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Thread: Reading journal/ reading log?

  1. #1
    Suzerain of Cost&Caution SleepyWitch's Avatar
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    Reading journal/ reading log?

    hey y'all. I learned about reading journals/ reading logs for my Didactics of English exam. Has any of you ever used them to teach a novel?
    Objectively speaking, a reading journal sounds like a good idea, but personally speaking, it doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy at all, so how would I get my students to use one? I'm afraid I'm a bit cynic and old-fashioned about these things. Nevertheless, I'll look for a short book to read and write a reading journal about so as to test this method on myself.
    If you've ever used this method, how did your students like it? Did they learn more or think more about the novel than when using traditional approaches? Did they bother to write meaningful entries or did they just jot down some nonsense along the lines of "I didn't like this book because it wasn't interesting"?
    ____________________________________________
    Here's some tips from my textbook about keeping a reading journal about Harold and Maud (plus my cynical comments in blue; I suppose I'm the nightmare pupil from hell, except I'm the teacher )

    • Relax; try not to hate this novel just because you have to study it at school! Students who have already read it liked it very much!
    • Read slowly – if you roller-skate through an art museum you won’t be able to see the paintings in the first place.

    Preparation
    Buy an extra notebook:
    • this should be “nice” and inviting so that you really like to write things down;
    • find a nice picture/postcard to go on the front;
    • personalise your journal;
    • if you like, use a special pen or colour for your entries.
    Some people feel they like to use index cards, too.

    First entry
    Before/As you start reading, write a few sentences about
    • how you feel about reading this book;
    • your expectations in general;
    • other novels you have read in English; my pupils will probably not have read any other novels in English, or in any other language for that matter
    • studying texts in the classroom.

    Following entries
    After the opening chapter(s) of the book, write about
    • how you feel after reading these pages; I don't feel anything, sorry, I'm a stoic
    • what emotions the book invokes in you; none, it's a book, not real life what's the point in wasting emotions on it?
    • any links/connections between the book and your life; not telling. plus, if there were any connections, it would be my autobiography, not a novel
    • any words or phrases that caught your eye while reading;
    • your predictions about possible future developments;
    • how long it took you to read a certain number of pages.

    After your next reading assignment, note down
    • how your feelings change (do they?);what feelings?
    • which question(s) you would like to direct at a particular character in the novel;none. wtf?
    • what you are confused about (events or characters);
    • how you as the author would have changed the book;
    • which images/pictures you liked.

    After having read more than half the novel, jot down
    • what questions you would like to ask Colin Higgins;
    • which poems/pictures/music you know that might go well with the atmosphere of the novel; I don't know any poems/ pictures/ music (on a more serious note, my pupils probably wouldn't know any poems or pictures in the sense of paintings, either, or at least not enough poems to pick one that goes with the novel
    • a rough summary of the events so far;
    • which idea in the novel made you stop and think, or was new and exciting to you.
    • Is there anything in H & M you feel provoked by? nope, I'm a weirdo, there isn't much that can provoke me, except reading journals

    After finishing the novel, choose some of the following ideas and add them to your journal:
    • Re-read the beginning of your journal: are your first impressions given new meaning now?
    • What did you learn that you never knew before? is this supposed to be a reference book or a novel ?
    • How have you changed (have you?) after reading the book? is this supposed to be a self-help guide or a novel?
    • Who would you like to recommend the book to?
    • Who should not read the book? Why not?
    • Do you feel there is an opinion expressed by Higgins through his work? What is it? How do you know this? Do you agree/disagree with this opinion?

    Since a reading journal is supposed to be very personal and informal, don’t limit yourself to the list given above – these are just suggestions. Here are some more ideas you might like to consider after you have read one or more chapters:
    • Which audience is Higgins writing for?
    • Collect newspaper cuttings, postcards etc. that you feel have some link to the ideas/events written about in Harold & Maude.
    • Use a special colour to write down questions about the passages you have just read; after some time, go back in your log and see how many of these questions you can answer now.
    • If you were a teacher, which aspects of the novel would you like to discuss in class? aha, a cheap trick to shift the responsibility to the pupils and make them sympathize with the teachers position!
    • Talk to other people in your class: you might like to share the workload by concentrating on certain aspects of the passages you read, e.g. “a passage picker” who picks out key passages, “a vocabulary developer” who chooses a certain number of words that are essential, “a character critic” who picks one character and writes about his/her motivation, etc.
    • What are the problems or conflicts the characters must confront? aha, finally a question that makes sense
    • What is at stake for the characters in these conflicts?
    • What discovery do the characters make?
    • Are there any parallel scenes / any repetitions you noticed?
    • Who is telling the story, and what effect does this have? at last, some down-to-earth narrative perspective stuff
    • Are there any violent scenes in the passage? Why are they described in such a way? I sure hope there are
    • How does the author use the idea of time? Are we given a chronological sequence of events?
    • How are implausible or strikingly unrealistic incidents related to the more realistic/plausible elements in the rest of the novel?
    • How do you feel about the ending?
    • Develop a list of questions you might want to discuss about Harold and Maude
    • Which do you feel are the four most important ideas in the novel?
    • Do you feel manipulated by the author?
    • Do you enjoy reading the novel? Why? Why not?
    • …
    Last edited by SleepyWitch; 10-27-2008 at 02:00 PM.

  2. #2
    solid motherhubbard's Avatar
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    I think the point of a journal is to help the reading experience to become more like a personal experience. This doesn’t happen for everyone, but for those who do get emotionally involved with the characters or plot a story becomes much more than a story. It is an experience that they can gain from. I think who we identify with says something about who we are or who we have been. Prompting a student with questions like how would you have felt if… or what would you have done… may be more effective for less emotionally involved students than how did this make you feel questions.

    Maybe if you put minimum requirements on the entry it would help. Then if the student wanted to say I didn’t like it because it was boring they would have to consider the boring elements or what could happen to make it more interesting. That examination would have some value.

    As far as what works of art or poems go along with the story goes that can be tough for kids who have no exposure or experience to relate. I’m sure they all have music. Contemporary music still deals with love, isolation, fear… Nothing new under the sun, right?

    I think a journal can make literature pertinent to the student. It can help them see how these stories relate to their reality. I think there are a lot of good questions in there. I didn’t see a vocabulary question but making a list of words to look up may be helpful to students.

    I think most kids like to keep journals of this kind. It gives them an opportunity to voice their opinions. Backing up their opinions with examples from the text can legitimize the student. That’s satisfying for them.

  3. #3
    Suzerain of Cost&Caution SleepyWitch's Avatar
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    thanks for your input, motherh
    of course I was being more cynic than I really feel about this to provoke people and make them want to convince me it's a good idea
    but I do feel uncomfortable about the feeling bits. what does it teach pupils except to wallow in their own subjective emotions, which might not be justified by the book in any way? E.g. I hate Harry Potter because he's a stupid lazy brat (not to mention his father, uurrrgh), BUT this emotion is in no way born out by his characterization in the book (except for some scenes where has a row with Ron perhaps).
    What if I'm reading some classic with them, let's say a 19th c. novel? In that case the economic, legal, social etc. circumstances would be so different from our time that I'd positively hope my pupils would not feel anything about the characters or paste their situation on to today's world.
    Wouldn't it be better to phrase the question as "What do you think about...?" or to ask them why it is that they feel about a passage/ character etc. in a particular way?

  4. #4
    solid motherhubbard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SleepyWitch View Post
    I do feel uncomfortable about the feeling bits. what does it teach pupils except to wallow in their own subjective emotions, which might not be justified by the book in any way?
    I would say that part of teaching literature would be trying to instill a love of reading. I can see where wallowing (or maybe exploration) may help some kids enjoy books. There is nothing wrong with subjective emotions.


    Quote Originally Posted by SleepyWitch View Post
    What if I'm reading some classic with them, let's say a 19th c. novel? In that case the economic, legal, social etc. circumstances would be so different from our time that I'd positively hope my pupils would not feel anything about the characters or paste their situation on to today's world.
    The circumstances are different, but the emotional themes are timeless.

    Quote Originally Posted by SleepyWitch View Post
    Wouldn't it be better to phrase the question as "What do you think about...?" or to ask them why it is that they feel about a passage/ character etc. in a particular way?
    Questions like was Jean ValJean wrong to steal the bread, do you think it's wrong for a starving man to steal bread for starving children, or Why did he love a daughter that was not his may be better kinds of questions.
    Last edited by motherhubbard; 10-27-2008 at 10:40 PM.

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    deus ex machina Shalot's Avatar
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    I tried a reading journal to help me get through the Silmarillion. Of course, I was reading the Silmarillion for my own personal reasons (it wasn't an assignment). I am thinking that if the book was really boring, but was required reading then a required journal might help a student at least finish the book. If they had to write several responses to it, it seems like it might give them another reason to get through the book...and sometimes students benefit from doing tasks that they might not necessarily want to do at first.

    One study tool I got out of a required high school assignment was the notebook I had to keep in Spanish. There were 3 required sections, class notes, assigned homework, and vocabulary lists. I took that study approach with me to a college math class (first go-round mickey mouse math I took when I got my English degree). It works. You benefit from having to organize the subject matter. A sectioned-off notebook wouldn't work for reading a novel, but a journal would work I think.

    Some students don't like to write, or they might have no idea how to start so those suggestions in your original post are a good starting point, but I agree that some students who have no desire to read the book or hate the whole chore will be turned off by those questions. If I were a student and I heard a teacher go over that set of instructions, I would appreciate it if the teacher acknowledged that the questions are touchy-feely, and if they wanted to just write a summary response without getting into all that mushiness, then they have that option. That's what I would do. But I am not a teacher. As a former student, I always found that I got something out of those required tasks even though they seemed like torture at the time, so if you just MAKE them do it for a grade, they will benefit. In my opinion.


    BTW: I never did finish The Silmarillion. When I get back to it, I will return to the journal. I also wrote a couple of blog summaries on it. But, it's so much more fun to write other stuff and I'm not being graded!! But if I were, I think the journal would help me get through that boring book and any other assigned boring book that wasn't a page turner to me.
    Last edited by Shalot; 10-27-2008 at 10:41 PM.
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  6. #6
    Lady of Smilies Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by motherhubbard View Post
    I would say that part of teaching literature would be trying to instill a love of reading. I can see where wallowing (or maybe exploration) may help some kids enjoy books. There is nothing wrong with subjective emotions.




    The circumstances are different, but the emotional themes are timeless.



    Questions like was Jean ValJean wrong to steal the bread, do you think it's wrong for a starving man to steal bread for starving children, or Why did he love a daughter that was not his may be better kinds of questions.
    Humm Iusing a reading journal this year but its for nonfiction really to keep trac of what ive wriiten and to have easy access to full bibliographic details and quick referance to cncepts I read about. ( Im sick of spend ing days going now where did I read that? )
    But sleepy the feeling about characters doiesnt nesserily have to be feelig feeling but take umm I dont know Edgeworth's Belinda , not somting most people would have enaything in common with at first glance, but then you have the whole cnancer/adultery/lying subplot. And the woman who is sure if she touched her child she ( he child) would die so that she is portrayed as this evil mother by the other charcters for most of the books but really shes just confused. and then there is Belind herself and the love intrest ( I cant think what he was called -but that isnt as intresting as the subplot Im afraid) bUt eople can have feelings about all of it like shock suprise astomishment confusion ...
    I think though th thing that is most important to stress is there is NEVER a wrong answer - well unless you decide that Lizzy bennet ran of with Rochester Jane eyre married Wentworth, and anne ran off with Heathcliff but mostly when people are tallkig about what they thinkl of a novel it cant be wrong. And writing it down as soon as they think about it means they have somthing at hand when you decide to go rigt now what did you think?
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