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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: Pros & Cons of ‘Reading Logs’

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 08, 2019 14 min read
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(This is the second post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Should “reading logs” be assigned to students and, if not, what are alternatives?

In Part One, Mary Beth Nicklaus, Beth Jarzabek, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Jennifer Orr, and Leah Wilson contribute their responses. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Mary Beth and Beth on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Laura Robb, Melissa Miles, Ryan Huels, and Rinard Pugh share their thoughts.

Response From Laura Robb

Author, teacher, coach, and speaker, Laura Robb has worked with children and teachers for more than 40 years. At present, she works at Daniel Morgan Intermediate School in Winchester, Va., training 5th and 6th grade teachers and teaching children who read four to five years below grade level. Author of more than 30 books on literacy, Robb co-authors therobbreviewblog.com with her son, Evan. In addition, Robb speaks at national and state conferences and trains teachers in schools in the U.S. Follow her on twitter @LRobbTeacher:

Reading Logs: Know Your WHY

Several years ago, a superintendent and his middle school reading teachers attended an all-day conference on reading at a school in rural Virginia. During the morning break, his teachers complained about a top-down decision made by the superintendent: Students had to read 30 minutes a night and then write a summary of their reading in a reading-log journal. By the end of six weeks, students rebelled against this homework routine and refused to write summaries. One teacher told me: “Students were happy to take an F to avoid the negative feelings developing toward independent reading.”

After lunch, the superintendent pulled me aside: “I hear you don’t agree with students writing nightly summaries of books they’re reading. They [students] get a grade for this. That’s how we know they’re reading.”

“Can you bring your reading logs with summaries to show me?” I asked as gently as possible.

“I don’t do that,” he said, annoyance creeping into his tone.

“Then why would you ask students to do that?”

Frustrated and angry, he walked away.

This literacy story is a warning and nudges you to consider your WHY for using reading logs as an accountability tool.

When Accountability Is King

Using reading logs to grade assigned tasks can cause students to build frustration and anger toward reading. Moreover, it is not an authentic learning experience for these reasons:

  • Adults do not do it. Like book reports, reading logs are a school-created assignment that no adult would consider completing.
  • Independent reading work in book logs punishes proficient and advanced readers, for the more they read, the more work they have to complete. When reluctant and striving readers receive low grades or failures for book-log work, anxiety, anger, and frustration increase and turn students further away from reading. Moreover, Richard Allington’s research demonstrates that students who read little to nothing experience a continual backward slide.

The questions teachers and administrators need to ask are, Do I do this?

Would I do it? If the answer is a resounding “no,” then don’t have students do what you would never do. The goal of independent reading should be to offer students a choice of reading materials and the practice they need to become lifelong readers, as well as to develop personal literary tastes and a passion for reading and learning!

It’s impossible to monitor every book students read. Trust your students and look at the glass half full. Sure, there will be students who don’t read. However, if you offer them alternatives to book logs such as engaging in discussions and encouraging them to advertise books they enjoyed, you can develop a class culture of book love. Equally important is that you love reading and share parts of your reading life with students because students can sense your passion as you book talk and honor their choices through conferring.

Alternatives to Book Logs

Consider inviting students to enter the title and author of completed and abandoned books onto a computer or in a reserved section of their reader’s notebook. This works well if you offer students a few minutes twice a week to do this in class. Students and I use listed books for these seven alternatives to book logs:

  1. Teacher-student conferences: Schedule these while the student is reading a book, as well as after he or she has completed it. Open with a general question like the one Carl Anderson asks, “How’s it going?” Let the student talk about the book and be an active listener. Hold these five-minute conferences as often as you can because they let you into students’ reading lives and provide insights that enable you to offer support and plan interventions.

  2. Student-to-student conferences: Organize these once students have experienced conferring with you. Let students choose their partners and encourage them to confer with different students so they observe diverse perspectives and literary tastes.

  3. Monthly book talks: Ask students to choose a book from their lists then plan and present a brief book talk. You can use a search engine to find examples of librarians and students presenting book talks that take two to three minutes.

  4. Elevator Talks: Invite students to sign up for these 60-second talks and schedule one or two a day. The goal is for students to “sell” their book to peers.

  5. Graffiti Wall: Put a large piece of construction paper on a bulletin board. Ask students to write the title and author of a book they loved plus one to two sentences about why it was terrific, then sign their names. Set aside time for students to read the graffiti wall as peer recommendations are an excellent way to find books.

  6. Discussions: Invite small groups and partners to choose and discuss a book from their list as meaningful talk deepens understanding. Using different books is no problem because students can discuss literary elements for fiction and biography and what they learned from informational texts. They can also share and discuss photographs and illustrations.

  7. Book Reviews: Have students study books reviews in The Horn Book and in School Library Journal, so they understand that a review can start with a short summary, but the helpful part is the reader’s opinion.

Remember, everything students do with independent reading doesn’t have to be graded. Instead, help them develop book love and experience joy in reading.

To Grade or Not to Grade?

This question haunts teachers. If teachers grade independent reading, it can build negative feelings and surely diminish students’ desire to read. In addition, grading doesn’t align with the goals of independent reading: to develop students who love to read and choose to read during free time at school and at home. If your school requires grades, the only task I suggest you grade are book reviews, but only after students have practiced these several times to ensure they will be successful.

Closing Thoughts

When students self-select books for independent reading, they can identify topics, genres, and authors they enjoy. To keep the joy in reading, ask your students: What can I do to support independent reading in our class? Students’ suggestions can guide your WHY and break the “we’ve-always-done-it-this way” mindset and cycle.

Response From Melissa Miles

Co-author of the upcoming books, Rigor in the K-5 Language Arts and Social Studies Classroom and Rigor in the 6-12 Language Arts and Social Studies Classroom, Melissa Miles is currently back in the classroom teaching middle school language arts after she was the director of educational resources at a K-8 school. She is a national-board-certified teacher with over 15 years experience. She may be reached through her co-author’s website: www.barbarablackburnonline.com:

Reading logs may be a traditional practice employed to manage minutes read or pages completed by students in a given time period. However, once parental control is no longer required (past 3rd or 4th grade), students can easily escape the pains of reading if they view it as a miserable activity. Independent reading, with today’s available technology, should be done in a way that speaks the digital language of this generation of students. What is that language, you ask? Gaming. Social opportunities. Technology. Choice. Students will most likely rise to the occasion and actually surprise themselves if we provide opportunities for them to do what they enjoy. There are many web-based platforms such as CommonLit (commonlit.org) or Zinc Reading Labs (paid service) that offer a gaming approach to independent reading. Students gain points for texts read, questions answered, vocabulary studies, etc. ... and allow students to “compete” with others in their class, school district, or anywhere else across the globe. This is a higher level of accountability than the reading log. With these options available for independent reading, it is hard to imagine hanging on to the reading log.

Aside from technological options, try using peer accountability. I allow students to be in Book Clubs at school. Students are given a variety of books from which to choose (oftentimes based on the same theme or genre). After letting them analyze the front covers and read the back summaries and reviews, they choose the book they would like to read. After I place them in groups (Book Clubs), students work together to agree upon a reading schedule and tasks or roles to complete individually. Book Clubs can meet once or twice per week, but I have found that students hold one another accountable for making sure group members are keeping up with their reading. If the purpose for your reading logs is to ensure students are reading, perhaps you can try using Book Clubs if your students are old enough to do so. Reading logs are a great idea in and of themselves, but I think it’s time for a makeover so they become a tool that is appropriate for this generation!

Response From Ryan Huels

Ryan Huels is the assistant principal of Oregon Elementary School in Oregon, Ill. He spent five years as a 1st grade classroom teacher prior to entering administration:

Reading logs do more harm than good to promote literacy development. Not only is there a plethora of research to support this stance, I have also seen from my experience as a classroom teacher that it became more of an exercise in parental compliance than a tool to increase reading achievement.

The main alternative we can encourage in classrooms that currently use reading logs is the following: Continue to encourage/expect students to read 20-30 minutes a night but not assign their parents with the task of filling out a reading log. As professionals, we will know which kids are reading and which are not based on how they are progressing throughout the year, thus making the reading log an unnecessary exercise. Richard Allington has long stated that students need to be engaged in independent reading as opposed to literacy-related worksheets, so please do not encourage families to fill out any type of worksheet to accompany at home reading.

Kids need to be reading books they enjoy to help foster a love of reading instead of engaging in activities that feel like a punishment such as a worksheet or reading log. Many of our teachers have transitioned to providing families with a variety of resources that help promote reading comprehension such as bookmarks with comprehension questions parents can ask as a child reads to them.

If our goal is to promote a love of literacy to ensure students are more inclined to develop as readers, we can do a number of things in our school systems. First and foremost, we should promote literacy in all things that we do centered around a Reader’s Workshop approach designed to ensure students have ample time to independently practice reading throughout the school day. Jennifer Serevallo is a tremendous resource with her book The Reading Strategies Book. Creating opportunities for students to read books that are of high interest and near their instructional level will have a profound impact on their development. I discourage you from using reading as a punishment or trying to incentivize reading in any form as it will not have a lasting effect.

Host family education nights that encourage reading at home such as a Family Reading Night that allows families to engage in an enjoyable experience with literacy at school. These events can be best supported by teaching staff providing resources for families to use to help support their child’s reading development at home. This could be comprehension strategies to support, resources to find appropriate texts, how to support a struggling reader, etc. Leaders can help promote literacy in their schools by making it a point to regularly visit classrooms to read alongside students or read to entire classes with a themed read-aloud with a positive behavioral message. The more and more our students can see the adults they admire enjoying reading, the more motivated they will be to become better readers themselves.

Response From Rinard Pugh

Rinard Pugh is currently an elementary principal. He lives with his wife and two children in west Michigan. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan University. He is currently working on his Ed.S. degree at Central Michigan University:

There are many benefits to using reading logs in schools. In primary grades, reading logs can help students practice rereading their books. Rereading improves fluency. Rereading with the use of a log strengthens comprehension, and it can be fun. In primary grades, reading logs can have tally marks, boxes to draw things, smiley faces, red, green, and yellow lights, and sections to write a few notes. In intermediate grades, reading logs are useful to help students and teachers track reading volume and progress. Also, reading logs put ownership of learning back into the students’ hands and allow them to own their learning.

I was a former middle school teacher and I taught a reading-intervention class. My class used Read 180 through Scholastic, and we enjoyed the curriculum and resources. My kids had options of several reading-log templates to choose. One of the preferred reading logs had sentence starters at the bottom of it. The sentence starters were very effective in helping the students organize and start their writing. I would challenge the students to use each of the 14 sentence starters. Weekly, I would meet and confer with each of my students individually. At this time, we would look at their reading logs together, and I would sit and listen to them summarize their week of reading. I felt this was a beneficial use of the reading logs. My goal was to help my students gain stronger skills in literacy, and the log supported that. The log was not used for incentives or “junk” that did not relate to reading. Rather, it was a purposeful teaching tool to collect and track data for the students as well as myself, being the teacher.

If you do not believe in a reading log, you should use something to track student progress and support their fluency and comprehension. I offered my students the use of sticky notes to jot down questions, wonderings, and affirmations while they read.

Thanks to Laura, Melissa, Ryan, and Rinard for their contributions.

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