There are so many discussions about how students should spend their time during Literacy periods. My philosophy of reading has evolved over several years, many discussions, practice and courses dedicated to how students learn to read and write. I believe students who read and write, learn to read and write. Pretty simple.
In my classroom, we spent the first few weeks of school 'learning' how to read independently. It sounds crazy, but students need to practice this in a classroom full of kids. There are interruptions and distractions. My students eventually got used to reading for long periods of time. I would, on occasion, read during this time as well; I believe that students need to see you as a reader just as they need to see their parents as readers. As well, some of my time during reading periods would be spent reading with kids. I would read with everyone, but more often with kids who had difficulty reading or difficulty accessing their thoughts about what they read.
Whenever I talk to teachers about reading responses I hear a lot of reasons why students shouldn't do them and teachers shouldn't assess them. I stand firm in my belief that reading responses are important to evaluate a students comprehension but more importantly, their ability to 'get' a text. Teachers may think it's difficult to assess reading responses with a book that they haven't read. Perhaps. It's great if you've read the book, which is why my summer reading list is huge and is as varied as my elementary school library! You can't keep up when it comes to what kids are interested in and reading, don't even try.
You don't need to know the plot to know if a student knows the plot! What is key to successful reading responses is effective and timely feedback. How's that for throwing in a few buzz words?! A student who does not receive effective and timely feedback will soon learn that you are not supportive of the process and then having students spend time writing and/or talking about their reading really will be useless! If the students believe that you are truly interested in what they are reading, they will respond - you have my librarian guarantee! What kid (or anyone really) doesn't love telling a friend about a great movie they've just watched? This is a reading response. If we, as the friend respond with interested comments and thoughtful questions, the dialogue can go on and on. If our friend has tuned out and doesn't respond to our excited descriptions of the great movie, the conversation fizzles. Be that interested ear for our young friends!
How Would Mrs. D organize a Reading Response schedule?
Give your students a set day that they are required to write you a 'review'. They can discuss plot, author, setting, what they hate, what they love - as long as it is about the book they are reading or just finished. Once a week is fine, but I really believe if you return their reading response the next day with comments and questions, your students will end up writing a response more than once a week! Commit to marking each student once a week. In my classes, this meant I read and responded to 6 students a day - max.
Your responses do not need to be lengthy. I always found they were longer early in the year as I established routines. Eventually I got picky with my time. As a very wise colleague once shared with me, 'You can't respond if there's nothing to respond to'. So we would say, 'If you give me potato chips, I give you potato chips in return. But you will get a better response from me if you give me a well balanced meal!' Of course some students will struggle. These are the ones who you spend your reading periods with, reading and talking about what you are reading, helping them to respond appropriately.
If you just can't stomach the 'letters' back and forth to students, a resource I love and recommend to anyone who will listen is: Lisa Donohue's 'Independent Reading Inside the Box'. This book has endless examples of activities that students can do to improve their reading strategies. I have used the activities in many ways. Students sometimes have chosen to do 1 a week to hand in to be assessed or students can be responsible for doing 1 activity a day. Whatever works for your individual students.
Reading Responses, they are worth your time!