons.

1. Some of them live in this world. It is the real world for a lot of our kids. We have to connect with their experiences.
2. It’s an important lesson about making choices within limited options; the reality they live in daily.
3. They will definitely think something while they listen to this book.

I read a little piece, and then I stop and think aloud. I think about personal reactions, mostly: feelings. I am surprised that…, I think he is going to…, I wish he would…,

And then I read some more, and then I stop and think aloud some more. I make predictions, and inferences about the character. And then I explain that I’m going to start writing some of these things down. I read, and then I stop and write. I have my students do the same; I read and then I stop and they write. This is a sample of an entry I wrote several years ago.

When I get to the really shocking part: the scene in which the girl gets shot and you don’t know if she’ll survive, I pause. I ask students to write about that part, without knowing what the ending will bring. And they always have something to say.

The reactions students record don’t have to be complex, or structured. I just want them to realize that, as they read, they think! 

After we do this together a few times, I move it to students’ independent reading responses. They read and respond to their independent reading book. I read their responses, just to make sure there is thinking going on while they are reading. It’s a simple way to get kids responding to their reading. 

Later, we move on to more structured responses. We start to code our thoughts based on the strategy they represent. We create sentence frames for each strategy to “help us think when we’re stuck.” Seriously, sometimes just saying the words, “I wonder…” or “I visualize…” helps you come up with a response!

As students get better at noticing their reading thoughts and writing about them, I model a more structured reading response. The first paragraph includes a brief summary of the reading. The second paragraph is about 3-4 sentences responding to the reading. At first, I’m just looking for authentic thoughts. Over time, I ask students to choose a focus to respond about; something their entire response will be about. This helps them dig deeper and not think so superficially about their reading. 

And for more ideas, check out “Responding to Reading,” a freebie on TPT!

Or my new Scaffolded Reading Responses for Fiction!

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  1. Another fabulous book dealing with gangs is Eve Bunting's Your Move. I used it very successfully with kids who deal with that pressure every day. I love the way you are using notebooks. When students see their thinking written out on paper, they become much more cognizant of what's going on in their heads.

    Krazy Town

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