When I was a rookie, I was always on the lookout for some sort of regular activities that would happen every week, and give me some sort of skeleton to hang the rest of the week on. When you’re a noob, that 54 minutes show looks mighty long and hard to fill.

When I started here, they already had a few of these sort of things in place department-wide. Nowadays (as the kids say) I would chafe at the idea, but back then I was stoked to have some of those minutes already filled. “OK. Monday we have a spelling pretest (the lists were even provided back in the day…and probably will be again soon…sigh), we all had to do a current events thing of some kind (I liked that one…hmmmm), we checked KBAR on Fridays…”


Wait. I just realized I already ‘splained the history of KBAR back in 2008, when this here blog first started. So here you go. (December, 2008.)

When I started at my school (1993), they had an independent reading program they called Kick Back and Read (KBAR). Mostly, it was a chart with a picture of Snoopy on it. Actually there were two kinds of charts. One was simply four columns labeled: Date, Time Read, Pages Read, Parent Signature. The instructions at the top of the sheet talked about reading for 15-20 minutes and cooperation at home. The other sheet was arranged a bit differently, but asked for the same info. The difference was that this one made room for an area called “Material Read.” The space was room enough for about two sentences. Most teachers asked the kids to summarize what they’d read.

Halfway through that first year here, I went to a CATE conference. This was back when the district actually paid for your hotel and such. I was pretty stoked. One thing I noticed was how all the veterans would run in to a presentation, grab the handouts offered, and bolt for the next one. I actually sat through most of them. One lady talked about having the kids keep a notebook for their responding, and showed examples of the kinds of entries she encouraged. It was all so late 80?s/early 90?s, but I really liked the spiral notebook idea (collect ‘em when you want, or read ‘em live while they do something else; the spiral keeps everything in place, etc), and the list of the types of responses she was looking for. But I also liked the “accountability” and the parent participation of the signed charts of our KBAR. So I combined them. The handout I give the kids is here, along with the rubric I use to grade the responses. I read the responses on Fridays, live, while they work on the weekly test. That way, they’re responding, I’m reading it, and I get a chance to talk one on one with them about their books (“So, I’m thinking you’re ready to move up a bit from Hatchet,” or “What makes this book so good? Give me examples in your response…” and etc.), AND I don’t have to take them home. If I run out of time (I usually don’t), I can finish the rest on Monday during the pretest.

I still call it KBAR, but in the last few years, I added the R for responding. I told the kids, that way I get to talk like a pirate: “Where be yer KBARRRR, matey?”

I’m back to now, and I also just remembered some more KBAR history…

When I introduce KBAR at the beginning of the year, I also give them another handout called “55 Ways to Respond to a Book.” It used to be called “75 Ways to Respond to a Book,” but I cut out a few to make it better fit my KBAR notebook thing. I found the handout on the teacher desk in a classroom I shared at my first real classroom gig twenty years ago. I stole it, and about ten years ago I had one of my faithful student assistants transcribe it into electronic form. It really helps kids relax about the responding part. They don’t get all caught up in being literary, and I can transition them to that later.

There’s actually another story about that conference–involving my wife, her posterior, an 11th floor window she thought was mirrored, and a restaurant patio–but we won’t get into that here; it’s a family blog.