Knowing readers: The role of reading response journals in a fifth grade classroom
Written responses to reading have been accepted as evidence of the transaction between a reader and text. Reading response journals have the special feature of being able to “capture” the reader’s thoughts as they occur. As such, they have the potential to serve as a form of authentic reading assessment that is used to inform instructional decisions. Previous studies of the reading responses of elementary aged students analyzed, and at times evaluated, the students’ responses. While they have explored the effects of the reader and the context on response they have not examined the teacher’s use of response journals as part of the cycle of instruction, assessment and reflection. The purpose of this study was to explore the role that reading response journals played in the cycle of instruction, assessment and reflection in a fifth grade reading classroom. Participants in this instrumental case study included a fifth grade reading teacher and her students. The six-week data collection period consisted of teacher interviews, classroom observations, teacher think-alouds, and document collection. Data were compiled and themes, subthemes and patterns were identified. While the reading response journals did not play a significant role in the teacher’s assessment and instructional decision making for the class as a whole, they were a significant source of assessment that affected the teacher’s instructional approach toward individual students. Based in part on the reading response journals, the teacher classified her students as real readers, emerging readers and nonreaders and demonstrated a different teaching approach for each category of students. Results of the study indicated that teachers who know their students as individual readers through the use of alternative assessments may be better prepared to address the unique needs of their students, because they have qualitative data on which to base their instructional decisions. In light of the time constraints that challenged the teacher in this study, the researcher proposed that teachers need time to meet with their students individually for assessment and instruction purposes. The teacher’s assessment of the students’ reading development included affective elements, which suggested that proficient reading includes qualities that cannot be objectively measured; both skill and aesthetic approach are characteristics of good readers. In conclusion, the results of this study suggested that the cycle of instruction, assessment, and reflection can only be completed if the cycle is approached with intentionality and reflection guides the teacher’s instructional decision-making.