I Read (and Wrote) to the Principal

When I moved into my new office last August, I found approximately 800 green pencils with “I Read to the Principal” printed on them, left for me by my predecessor.

Save that thought.

In my last blog post The Principal as a Writer, I wrote about how I modeled writing for my students and staff using Moleskine notebooks and a document camera. The modeling component of instruction is essential, but so is giving students the opportunity to practice their skills. As I have learned, student work should be authentic and relevant to their own lives.

I hoped that the students would be as motivated as I was to write about books I enjoyed. With that, I purchased one Moleskine journal for each classroom in which I regularly read aloud. Once they had seen me write a review, I handed off their classroom journal, with the following expectations:

1. They only put books in the journal that they truly enjoyed (four out of five stars or better).
2. They had to write to an audience, namely their classmates, their teacher and me.
3. They had to include their name as the reviewer. The idea behind this is classmates would presumably read the book review journal looking for their next great read. When they found a book that interested them, they could talk to the reviewer to get more information.
4. When students completed a review, they were encouraged to read their review to me in my office. Their purpose was to convince me to read the book they liked, as I had limited time to sort through all the literature out there.

Moleskine journals were now available in an opportune place in the classroom. Student book reviews commenced! Some classrooms used them more often than others. When I had not recently received a visit from a room, I again modeled a book review for that class in my own Moleskine journal, then encouraged the students to do the same.

Here is a third grader reading aloud his book review to me back in April.

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This is the book that he was trying to convince me to read through his review.

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He had me at “gruesome”.

After sharing, I gave each student one of the “I Read to the Principal ” pencils. What was nice was that they read to me their own writing. This practice corresponds with a number of my building’s beliefs we unanimously agreed upon as a staff, including:

Young children do not need to know all their letters and sounds before they can write stories and read back their own writing.

Shared writing text involving common experiences are often the easiest text to read.

A Couple of Reflections

- Writing for an authentic purpose is so critical. I couldn’t imagine writing this very post if I didn’t think I had an audience to read it or an opportunity for some constructive feedback. I imagine students feel the same way.
- Book reviews are a form of persuasive writing, an essential skill for students and for informed citizens.
- The reading-writing connection is a concept stressed by Regie Routman and other literacy experts. Reading makes better writers, and writing makes better readers.
- As a principal, this is another opportunity for me to visit with students in a positive context.

“Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.”- Peter Johnston, Opening Minds

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8 thoughts on “I Read (and Wrote) to the Principal

    • I did this at kindergarten up to 5th. I modified the reviews I modeled a bit for the kindergarteners. We used large chart paper and then took a picture of it to print. The kids could use them for rereads later and take home. Sometimes at that age we didn’t even write a review. Instead we used the author’s style and format to create similar prose.

      Also, the journals at K-2 were not Moleskine journals, but Mead primary writing journals. They have more space for larger writing and to draw a picture about what they read.

  1. This is a great idea! We started posters this year encouraging students to give book recommendations. Your journals are a great next step. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have been wanting to create a book review bulletin board the last few years and haven’t gotten around to it. I did like the journals we/you used. I will have to think more on how I want to do reviews in my classroom this year.

    • Dawn and April have a nice set up for these. You could take it a step further and have kids post their reviews on a blog once written out by hand, using something like KidsBlog. Putting it out there for others to read ups the game and their own expectations for their writing. Of course, you’ll probably have to set up your own blog, Bri, so you can model this process. ;)

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