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The Problem with Dialectical Journals

Well, at least we know how our students feel about dialectical journals (reading response journals or double-entry journals)… But, how should teachers feel about dialectical journals?

Teachers grapple with how to assign independent reading activities to help students interact with assigned novels or independent reading. Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. KWL charts and variations upon the same theme have served as into-through-beyond activities within English-language arts, history/social science, and science courses. These activities remain popular with “balanced literacy” practitioners, who see the need for some accountability and, in doing so, part from their non-accountability “free voluntary reading” colleagues.

At surface level, these forms of reading response seem to assist students in reaching our goals of promoting independent reading comprehension. The thought/hope has been that if we can just get students to access their own prior knowledge of content and story schema, help students connect these to what the author has to offer, and  establish a relevant and personal connection/application to the readers’ lives… students will problem-solve their way to full comprehension and reading enjoyment. The pendulum has clearly swung from the author to the reader side of the equation.

The Problem with Dialectical, Reader Response, or Double-Entry Journals 


After years of “teaching” these reader-centered approaches to independent reading, educators are starting to see the unfortunate results. Almost 60% of community college students and 30% of university students require at least one year of developmental coursework. And, yes, reading is the chief subject of this remediation. It’s time to re-think how we get students to practice and develop reading comprehension.

Good readers emphasize the author’s text, not the reader, in the author-reader relationship. Reader-response such as analysis, making connections within the text, inferences, and summarizing. Struggling readers desperately need to focus on and understand what the author has to say, and only incidentally what they bring as readers to the text. The near-exclusive focus by some reading-response theorists and practitioners on personal relevance impedes comprehension. Tier I and II Response to Intervention readers confuse “What it means to me” strategies with “What the author means” strategies. The latter is much more important for developing readers (and for that matter, all readers). Some personal application within teacher-guided class discussion makes sense, but should be secondary to teaching the text itself.

Where did teachers get the notion that the reader is the priority in the author-reader relationship? My take is that our university professors tended to over-emphasize the reader side of the coin in a misinterpretation of Louise Rosenblatt’s Reader-Response Theory. Nowhere does Dr. Rosenblatt downplay the centrality of the author-produced text in the reading process. For reader-response theorists, the focus in on interaction. It’s the give and take interplay between the author’s words and the reader’s input. The outcome of this transaction produces the meaning of the text.

In lieu of reader-centered dialectical journals (reader response journals or double-entry journals), teachers should provide the training to help their students interact

Accountability for Independent Reading

Independent Reading Accountability

with the text. Developing the internal reading monitor of talking to the text through self-generated questions and comments makes much more sense than keeping a personal reaction journal. But what about accountability? Marginal annotations, online book discussions, literature circles, parent-student discussions to name a few.

Help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies which promote internal monitoring of the text: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. These SCRIP strategies promote the reader-author conversation and, thus, internal monitoring of text to help students achieve any teacher’s independent reading goal: “to get students to read and understand what they are reading on their own.” Following are FREE SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies lessons, model readings, and bookmarks.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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