Journaling Idea #29: A Reader’s Journal

A photo I took of one of the books that I am currently reading.

When we read, we are not metaphorically vacuuming up the words from the page; rather, we are making sense of the symbols we encounter by relating them to previous material we have encountered. Reader-response theory leads us to consider that every reader, therefore, has a unique reading of a text based on their personal experiences.

Keeping a journal in relation to your reading, gives you the opportunity to enrich your reading experience.

Before Reading

Writing before reading brings to consciousness your previous knowledge and gives you the chance to record your predictions about what you are going to read . Readers make a surprising number of observations of a text before they read it that set them up to interpret it. We do judge a book by its cover. The packaging of a text (cover design, title, fonts, etc.) give us clues as to the text’s genre. Our expectations about what kind of text we are reading shape what we expect to find.

So, before you start reading, write down what you think the text will be be like:

  • Do you think the text is fiction or nonfiction?
  • Is it a narrative, an argument, or an explanation?
  • Why are you reading this text?
  • Who is the author and what do you know about them?
  • What kind of text is it?
  • How do you expect the structure of the text to go?
  • What have you read like this text before?
  • What topics and/or themes do you expect to encounter?

Writing before reading prepares you to read. Context and experience will teach you what and how much to write.

I’m excited to read Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions. Having read read Berger’s article in Spirit magazine and his first book, A More Beautiful Question, I’m expecting Berger to inform me about the different types and functions of questions. I imagine he will be advocating for the importance of questioning in business, education, and everyday life. I’m hoping to gain more skills in the making and using of questions to share with my students.

David Stone’s prereading entry for Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions

While Reading

Take time to pause to write periodically while reading. You can pause at divisions in the text, or when the impulse strikes you. The California Reading Association lists 26 things good readers do. Writing some of those things down can help a reader of any age to become more self-aware of the strategies they use and allow them to be more consciously reflective. I selected the following activities from the CRA list that I think would work well in a journal:

  • Summarize.
  • Make predictions.
  • Take account of what you already know.
  • List what is new to you.
  • Note what you want to learn.
  • Make comparisons.
  • Connect what you are reading to your life experience and/or to your vicarious experiences.
  • Paraphrase complex sentences to make them personally meaningful.
  • Question.
  • Make comments in response to what you have read.
  • Record whether your predictions were accurate.

In addition to the activities suggested by the CRA, I would add write out quotes that you might use later.

I like how Berger uses questions for the subtitles of his chapters and for the book’s subheadings. His introduction is subtitled “Why Question?” He notes how questioning is where inventive change begins (3), questioning can change our perceptions, expand our vision, make us aware and move us beyond our preconceived preferences, and open up creativity and our range of emotional response (4). Berger introduces how his book is divided into what he sees as the four major uses of questions: decision-making, creativity, connecting with others, and leadership. I found myself concerned in response to the “What can we learn from a four-year-old girl?” section that Berger might spend a lot of this new book restating information that I had read in his first book. Review is good, but I am looking to learn new things.

David Stone’s reading entry written in response to the Introduction of Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions

After Reading

Behind every text is an author. Reading could be compared to listening. So when you are done reading a text, it is your turn as the reader to reflect and respond.

Here’s your opportunity to agree, to disagree, to provide further examples, make comparisons, note areas where you think more needs to be written or researched, comment on the quality of what you read or how it was written. You may want to engage your own creativity to a work of fiction and write an alternate ending or a sequel.

Your reader’s journal may be something you keep to yourself, or may be something you share with a family member, friend, book club, class, or colleague.

I enjoy reading my own reader’s journals from thirty years ago. I laugh at how much I have forgotten that I have read and find satisfaction in reconsidering my earlier responses.

If reading is not your thing, many of the same strategies could be used for a viewer’s journal as well.

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