After much thought and listening to all of your wonderful advice, I decided to abandon the "response journals". I had to think about what I wanted the kids to do and why I wanted them to do it. I had to ask myself, "what's good for the kids?".
What I realized was this:
1. I want the kids to think when they read and to be aware of their thinking and use comprehension strategies- this is being accomplished through our interactive reading and "think alouds". The kids do really good thinking and do an incredible job verbalizing that thinking.
2. I want the kids to do this thinking independently - this was where I got stuck in the first place. How do I know that they are doing it? What evidence do I have? Starting today, I asked the kids to put at least 3 post-its in the books they are reading and to label those post-its to indicate which strategies they were using (they did great with this!)
3. I want the kids to show their thinking in a manner that means something to them - We decided together today that after they have 3 post-its, they should think about how they want to show their thinking. They can use the "strategy sheets" I've created and modeled (ones they've been using) OR they can create something on their own, even writing a letter to me (like in a response journal). I supplied them with lined and plain, index cards, construction paper...
I put up a very simple handmade poster:
Good Readers Think
-What am I thinking about?
-How can I show my thinking?
Near this, is some laminated pictures of kids reading with thought bubbles above them. Inside the bubbles are things like, "I have a connection", "This reminds me of...", "I can see...", "I predict...", "I infer...", etc. ( I made them from clip art).
I've mentioned before that this is a very creative/artsy group. They really seemed to like the idea of this. It was open-ended enough, but within structure, which I think works for them.
We had an extra long time for independent reading today, because they were so into it! They were reading, using post-its, and responding in all sorts of ways.
I think (I hope) this just might work! I'll keep you all posted!