Your situation sounds complicated! I think it's a personal preference and depends on the class you have, how accountable they need to be. My opinion is that, from where you are in this school year with this group, maybe you should continue doing what you were doing at the beginning of the year. It sounds like it was working for you and your kids? A new year will give you a new start and more time to examine both what you believe about reading and responding to reading as well as what that would look like in your classroom.
If you've read my recent blog on responses, you'd see that they weren't going that great for me. I was in a major "dip" for a few weeks. But I made some adjustments and last week was a great week. Then again, I had this group writing open responses in first grade, I modeled it till my face was blue at the beginning of 2nd, and then I continued to make adjustments as we were writing this year. What I've come to believe is that we can only model and praise and share, repeat. If it's what we believe is best for kids, then they will grow from it. Sometimes I try to step back and look at what I'm asking them to do-- I also sometimes ask my two aides, student teacher, and myself to write them during our talk back time and even we get writer's block. So every entry won't be an earth-shattering one.
As a start, my personal beliefs are that:
- kids need to sustain reading for the absolute maximum amount I can give them (Allington says it's at least 60 minutes between all settings for little guys) -- and they need to sustain writing, but I cover that in writer's workshop
So, if responding in writing takes away from time reading, it's not worth it to me. BUt I guess that depends on your schedule
- the most authentic responses are those that are meaningful and relevant to the reader
So, if the response is in any way scripted, it becomes a teacher-centered assignment and one that will not eventually lead to an independent thinker. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't model and practice different ways of responding at other times of day, though.
- my best teaching (in all subjects) happens when the activity is transperant-- i.e. the child knows exactly why we're doing it-- and transferable-- i.e. the skill will easily transfer outside school walls
So, if the child wouldn't necessarily make a graphic organizer at home, then we'd save it in school for just when we're first learning about a certain skill
So, in my opinion, kids could get a lot more thinking done everyday if we devoted the amount of time it takes them to write daily responses.
- talk is vastly under-rated. Writing isn't the only way to grow ideas. On the contrary- talking is a much more authentic and fruitful way to explore ideas and think about them deeply.
- kids won't write well thought-out responses unless two things are present: modeling that is thorough and ongoing AND a really strong culture of talk amoungst kids around books and reading.
So, it's not just about testing kids on comprehension by asking them questions or looking for talk backs that somehow show conclusive evidence that they understood. They'll use the responses as a place to discuss strong opinions and light bulb moments if they see a grown-up modeling that that's how she uses hers. And more importantly, they'll feel absolutely compelled to use their response books for this purpose if, in talking to others, they realize they have a big idea.
But really... I don't have much of an opinion.