This post is the third in a series: first came dialectical notebooks: what and why, and then dialectical notebooks: who and when, where I talked about which books I used the notebooks with, and which student populations. Finally, here’s a wrap-up that assesses the overall experience for my students and for me.
For both classes, these journals replaced reading quizzes entirely, and I never doubted whether or not my students were reading, because their journal performance showed me clearly whether they were reading and comprehending. This also kept our focus on the process of reading, instead of what I might choose to quiz them on, and gave them more confidence that they were “getting it.”
In both classes, the students definitely used the knowledge they had gained from their dialectical journals to strengthen their insights in class and their arguments in writing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they did not always even refer back to their journals, but would speak about the colors of a particular scene to add meaning to our discussions without having their laptop open.
I got to know my students better as readers, and see with more clarity and precision where their strengths and weaknesses as readers were. This was true for individual students as well as the class as a whole, which showed me which students might need for work on recognizing metaphors and which might need more help making skillful inferences.
Future Tasks to Complete:
Modifying each one to make sure it is as useful as possible without being overly tedious–I think their value will diminish if the students feel the work outweighs the value.
I’d also like to add some more writing tasks to accompany these, to help them see exactly how these journals might improve their analytic writing. The Macbeth journal has paragraphs built in, and I’d use those as a jumping-off point when thinking about my others. If I were teaching Gatsby again next year, I might add class writings or reflection on the color journals to achieve this.
Developing an appropriate journal for each unit: I think the Macbeth and Catcher ones are almost perfect, but my TEWWG needs work, and I don’t have one at all for the Bible (suggestions welcome!).
How to implement more scaffolding or guidance for weaker readers, who still tended to do poorly on these assignments (though there was some improvement, I was hoping for more)?
How to tie them to the unit blogs I’ll be doing for each text next year? Right now I’m thinking that the summary paragraphs they wrote, for example, in the Macbeth journal will end up being posted in their reading blogs instead, but will need to think more carefully about that, especially as I further develop what they will do in their classwork unit blogs.
Can they be used to model organizational skills as well? I’m trying to think about how to use Dana’s ideas on notebook checks with these notebooks as well, but that is going to take more time for me to really work out. I really want to keep this in mind, though, because I have a hunch that some of the weaker readers also struggle with organization, so there might be a two-birds-one-stone situation possible.
Ideas for Variation:
How could these kinds of assignments be adapted or differentiated? I can see assigning students different elements to trace and then having jigsaw discussion groups from time to time in class to discuss their findings. I can also see using these to support literature circles: what if you had students all tracing the use and meaning of magical realism, for example, but in four different texts? Also, I think an easy way of adjusting the sophistication of the assignment is making what they are tracing more sophisticated and asking them to do more advanced inferences and deductions in order to find their evidence. Also, of course, you might choose not to give them a tracing element at all, and simply use the notebooks as a way to document and scaffold their reading process. I’d love to hear any further ideas you might have in this regard.
How about you? Please let me know what you think, or if you have any questions–I hope this series is as useful for you as it is for me.