(This is the first post in a four-part series)
The new question-of-the-week is:
Should “reading logs” be assigned to students and, if not, what are alternatives?
“Reading logs” are forms that, typically, parents have to sign showing that their children have read for a certain period of time each night. They’re pretty common—I suspect that any of us who are parents and/or teachers have had some experience with them.
But do they do more harm than good in alienating students from reading?
This four-part series will explore that question.
Today, 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.
I, like many teachers, began my career having students use the typical kind of reading log where parents have to “sign off” on sheets documenting their child’s daily reading. I continue to use “logs.” However, they are self-reported by students and are used less as opportunities for accountability and more for metacognitive reflection. You can read about how that looks at Best Posts on Books: Why They’re Important & How to Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them.
You might also be interested in this column’s past posts on Reading Instruction.
Response From Mary Beth Nicklaus
Mary Beth Nicklaus enjoys inspiring vulnerable teens to become enthusiastic lifelong readers, writers, and learners. She is currently a secondary-level school teacher and literacy specialist with Wisconsin Rapids public schools in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.:
Reading logs are good tools to help already-established readers set reading goals and gather information. Reading logs, book reports, and summaries are not effective tools in motivating developing readers to read.
Indeed, in Literacy at the Crossroads, Regie Routman asks us to, “Think about the lst time you read a book you loved. Imagine how you would have felt if you had been required to write a book report or a summary that had to include the main idea and supporting details. Or, if at the end of chapters, you’d been required to write answers to questions. For myself, that would have been enough to turn me off to reading the book” (Portsmouth, N.H., 1996, p. 177).
When an unmotivated reader beings to equate writing a log with reading a book or article, all we’ve done is to snuf out the first tenuous spark before the fire gets started.
But how do you hold students accountable for their reading? What do you put in the gradebook in lieu of logs and book reports?
“Status of the Class” is used in reading and writing workshops as a way to orally check in with your readers and writers. To check in either at the beginning of independent reading, or at the end, teachers simply converse with students to check on progress. Outside of the workshop I use it as a way to mini-conference with each student throughout the week.
Here are some ways to use “Status of the Class” to replace reading logs:
Decide upon the information you want from students based upon your teaching area. As I begin conferencing with students, I find the needs of the student and use that to influence my questions and goal setting. Areas may be such elements as fluency, interests for choosing books or other reading material, strengthening reading flow, comprehension, home reading, growth in amount read per day, and increasing reading level.
- Develop or adapt a record system based on the information you need to drive your students’ reading process. (I use the “Status of the Class” Calendar and Anecdotal Record Bundle from The Teacher Studio in
Teachers pay Teachers.)
Use the information to drive your conferences for student progress and use it to inform grades. I’ve also used the information for parent/teacher conferences and phone calls home to let parents know about student progress.
Keep and use records of conversations with students. Refer back to and build upon these conversations.
Keep and use records of fluency checks for students who may need it and use these records to show students their growth.
- Roundtable discussions: Ask the open-ended question: “So what’s going on in your book today?” A conference with an individual student now becomes a discussion where almost everyone gets involved in each other’s books. It may also elicit a, “Hey, I want to read that book when you’re done with it.”
Besides helping to drive student progress with conversations regarding goal setting, “Status of the Class” also helps me build strong relationships with my students. They may even ask for “Status of the Class” if they feel I bypassed it for too long during the week. Since the teacher is in control of how much time the conferences take, any teacher can incorporate it with subject-area reading. Not to mention that cutting reading logs from the teacher’s weekly-assignment correction load is a win/win for everyone!
Routman, Regie. Literacy at the Crossroads: Crucial Talk about Reading, Writing, and Other Teaching Dilemmas. Heinemann, 1996.
Response From Beth Jarzabek
Beth Jarzabek is currently a language arts teacher at Paul R. Baird Middle School in Ludlow, Mass., where she resides with her husband, Michael, and daughter, Amelia. She is currently pursuing a master’s of arts in teaching leadership at Mount Holyoke College:
Reading Logs — Why Not?
This year, while performing my annual purge of all the debris that inevitably finds its way into my desk drawers over the course of a year, I found a file folder wedged tightly behind a stack of photocopies. Inside the folder were pages and pages of “Reading Logs” waiting to be filled out with titles of books, the minutes spent reading, and completed with a parent’s signature.
I remember entering my first classroom, excited to foster the love of reading in the hearts and minds of the kids placed in my stead. I knew as a fledgling teacher that I wanted to incorporate independent reading into my curriculum but felt pressure to make everything I did quantifiable. “Reading Logs!” my mentor teachers proclaimed. “Make them accountable!” “20 minutes a night!” “Parent signatures!”
And so I complied. I implemented reading logs into our nightly homework, and it worked ... until it didn’t. The logs started being turned in with blank spots and then completely blank. One student, afraid of losing “points,”.forged his mother’s signature on weeks’ worth of reading. Kids seemed “stuck” on the same book for months on end, making little to no progress. My students, by and large, were not enjoying books, defeating my entire purpose. So, less than a year in, I stopped using reading logs entirely.
Some of my colleagues were appalled. How would I hold the kids “accountable” for their reading? Grades! Data! These kids aren’t going to read on their own?!?
And why not reading logs? What reasons could I give my fellow educators for my decision?
- Reading logs can hamper independence.
Especially in older grades, we are trying to build a sense of independence in our students. Requiring a parent signature and a nightly requirement for reading takes away an opportunity for students to create their own relationship with reading, on their own terms.
- Reading logs don’t reflect how we read in the “real world.” I am a voracious reader, but my reading doesn’t follow a strict “20 minute a day” schedule. There are summer days where I will sit on the deck and read for hours and there are nights when I can only manage seven minutes before bed, if at all. By making reading a prescribed “have to,” we are eliminating the joy of the “want to” of reading.
What to do instead?
Create a culture of reading that fosters meaningful interactions with text.
- Book talks—
Talk to your students about what you are reading—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Have them talk to each other and build excitement about the books that they loved.
- Sketch notes/one pagers—
Give students a creative outlet to reflect on their reading.
- Book Clubs—
Have a novel that is sparking excitement? If several students are reading the same book at once, let them form their own “book clubs” and provide time for their meetings. (And sit in on their discussions!)
- Graffiti/Twitter Walls—
Provide space in the classroom for students to jot short reactions to their readings, read other’s reactions, or “tweet” as their favorite characters.
This site is “Goodreads” for students where they can share book recommendations across a whole platform. This site allows students to not only share what they love but also get recommendations for their next read. There IS a reading-log component on this site, but I choose to not use it.
- Peer recommendations—Students listen to each other far more than they listen to us. Provide space on your bookshelves for peer “recommended reading,” complete with short blurbs written by students, and watch your books fly off the shelves.
It is far more important to instill this love of reading in my students than to collect quantifiable data. A culture of reading in the classroom will do far more to spark the love of books and build students’ independent relationships with text than a prescribed “20 minute a day” assignment. And for me, at least, this is the goal.
Response From Jennifer Casa-Todd
Jennifer Casa-Todd is currently a teacher-librarian, a former literacy consultant and English teacher, and the author of Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership. She uses technology and social media to learn and share learning, empower and celebrate others, and make a positive impact on others. She is deeply passionate about shining a light on kids and their adult mentors who are making a difference on and offline:
If I’ve learned one thing when I reflected on my English-teaching career, it’s that the best way to kill students’ love of reading is to assign them reading logs! I understand that we want to see if kids have really read a book, but an authentic reader does not stop to write a log. A couple of alternatives might be the following:
#Booksnaps is basically a close reading of text but using the fun annotation features and stickers of Snapchat. The concept was created by @TaraMartinEDU, and although I love the idea of kids using Snapchat for learning, you can use Instagram, Google Slides, SeeSaw, or Buncee to create and share these.
@BookBento The Instagram account created by Read it Forward to advertise its favorite reads is inspired by the Japanese Bento Box, which has a variety of delicacies. Students can create a Bento box with items that have meaningful connections to what they’ve read, with the book creatively displayed on a tray.
Create a “LivBit,” a concept created by 11-year-old Olivia Van Ledtje (aka @TheLivBits) and her mom, Cynthia Merrill. The idea is that students synthesize what they think of a book they are reading by posting a video inviting others to read it based on what resonates; it is similar to a book trailer in many ways. Here are some ideas from her Vimeo channel.
A meme actually defined as something that goes viral, but typically this takes the form of an image and text combination. I remember my friend Rob Cannone created one that said, “To Meme the Impossible Meme” with an image from “The Man of LaMancha” as an exemplar for his students. These can often demonstrate a deep understanding of a book or story but are more creative than book logs. Who knows, perhaps one of your student’s may go viral?
Book Clubs. When I read a book, I generate questions or pick favorite lines I’d like to bring to my book club members to make connections to the text and myself, others, and the world. This may take a little more time, but giving kids the opportunity to prepare for a Book Club (and don’t forget the treats) would be way more fun than a reading log and will help them delve more deeply into the text because they are talking about it with others.
- Plus, Minus, Interesting. This is an open-ended scaffold that encourages kids to think about what they really loved, what they disliked, and what they found interesting.
Response From Jennifer Orr
Jennifer Orr has been an elementary school classroom teacher for 20 years in Title I schools in Northern Virginia:
First, the too-long, didn’t-read version: Reading logs should not be assigned. Period.
More detailed thoughts. ... Reading logs most often result in the exact opposite of their intention. Reading logs are assigned to ensure students are reading. That’s what teachers and parents want. Reading logs, however, aren’t about reading. They are about accountability for reading. The most basic logs require students to write down what they read each night. That might include title, author, pages, time spent reading, and parent signature—or just part of that list. More detailed logs include a sentence or multisentence summary of what was read. They might include students writing about strategies they used as they read.
All of those components of a reading log are for the teacher, not for the reader. Getting students to read isn’t about holding them accountable, it’s about hooking them as readers.
A well-stocked school library with a knowledgeable librarian that students can visit regularly is one way to encourage reading. Well-stocked classroom libraries are also a critical tool. Having easy access to many good books is a huge step toward engaging students as readers. People, like librarians and teachers, who know those books well and can help students find a book that speaks to them are also important. Teachers need to be reading the books that are available to their students, or at least reading a lot about those books.
In classrooms (or on school news shows) book talks are also useful. Well-stocked libraries, classroom and school, can be inviting to some students and overwhelming to others. Book talks, short, quick commercials for a book, give students a window into what might interest them. Doing book talks on a wide range of books matters to. Cover as many genres and reading levels as possible.
Finally, talk with kids about books. Having regular reading conferences with students, one-on-one opportunities to hear about what they are reading and thinking, are immensely powerful. They are opportunities for individualized instruction about reading as well as chances to steer students toward new books and build relationships. That’s a lot that can happen in 3-5 minutes!
Having students keep a log of books they have read is not a bad idea. Many adults keep such logs, in notebooks, on goodreads, etc. Being able to look back and see what you have read and what you enjoyed is useful as you reflect on yourself as a reader. However, reading logs whose purpose is accountability are not useful.
Response From Leah Wilson
Leah Wilson, a national-board certified teacher, has taught English, English as a second language, philosophy, and Theory of Knowledge to students from grades 6-12 in England, the Bahamas, and several schools in the United States. She’s also a proud union member formerly elected to represent the Montgomery County school district’s high school teachers as chair of the MCEA High School Council on Teaching and Learning and currently serves as English Department chair at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md.:
Teachers know reading is important; we like reading and find it fun. So if students don’t read independently, we’re doing them a favor by making them read! If they say they read on their own, how can we be sure? Reading-log completion will prove it! Right? The rationale for assigning reading logs is reasonable, but attempting to coerce or punish students into reading can be counterproductive. Even my own children, who love to read, have been brought almost to tears by the implicit threat of a reading log.
As a teacher, I understand why their teachers ask them to do it, but as a parent, I see the negativity and dread this assignment brings to what should be a joyful experience. Perhaps, for some students, a reading-log assignment does actually cause reading that otherwise would not have occurred, and we may achieve compliance, but if the reading is motivated by fear or threat, it is performative, not enjoyable or authentic.
Too often, reading logs serve a fake-pragmatic or punitive purpose—they are either “proof” that the students did the amount of reading they were supposed to or they are the punishment for not doing it. Neither of these purposes justifies assigning reading logs. Students who naturally want to, enjoy, and are skilled at reading will read but are almost always turned off by the rote busywork of filling in the log, whereas students who are reluctant readers or who need more support to read well and enjoy it are doubly punished by having to record what they see as their failures, skip recess to read, or endure some other penalty, such as a negative call home. What we’re really doing when we assign reading logs is wasting the time of students who might spend their form-completing time actually reading or creating students who learn how to pretend to read, not students who love to read or who will go on in their lives to be readers.
Students who “fake read” do not reap the rewards reading offers anyway and are likely to project their frustration with the logs onto reading more generally. What we really want—or should want—is to help students discover that book—the one that grabs them and turns them, perhaps, from nonreaders to readers. The time spent photocopying paper reading logs or setting up electronic ones, counting the lines and adding up the time spent, following up, whether with a parent phone call or email, a conference with the student, a lunch or recess reading make-up, or any number of tasks associated with the assigning and assessing of reading logs is better spent with media specialists or librarians thinking about how to bring accessible, high-interest texts into school, on a crowdfunding site asking for funds to build a relevant, authentic, fresh, diverse classroom library, or working with other teachers and school staff to create engaging, exciting, authentic reading opportunities.
If we want our students to read, we need to give them something they are able to read and want to read. Perhaps the best substitute for assigning a reading log is to spend time in conversation with students about actual books. When teachers have strong relationships with students and communicate their own passion for and enjoyment of reading, along with their understanding of each student’s unique needs and preferences as a reader, and we communicate the value of reading by making time and space for it every day in class, students will read. The form-filling does not inspire or motivate. It’s time we stop stripping the joy out of reading.
Thanks to Mary Beth, Beth, Jennifer, Jennifer, and Leah for their contributions.
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Look for Part Two in a few days.
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