Dialogue Journals: “Writing Informally About Reading”

In the beginning of the year I guided my fourth grade class through the first unit of study in the Lucy Calkin’s Reading Workshop: “Building a Reading Life.” Since then the class has done mostly nonfiction reading. I do give a weekly reading log homework assignment for which all of the students choose to read fiction. I recently revamped the log and re-emphasized its importance to my class. However, I still feel disconnected from their reading lives, outside of the important work we do to read and understand nonfiction texts in class. What do they enjoy reading outside of school? How are they pushing and challenging themselves as readers? What do they do when they get stuck or confused? How are they monitoring their understanding?

Inspired by the chapter “Writing Informally About Reading” in the Nancie Atwell edited Coming to Know: Writing to Learn in the Intermediate Grades, I decided to start using dialogue journals with my class to communicate more frequently, and more in-depth, about their reading lives.

Janine Pierpont, the author of this chapter, was inspired by Atwell’s use of dialogue journals in her seminal text In the Middle. She describes the method as:

Simply put, my students and I wrote letters back and forth to each other about the books we were reading… I decided to try dialogue journals, instead of assigning the traditional book report, because I wanted to hear my students’ reactions to and feelings about the books they were reading, not read countless plot summaries. I encouraged them to be open and informal when they wrote to me in their journals. Then, instead of… a grade… each student received a letter from me. (p. 98)

Yesterday I posed the prompt: “Write a letter to me about a book you are reading right now.” Here are a few of the varied responses I received. It was interesting to see how students responded to such an open-ended prompt. And how they chose to punctuate their greetings!

dialogue-journal-5 dialogue-journal-4 dialogue-journal-3 dialogue-journal-2 dialogue-journal-1