4 years ago I had just gone through an intense 3 day training on Comprehensive Literacy. Every teacher in my district had somehow been voluntold to report for the training in July. Even more surprising than teachers giving up 3 days of summer? All of us had to sit on hard cafeteria benches the entire time. Of the endless amounts of new things we were told to implement, the one that seemed the most tangible was the thoughtful log. We didn’t get a lot of direction or any tips for using them, though. 4 years later, I’ve figured out a lot of tricks for using the thoughtful logs to make them manageable, and none of them did I learn with my butt sat on a cafeteria bench.
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What is a Thoughtful Log?
Basically a thoughtful log is what the Comprehensive Literacy Model (CLM) refers to as a notebook where students write their thinking as it pertains to reading. It’s supposed to serve as a resource for students to refer back to and for students to see their thinking grow and get deeper as the year continues. If you have ever had your students do any sort of writing about their reading, you’ve done something that Linda Dorn’s CLM would glue into a thoughtful log.
Our thoughtful logs have 4 sections: My Thinking, My Strategies, Language, and Genre. The sections seem self-explanatory enough, but even years later, our coaches and teachers are still disagreeing about what pieces should be put into each section. So I’m not even going to get into that mess because your administrators and coaches will likely disagree and Linda Dorn would probably disagree with us.
Now that we’ve established what is a thoughtful log, let’s get into some tips.
Thoughtful Log Tips
Our coaches and administrators were all about diving in deep to these thoughtful logs right away. We had mandated section names, section dividers purchased by the school, and a required number of thoughtful log entries each week. We literally had to fill in a Google form with the date and section of each thoughtful log entry. It was only my second year of teaching and it was intimidating!
How to Make a Thoughtful Log
What works? What doesn’t work?
Composition Notebooks NEVER Spiral Notebooks
Your kids are going to be flipping back and forth between sections A LOT. If you have a spiral notebook, after about a week your students are going to have pages falling out. By the end of the semester they’ll be pretty much unusable. Get the composition notebooks. Otherwise you may as well not even try thoughtful logs.
Tabs, Tabs, Tabs
There are lots of options for putting the different sections of your thoughtful logs in. Do NOT let your students put the tabs in. It will be a mess and even if you think you’re pretty easy-going, having a class of thoughtful logs with all different tabs will drive you crazy FAST.
Here are some options that have worked for me:
- Duct Tape: You can get different colors, but make sure your students know what each color stands for. Takes some time to cut into pieces, but it’s pretty cheap and 4 rolls could easily be used for MANY classes.
- Post-It Tabs: These are the easiest to use and the fastest to put into notebooks. I LOVE them, but they can get expensive if you’re buying them yourself.
What does NOT work:
- Post-It Notes: They fall out almost immediately
- Writing the sections on a page: Students will spend the entire time searching for their sections, wasting a LOT of time
Once you get your sections of the log tabbed and labeled, start slow and let your students know that you’re learning too.
I tried to use every section of the thoughtful log every week right away and after 2 weeks, I was already way over my head, confused, and burnt out from copying prompts, taking pictures of anchor charts and grading the thoughtful log entries.
One Section at a Time
Pick one section to really focus on and get good at before trying to master a new section. Thoughtful logs are new to you! Learn how to do one section really well and then add another section. Start with the easiest section. Pick the section that is most similar to what you already have done for having kids write about their reading. If you use the same sections that’s probably going to be your My Thinking section. After that, strategies was probably the easiest to master, followed by language and genre. Genre is always my forgotten section.
Sections are Important…but not THAT Important
My first 2 weeks of using thoughtful logs I had SOCD: Section Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If I saw a student who did not glue their prompt in the right section, I tore the paper out and had them glue it in the right section. As a first grade teacher at the time, it was like a Whose Line Is It Anyway: the sections are made up and what the teacher said didn’t matter. A LOT of my kids put the prompt in the wrong section.
In my quest for section perfection, I wasn’t able to run any small groups. Your kids won’t glue every prompt in the right section, and you’re just going to have to accept that if you want to be able to do any teaching.
I am not saying that doing everything you can to help your kids know which section they need to glue their prompts in is not important. It is. If it stops you from teaching, though, you need to channel your inner Elsa and let it go.
Let’s have a come to Jesus moment right here. If you try to grade all of your students’ writing in their thoughtful logs, you WILL go crazy. I did. I lugged 50 thoughtful logs home every weekend and tried to grade all of their responses. Half the time I spent just trying to FIND where they had glued their prompts.
Don’t be me. Before you even go and give feedback on your kids’ thoughtful log entries, figure out what you think a good response should look like.
Once you’ve done that, try grading one per unit. Add more later if you think that’s appropriate.
All I do is grade one entry per unit. Why? Remember how I said that I wasn’t getting any instruction done trying to get thoughtful logs right? My kids weren’t getting any real reading done either. They spent most of their time trying to write about their reading and because of that they read a lot less. You want kids to write about their reading because that’s important but when it’s taking away a significant amount of time from their actual reading, it’s a problem. My kids did that because they wanted to get good grades on their thoughtful logs. When I graded less, they stressed a lot less and they read a lot more.
Accept That YOU Will Make Mistakes
It’s going to happen. You’ll be riding high a few months from now thinking that you’re doing okay with your thoughtful logs, and then your administrator or your coach will deliver some professional development. And it will frustrate you to NO END. They’ll tell you that you’ve been putting one thing in the wrong section or your questions are not the kinds of questions that you’re supposed to be asking or any number of things. You’re going to go back to your room and think that you might as well start a new thoughtful log because you’ve been teaching your kids how to use them wrong.
You’re going to make mistakes. You know what, though, so are your coaches and colleagues. They’ll tell you one thing and then find out later that that really isn’t the right way to do it according to CLM. Will your kids care? Probably not. Will your parents know? Unlikely. The person who is going to know is YOU. Let it go. Accept your mistakes as part of the learning process. then you can move on and keep learning.
Tricks and Hacks
Colored Paper: Print your thoughtful log prompts on a specific color of paper for each section. For example, print your My Thinking section prompts on green paper. Your My Strategies section prompts on blue paper. This works in first grade and I still need to do it in fourth grade. It helps even more than writing what section the prompt is for on the prompt itself. A colleague told me about this and it was a GAMECHANGER.
Go Semi-Digital: I really despise paper. I always lose them. I find them in random places around school and in my classroom. Heck my wife asks me if I still need the math papers that I left sitting on the counter. Now I’ve gone digital. I teach in a 1:1 iPad environment, so my students take pictures of their work and submit it to me digitally. There are a ton of options for this. Google Classroom, Showbie, and Seesaw are some that I have used before and really like. So now when I grade I don’t have to carry 50 thoughtful logs home. I just need my computer or tablet!
REALLY Go Digital: Before I used to print out pictures of my anchor charts and my kids would paste them in their thoughtful logs in the strategies or language section. It was a pain and it used a lot of paper and was a lot of prep. Since I teach in a 1:1 iPad school, I have a digital My Strategies and My Language section. So now my students can put pictures of our anchor charts in their iPads instead of gluing them in. My administrators didn’t like it at first. You know what, though: My kids actually started using their My Strategies section on the iPad. Who wants to flip back and forth between My Strategies and My Thinking when writing? Fourth graders struggle with it let alone trying to get first graders to do it.
You can even get really digital and use an app like Book Creator or Notability to make a completely digital thoughtful log. Your kids can write on loose leaf paper and take pictures of their work or just write directly on the app depending on the grade level you teach.
Whether thoughtful logs are new to you or you’ve been using them longer than me, what are some tricks you have found? Hit the comment button below to tell me yours!