gallery walks to celebrate reading work

this week we focus on gallery walks as a way to celebrate reading work. as the name implies, this type of celebration is structured like a museum gallery walk and is an idea that we’ve borrowed from mary ehrenworth, a staff developer at tcrwp.

during a gallery walk, students open their reader’s notebook to a page that they are particularly proud of and leave the notebook out at their seat. we sometimes place large post-its in at each table for gallery walkers to leave feedback. once all the notebooks are out, students travel around the room looking at the work that other students have done. we ask that students travel quietly and provide written feedback on each notebook that they read.  when the walk is over, students return to their seats and look over the feedback that they’ve gotten from their peers. we will also provide positive feedback (compliments) to students during this time as well, and travel around the room with students.

before starting, we make sure that students are all aware of the protocol. we don’t assign students to travel in any particular order, but we do ask that they go to an empty notebook so that there is usually just one student at a notebook at a time. we give guidelines for the type of feedback we are giving; a celebration is not a time for critical feedback, so the feedback that we are giving is always in the form of a compliment. we ask that students structure feedback to name something specific that they notice. so instead of, “i really like your notebook,” we model more thoughtful responses such as , “i like the way that you sketched pictures that supported the ideas that you were having.”

we find this type of celebration supportive of our readers in several ways:

  • it gives students an audience for the writing about reading work they have done. we find that anytime students are writing for an audience, it helps to make the work more meaningful. they get positive feedback from peers that highlights the writing about reading work that they may want to try again.
  • students get to see the work that other students are doing. we are firm believers that imitation is indeed a sincere form of flattery. when a student sees that one of their peers has color-coded evidence that supports an idea, they think about how this would look in their own work and will often try it. this is the reason we model, isn’t it? in a classroom , we are all learning from each other. we often end the gallery walk by asking students to share with the class something they saw a classmate do that they’d like to try (for the first time or do more of) in their own writing about reading. this practice helps reinforce the belief that we are all doing important work and we can lift the level of our own work by studying the work of one another.
  • the gallery walk gives us a chance to see everyone’s notebooks without collecting them. during the gallery walk we each carry our iPad and take a photo of each page that the students chose to show as the work they’re proudest of. we have a shared folder for each student on google drive that we keep the photos of their notebook pages from gallery walks, and refer back to it as an assessment. depending on when it falls in the unit, it might be a formative assessment or a summative assessment of work we’ve done across a unit.

throughout a reading unit, we teach students many strategies to respond to a text in writing. pausing to reflect to reading in writing is a habit that must be learned for most students as their instinct is to read quickly. pausing to write their thoughts as they read gives them time to reflect and search for deeper meaning and patterns that emerge in the text.

when students are reading a book, we ask them to dedicate a page or a few pages of notebooks for the thinking that they do about a particular book. this helps them to organize their thinking for comparing texts and makes it easier to look for patterns across a text. we show students how to respond in writing using post -its that go right in their reader’s notebooks. post-its may also be transferred to a reader’s notebook later and used as a catalyst later for longer writing. we also teach students strategies for responding right in their reader’s notebooks. as a result, at the end of a unit, students have a variety of writing about each text they read to choose from when sharing work with the class during the gallery walk. after a unit of study in which students read fiction, for example, some notebook pages might show:

  • character eeg’s that track character feelings about main events


    this reader plotted the main events across a text, and then color-coded the events to reveal the characters’ feelings in each event.

  • lifting an idea or a line of importance and writing long off of it


    this student used an idea she had about the character – that hanna is scared – to write long off of. she highlighted phrases that she used in this long writing that might help her in long writing off any idea. it can also work to start with an important line from the text and write long off it using sentence starters like she’s used.

  • writing to uncover the deeper meaning of objects in a story


    this student used a t-chart to keep track of important people or objects in a text (fly away home) that have larger, symbolic meaning. the right-side column shows her thinking about the possible symbolism.

these are strategies that we have used in 4th grade but these types of responses work with older students as well. the beauty in writing about reading strategies is that, usually, any reader at any level can do the work. (though, of course, depending on the text complexity there might be less opportunities for some of the work. doing work around symbolism, for example, is something that will be more appropriate as you get to higher level texts, though even the lowest level well-written texts will create opportunities for this work, as well.) the strategies we teach for writing about reading are to deepen the thinking work of any reader, and just as we have students at a wide range of reading levels in our 4th grade classroom all using the same strategies but entering into the strategies in different ways, these writing about reading strategies work across reading and grade levels.








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