Reading Journals

This week in my class on Language Acquisition and Reading, our lesson is on Reading. The first section was on reading for content classes (science, history, etc) and the second section is on reading literature.

I wish, I wish, I WISH the teachers I had in school had simply done a better job explaining what we were doing! I’m recognizing a lot of things I did in English classes for analyzing literature and I vaguely remember it being called “Close Reading”, but I seem to have missed the memo on “Close Reading” being a specific way of reading literature. I mean, I knew it had a set structure, but I never understood why it was WRONG to pay too much attention to just getting lost in the story!

Had they done a simple compare and contrast of “Close Reading” (paying attention primarily to the structure of the story) v. “Reader Response” (paying attention primarily to ideas the story evokes), I think I would have enjoyed English a little bit more. Because as it was, I hated English because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to just enjoy books and I really didn’t understand why it was so important to look at the structures used by the author since I have no desire to be a professional literary writer.

Now that I understand why it’s important to learn about structure as much as content, I’d be fine with analyzing a piece of literature based on it’s structure! It’s not that one way of looking at literature is better or worse (which I thought back in high school), but that they are different.

Especially with poetry.

I don’t like poetry because you can’t read poetry. I mean, you can, but it has to be read aloud. Which is fine if you like reading aloud! But I like seeing a story and I can’t see a story if I’m stumbling over pronunciations and making sure that I’m pausing in all the right places (which are never at the end of a line even though the lines don’t take up the entire width of the page….WHY?!?!?!). It bugs the crap out of me.

Ooh! Brainstorm! Whenever I have to deal with poetry in my future classroom, I will always prep for the class by re-writing the poems! I will write them out as though prose (except without the distracting /s) and use ellipses (…) as necessary. Though, I’m pretty darn good at pausing at the commas! Haha. This way I can read them as they are meant to be read (and continue to wonder why the heck they’re structured stupidly to start with!).

Anyway, Bitching about poetry wasn’t the reason I started writing this  post. I’m supposed to be writing about Reading Journals.

There are 4 types:

  1. Response Journals: where the student reflects after each chapter, usually in response to a prompt given by the teacher, though they can be free-written.
  2. Literary: the student pretends to be one of the characters and reflects from that POV.
  3. Double Entry: where the left side of the page is a quotation and the right side is a question or reflection (I remember doing this for Pride and Prejudice, an assignment I actually enjoyed).
  4. Dialogue Journals: where the student and teacher (or two students) have a written discussion about the book within the confines of a journal.

As a letter writer, I think I will rely heavily on Dialogue Journals! I’m 1000x more confident on paper than vocally and I feel much more comfortable writing to my professors than I do speaking to them, especially when I have a question. I imagine this is true for many students who do not want to look silly in front of the class.

Thinking about the Double-Entry Journal we did for Pride and Prejudice, I felt self-conscious about my teacher reading it because I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track about things. I knew that I was getting graded for my work in it and the feedback was always about creating a correct Journal and making the right kinds of connections/inferences, not about specific things that I’d written. Not a conversation about the book and my ideas on it. An actual conversation about it would have been really nice, since I rarely talked in class.

I’m sure a lot of the questions I wrote in that Journal never got answered. I assume that my way of approaching a book hasn’t changed much, so many of the quotes I questioned or reflected on were things that made me laugh or made me cringe. The journal is long, long gone, but I know it would have been nice if it’d had some dialogue with my teacher in it where she gave her opinions on the book and my thoughts rather than simply “that’s interesting” and “good insights” or whatever other generic statements she could make. There was nothing that made me want to dive deeper into what I’d already written about in the journal. Why go back to a previous chapter when the next chapter’s reflections are due this week?

Probably one of the best responses I ever got from a teacher on an assignment was in the Environments of Lewis and Clark course in college where on a homework assignment we were asked to list 3 uses of water in the home. One of mine was “watering the cats and dogs” (because I couldn’t figure out a better way to word this particular chore). The professor drew a little picture of a cat with a watering can over it’s head that let me know that she had smiled at my terminology. I felt like we were on the same page about the question and that we were cool. It let me know that she’d read my answer and had a personal response to it. That meant a lot.

Since I’m an avid reader, I hope to have read many of the books that my students will read so that I can have a real conversation with them about their books in their Journals. I’d treat it like a mini, private book club where the students are free to share even their wildest ideas about the books because everyone is entitled to have any reaction they want to a particular book.

And if we’re learning about the structure of literary works (which is important!), I will make sure that my students understand that analyzing structure is different from having merely an aesthetic response to a book. Because there are a lot of crappy books being written today which lack even a semblance of literary structure and that’s not cool!

As Architects say, “Form Follows Function”. In reading as many sources of news that I do, it’s critical to realize when a form exists for a very specific reason (poetry be damned).

Okay. I relent: A haiku exists only as a form: meaning has nothing to do with it’s structure. I think?

Question: How often to homeschooling parents “grade” their children’s reading journals? Do many curriculum require that children keep such journals?

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