For years my action research focused on developing critical thinkers. Following that I began action research on how to respond to reading while fine-tuning critical thinking skills. I found that while my students were thinking critically about a text - discussions were meaningful, thought-provoking and engaging - they weren't transferring that thinking when writing about reading. Last year, a colleague and I spent the better part of our winter break formulating a plan that would turn the tables on writing about reading.
First, we had to decide what was really important:
Reading logs and reading journals don't do it for us - or our students. Years ago I had a parent ask me some pretty tough questions that led me to reflect on my practice enough to realize that I no longer wanted to send home reading logs. The reading log was a management and accountability tool. It killed joy in reading at home and I found that there were other (better) ways of holding my students accountable for reading. Same thing with reading journals. An arbitrary paragraph about what was read was unnecessary - it told me nothing about who they were as readers. I reworked my conferring schedule to meet with students to actually read, practice and discuss.
The writing had to match the thinking. If our students were practicing high quality, rigorous thinking it was our job to make sure they were supported and engaged in producing high quality, rigorous writing. It wasn't enough to tell them what to write but we had to practice, discuss and begin feedback loops. We had to introduce craft elements, opportunities to develop voice and provide an authentic audience to share. If the questions we asked weren't going to support this level of thinking and writing - we didn't ask them.
Students had to own the process. We didn't want to assign our WAR (Writing about Reading) and hear groans. We wanted our students to be ready, willing and engaged in this work. We wanted them to value their thoughts and voice so much that they would ASK us to write. In order for this to happen the students had to take ownership over their reading and their thinking. They had to have their own voice and know that an audience wanted to hear it. In addition to this, they also had to feel supported. We wrote several WARs together as a class, we analyzed our work, found areas for growth, built continuums and practice effective feedback strategies.
We had to have a clear purpose and communicate that clear purpose to our students. Why were we writing about our reading? First we had to identify this reason ourselves. Writing about reading practices essential reading, writing and critical thinking skills. We would be asking big questions that would require students to dig deep into the text to collect evidence and develop thought. This was something we both wished we had been taught in school - because we needed this skill to communicate our ideas effectively, form compelling arguments and find a voice.
Once had identified our purpose and guiding criteria we then began with the end and identified what the final product would look like.
How do your students write about reading?
Here are a few other great links to writing about reading: