How to Study: Taming The 1st Grade Reading Journal

Number Two Daughter is a young first grader, and as such she has been toiling away at the Reading Journal. For those of you whose schools don’t employ this (or if you haven’t spawned), the Reading Journal is not really all about the reading.

At the beginning of the year the kids are sent home with a composition book, one like this. This is the Reading Journal. (Cue singing angels)

Each week, she gets an assignment, usually due Friday but sometimes Thursday. In the beginning of the year it was really simple writing assignments, things like “Write two things you like about school”. At this point you could call it a Writing Journal, because each week there was much writing, but precious little reading.

Once they settled out my daughter’s reading level (this was Number Two Daughter’s first year in public school after 4 years in a Montessori program), the assignments changed. Now, she has to read something (usually school-supplied), and then answer 2-4 questions about it. So now it is the Reading Comprehension & Written Response Journal. Kids today, I tell you.

When this started she was overwhelmed by the mental distance between the blank pages in her composition book, and the finished assignment. Drama ensued every week, as only young girls can manage. Crying, wailing, dogs and cats living together, etc. The Homework Hill seemed so large to her, so I cast about looking for a method she could use to see a path between starting and finishing.

Notes, 1st Grade Style
What she need was a way to get some starting material down, without being concerned with right or wrong, spelling or punctuation, or neatness. A way to get some “spaghetti on the wall”. I thought about how I take notes, how her sister has blossomed with note-based studying (three 100% Social Studies Test scores in a row!), and I determined she needed to learn to take notes. In first grade. Sheesh.

How do you get a six-year-old girl take notes? Well, you tell her to draw; my girl loves nothing more than drawing and coloring. Hence, Bubble Notes were born.

Bubble notes are really, really degenerate mind maps; mind maps for little kids. Basically, I would tell her to take a sheet of paper (one for each question she had to answer) and free associate three or four answers on the page. No structure, they don’t have to be sentences, spelling is irrelevant, she just plops some ideas down. Then she circles the ideas; if she thinks an idea was really two ideas in one circle, she draws a dividing line in the middle. If the idea connects to another one, she draws a line between their circles. She is free to use crayons, markers, whatever to add color. In the end you end up with what looks like a page with some loosely connected bubbles, hence the name.

Next question, new sheet. The first sheet gets a big number “1″, the second a “2″, etc. When she has a bunch of ideas down for each question, we put it all away for the night.

(As an aside, I am relentless in pushing my kids to use lots of paper and lots of space to do their homework. The world is full of paper and everyone does better when they have room to write it all down. Nothing annoys me more than when my kids hit a standardized test and are given no room to write things down for math. Stupid.)

The next night, she picks the best idea or two, and turns them into answers. She really enjoys crossing out the ideas she is rejecting. Now it is time to answer the homework questions. Here she has to write neatly, pay attention to spelling and such, and generally concern herself with formatting. But because she has these sheets of ideas in front of her, she can concentrate on the mechanics of writing good answers — using words from the question in the answer, etc.

Results? We like Results!
This has worked really well. First of all, it gives us parents a way to break the work up over multiple nights with obvious stopping points. Secondly, she is kicking butt on the whole written answers thing. Finally, and possibly most importantly, she now is confident she can get from blank page to finished answers with only a little help. To wit, she came home on Monday and the conversation went like this:

Me: “Hey honey, what’s the homework tonight?”

Her: “Just reading journal for Friday. So, I just have to do Bubble Notes tonight. Easy-peasy.”

Ha! Music to my ears. And, clearly, she’s got some good groundwork for better study habits down the road

(Feel free to check out preceding How To Study post: 4th Grade and Social Studies.

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5 Comments on “How to Study: Taming The 1st Grade Reading Journal”

  1. steve meredith Says:

    Well, if there’s anybody qualified to give homework advice, it’s you. But it’s “us parents”, not “we parents.” ;-)

  2. Steve Meredith Says:

    I was never very systematic at homework and managed to get by because the work was mostly not that challenging.

    I have one little girl: she’s in 2nd grade. Her school’s philosophy is that kids at this age should be playing after school, so there’s not much homework at this point.

    • designbygravity Says:

      Well, I pretty much coasted through until I got to college; then I had to learn some painful lessons. I’m determined my girls (who are capable of coasting at this point) will not have the same experience.

      As my wife says, imagine what we could have learned in college if we had actually tried hard…


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