Atwell in Action

After finishing Atwell’s last chapters of The Reading Zone, I am psyched to say that I have seen some of her methods in action in the classroom I am observing in!


Each student in my host classroom has a marble composition notebook that is their journal. After class one day, I asked my teacher what students were actually using the journals for and she explained that this was an “Atwellian” idea that she loves and had to incorporate into her classroom. The students use the journals for most of their writing activities, with the most common being letter exchanges between the students and the teacher, regarding the books that they are reading. I think reading is a separate class at this school, so I am not sure if they are reading about books of their choice, or a collectively assigned book. I will find out this week.

However, students also use their journals to take notes, for vocabulary activities, and other writing assignments that the teacher assigns. One in particular was of interest to me because it relates to my S of I project. The 7th and 8th graders did a unit about gender and had prompts that the teacher had given them. There were some very creative and interesting responses to prompts such as “If Ken and Barbie switched bodies, but kept their personalities and genders, what would each say?” Another was, “Imagine that you are inside the heads of a man and a woman as they argue, what would each be thinking?” So while the focus of the journals is exchanging letters with the teacher, they are also used for other writing activities as well.

Further, an important philosophy that my teacher stressed to me while we reviewed some of the journals was that she never grades the students’ ideas; she only grades mechanics, which I can appreciate. However, at the same time, she doesn’t accept plot summaries, at Atwell mentions, but rather encourages the kids to think critically about their books. To help with this, she gave each student a model letter that she had written about a book that she was reading, so that they can use it as a guide while writing, and recognize that this is not a task focused on reiterating plot, but on developing ideas and articulating how the text made you feel.

I just wanted to share this with everyone, as it is exciting to see that the methods that we are reading about in class are being used in classrooms. Has anyone else noticed this?

– Mandy



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2 responses to “Atwell in Action

  1. Merriam


    I think that Atwell’s latest work has the potential to sway the worksheet and whole class reading teachers, the old guard of the school genre, to consider what authentic reading is. Ask yourself how authetic a writing prompt is, and whether or not there is a more authetic way for students to write.


  2. sofiapenna

    I can’t say that I’ve also noticed this in my classroom, because I don’t yet have one of my own! However, I think it is an invaluable experience for you to see Atwell in action. One question, has your host teacher every considered turning the paper journals of the class into online blog journals? Have you spoken to her about doing this electronically? Just wondering.

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