Much of the writing we assign students is public writing: writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts in all disciplines. In a 2010 report by the Carnegie Corporation, the #1 core instructional practice effective in improving student reading is to "have students write about the texts they read." Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. This is the fourth in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.
After teaching readers to write their thoughts as they read, and by using response starters, it is advantageous to teach them to respond in double-entry journals. A double-entry journal, also known as a dialectical journal, is basically a T-chart. On the left, readers choose something they find provocative or notable from the text—a sentence, phrase, quote, fact, term, a new word, or, in a novel, a character, a setting, or a plot element. On the right, readers record their personal responses—questions, inferences, insights, connections, predictions, evaluations, reflections—to the text. This works as well in fiction and nonfiction, in English/language arts (ELA), and in disciplinary classes. The two columns can be headed with such terms as From the Book—From My Brain or The Text Says—I Say or as simple as Text—Thoughts. Figure 1 shows two journal entries from The Giver.
The advantage of a double-entry journal is that the teacher can see exactly what the reader is responding to and, in discussions, readers can remember exactly what they were referring to. This is especially effective when students are independently reading different texts.
Double-Entry Journals in the Disciplines
Double-entry journals can be employed in any discipline. Figure 2 shows the beginning of a student's double-entry journal based on the National Geographic article "Guardians of the Grizzly."
In social studies class, John, an eighth grader, responded to a chapter in the History Alive! The United States textbook. He labeled the type of response he made: a question, a prediction, and a text-to-text connection, a metacognitive exercise in which students could ascertain if they were utilizing a variety of reading strategies in their reading and responding. See his responses in Figure 3.
Besides ELA, science, social studies, and health classes, double entry-journals can be employed to track thoughts as students review math problems. In Figure 4 a student begins to think about a problem. In Figure 5 a student shows how she solved a problem and her thinking while working on it.
Teachers can design their own forms—from simple to more complex—to elicit the type of information and response desired. Some examples are included in Figures 6-8.
If the class is reading a whole-class text, teachers may want to provide general topics on the left (see Figures 6 and 7) or have students fill in a particular quote or fact in the upcoming reading on which they want students to reflect. It is as interesting to observe what readers choose to respond to as how they respond, and it is important to teach readers to read not only critically but independently.
Introducing Double-Entry Journals
As with introducing any new strategy in the classroom, the teacher should first connect learning to previous learning. Teachers can refer to Response Starters (AMLE Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4) to remind students how to journal their reflections rather than merely writing retellings. The teacher can also refer to Marginal Notes (AMLE Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 1), a response strategy that can serve as an introduction to double-entry journals. The facts or information underlined for marginal notes are what the reader would copy into the left column of their dialectical journal, and the corresponding marginal note or code would be translated into language and expanded by employing a response starter.
Teachers should model completing a double-entry journal with think-alouds in front of students, responding to a text with which the students are familiar, such as "Casey at the Bat," a poem frequently known to middle school students and quickly read and discussed, or, in content areas, a text recently read (see Figure 9).
The students next rehearse a double-entry response in pairs as a guided practice with the remainder of the same poem or text or another simple poem or short article and then they are ready to respond to their whole-class, small group, or independent reading.
Double-Entry Journals for Book or Text Club Discussions
Double-entry response journals are particularly effective for book club discussions. Assigning readers jobs—Discussion Leader, Illustrator, Character Critic, Quote Monger, Vocabulary Finder, etc.—can lead readers to reading merely for the purpose of their jobs, employing narrow reading strategies and little analytical thinking about what they read. It also presents a problem when significant job-holders, such as the Discussion Leaders, are absent. Designing response journals tailored to elicit critical thinking and employing multiple reading strategies produces deep conversations in book club meetings.
When reading novels about the events of 9/11, students brought their completed journals (a choice of Figure 10 or 11) to their book club meetings and easily held 20-minute conversations, referring frequently to their journals.
In response to his first reading of Eleven by Tom Rogers, Paxton wrote,
"You didn't say which rules."
Alex has a sharp tongue and A-Dawg does not like to be told what to do. This may also be another reason for not having a dog since it falls under responsibilities for communication and listening to his parents.
Reading Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Sara copies the quote from the teacher in the novel,
"This has nothing to do with us."
How could a teacher say that when the plane hit the Towers? It does have to do with them. It had to do with all Americans, especially the people in New York.
Also a member of the Nine, Ten book club, Lourdes reacted to the introduction of Naheed:
That's so weird, isn't it?" "What's weird? "Her." Naheed was used to it. Being looked at. She was used to being asked if she was wearing a costume."
Sergio and the red-headed boy are pointing at Naheed. She is wearing a cloth over her head.
In the story Naheed is stared at and questioned because she is a Muslim. I feel bad for her because everyone should be treated equally.
Maddy's book club read Just a Drop of Water by Kelly O'Malley Cerra, and she notes the quote on page 238 that led to the title:
"Even one small drop of water can make a ripple in a giant ocean."
To me, this means that the smallest person can make the biggest effect on something.
When readers shared what they responded, other book club members chimed in with their observations, and conversations stayed on topic as each added their ideas to what a member had noted.
Double-entry response is valuable because it requires that readers notice and respond to specifics in a text—an idea, fact, quote, character, or even an author's craft. This strategy encourages students to read closely and helps them create more effective essays and arguments by discovering and recording text evidence. In this way, students will become proficient at reading to develop a thesis rather than reading to support a thesis. Double-entry response is effective for formative assessment because teachers can ascertain what stood out as important to readers and how critically readers were thinking as they read.
Lesley Roessing taught middle school for 20 years before becoming the founding director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project and senior lecturer in the College of Education of Georgia Southern University in Savannah. Lesley has published four professional books for educators: The Write to Read: Response Journals that Increase Comprehension; Comma Quest: The Rules They Followed—The Sentences They Saved; No More “Us” and “Them”: Classroom Lessons & Activities to Promote Peer Respect; and Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically and Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core. She is Editor of Connections, the journal of the Georgia Council of Teachers of English. The ideas in this column were based on The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension (Corwin Press, 2009).
Published in AMLE Magazine
, April 2018.