Readers’ Notebooks: Assessing, Goal-Setting, and Planning Instruction

What are the most effective uses of Readers’ Notebooks?  

One of my pleasurable tasks this school year will be to work with a veteran group of teachers who will be  implementing the new Units of Study in Writing.  A secondary goal with that group will be to explore the use of Readers’ Notebooks as a tool that can:

  1. Assess the students’ ever-increasing levels  of comprehension;
  2. Assist in student and teacher goal setting during individual reading conferences; and
  3. Provide structure for planning instruction.

I am excited about the possibilities for Readers’ Notebooks that I am hearing this week at the  Teachers College Reading Institute, Columbia University, New York City(#tcrwp).  (You all definitely should plan to attend next year!)  This post contains several possibilities that I am considering.  Please consider whether these match or extend your current thinking!

Setting the context:

In Readers’ Workshop, students will be reading for at least 30 minutes each day out of the ideal 60 minute block.  There will also be an expectation that students will write for approximately 5 minutes (this is not writing workshop and does not replace that designated writing time) in order to show their level of understanding of the text that was read. This opportunity for writing will allow the students to develop their own thinking as well as provide evidence of application or transfer of a skill taught during a whole group mini-lesson.

1. How can teachers use Readers’ Notebooks as a Performance Assessment for Comprehension?

Example – Character Development in Book Being Read:

Just a quick reminder that I am making an assumption here that previous literacy work has included a Read Aloud where the teacher modeled some thinking about the character development in a text,  a mini-lesson with explicit instruction in character development (or multiple mini-lessons depending on the grade level), and now conferencing and goal-setting with an individual student.


All students are jotting down evidence from the texts they are reading about character development on post-its in their reading notebooks.  They have practiced jotting multiple times in whole and small group settings.  The teacher may have already pulled the post-its and placed them into categories along a continuum of expected features for character development to create a rubric (or the teacher may be using information from #tcrwp as I am).

The teacher has then developed a chart for the classroom using examples from student post-its to fill in the third column in the chart below that uses student friendly language/phrasing.  Students may also have a smaller version of this checklist  (the same chart below minus the example column) in their notebook that they can refer to while jotting notes.


2. How can Readers’ Notebooks assist in student and teacher goal setting during individual reading conferences?

A Quick Peek into a Reading Conference in Progress:

For this example, I am having a conference with Joey (a fictitious student). I will look at the post-its on character development in Joey’s notebook during our reading conference.  Joey will explain what “star rating” he believes his post-it is and “WHY” he believes so.  We will use the examples on the chart to talk about the accuracy of  Joey’s rating.  Joey puts  the corresponding number of stars on his notebook entry so he can literally “see” the rating. Then Joey and I set a goal.

How does this happen?   If Joey’s post-it reflected a “1 star,” I will use a teaching point and teach Joey (using the chart with example) what he needs to do in order to have a “2 star” response the next time (goal).  Similarly if Joey has a “3 star” response, I will use a teaching point and teach Joey what he needs to do in order to have a “4 star” response the next time (goal).  Joey now has a clear learning target and is much more likely to meet his goal because he knows his current status and what he has to do to move on the continuum.

Expected Results:

Joey knows what his target is and specifically what he needs to do to move up to gain another star.  He will be able to meet that goal because he has seen and heard what that goal looks like from peer examples, and Joey can also consult the chart hanging in the classroom.

3. How can Readers’ Notebooks provide structure for planning instruction?

After a round of conferences I, the teacher, will have class data, (see example below),  that I can use for small group instruction.  Note that alphabet letters in the third column are codes for individual students.  I could also decide to set up “partner groups” for accountable talk around character development by deliberately pairing two students with differing star levels in this skill area.

class status of rising stars character development

Performance Assessment:  Star ratings based on student jottings on post-its on a continuum for a comprehension skill;  character development is the skill in this blog post.

Student Self Assessment: Use of checklist to determine “star level” and explanation of “WHY” that rating

Goal Setting:  Use of checklist to determine the next step to meeting the goal of higher comprehension in this skill

Informing Instruction:  Class Status record allows teacher to see the current levels of understanding of all students in the class and make decisions about next steps in instruction.

College and Career Ready Anchor Standard RL.3

Is this new thinking for you?  Are you using Readers’ Notebooks in these ways?

Thanks, in advance, for your comments!

(Sources of information:   Reflection on large and small group sessions at July #TCRWP Reading Institute 2013 with Kathleen Tolan and Bianca Lavey  and closing session with Mary Ehrenworth.)

Part 2  What else can you do with Readers’ Notebooks?  Fostering Self-Assessment and Revising Post – Its


10 responses

  1. Go Fran! Great posts on writing about reading – What would be next steps for that group of students who are 4s? How do we make the work of students performing at those higher levels more ambitious?

    1. Thanks, Ryan!

      I love the encouragement!

      To specifically address the 4’s: I know that the work with character development goes on to include “how does the character change.” (I am operating on the 3rd grade level at this stage and still trying to “make sense.”) I am guessing that we would want to see if this generalizes/transfers across other genre – historical fiction and fantasy would be other “checks.”
      Ultimate goal would be to increase the depth of characters in students’ fiction writing due to that reciprocal nature of reading and writing!

      What I am seeing at #tcrwp is ambitious work that meets the expectations of the Common Core as evidenced in writing and video examples. I see ALL students being challenged to do their best!

  2. […] Reader’s Notebook – Assessing […]

  3. Great post, Fran. And not to seem self-serving, your precision of description is very much aligned to how I see Common Core formative assessments playing out as sequenced in the PARCC aligned Curriculum & Assessment planners I shared in my blog several weeks ago ( The CC standards demand so much more generative engagement with text than most states’ previous standards. Your methodology is a practical approach. Kudos and thanks for daring!

    1. Thanks, Dea!
      I so appreciate your comments because I agree that this aligns nicely with your work. And actually, I was trying to think of what would actually be the bridge from current instruction to the instruction needed for the CCR standards to be met. I just don’t see it happening without a workshop approach for reading and writing in all grades but particularly in the primary grades. Students need to READ and WRITE in order to be better READERS and WRITERS. We have to give them tools and give them time and encouragement via coaching to help them grow! So much of my learning here at the Writing and Reading Institutes has contributed to this increased understanding (#tcrwp).

      1. So agree! We should think about putting together a workshop to instruct, model, and provide guided practice to just that: meld our two approaches into a unified structure. Just a thought!

  4. Fran, I love this post! Teachers are always wondering how to assess in a reading workshop…your rubric is a great example! Thanks for sharing. I also love how you showed that the assessment is not the end point… it’s just the beginning! It shows us where to go next! I will definitely share this blog with our teachers!

    1. Thanks, Tina!
      There are so many ways that we can think about “assessing student work” in order for instruction to really focus on the hard learning that needs to take place to meet the promise of the Common Core. This will be a journey of many moons!

  5. […] you haven’t read that one, you might want to go back to “Readers’ Notebooks: Assessing, Goal-Setting, and Planning […]

  6. […] 4. Readers’ Notebooks: Assessing, Goal-Setting, and Planning Instruction […]

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