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Teaching Opinion

Response: Reading Logs Should Be Tools for ‘Students to Spy on Themselves’

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 10, 2019 13 min read
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(This is the final post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here; Part Two here, and Part Three 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.

In Part Two, Laura Robb, Melissa Miles, Ryan Huels, and Rinard Pugh shared their thoughts.

In Part Three, Tan Huynh, Rich Czyz, Christine Tennyson, Mara Lee Grayson, and Diane Mora wrote their commentaries on the topic.

Jennifer Serravallo, Stephanie Affinito, and Amanda Koonlaba wrap up this four-part series, along with many comments from readers.

Response From Jennifer Serravallo

Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of several popular titles including The New York Times best-selling The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book. Her new books are Understanding Texts & Readers (fall 2018), A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. and Complete Comprehension, which is a revised and reimagined whole-book assessment and teaching resource based on the award-winning Independent Reading Assessment. She was a senior staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in Title I schools in New York City. Tweet her @jserravallo:

The work of reading is often described as invisible. You can see books in students’ hands, but you can’t tell what they’re comprehending through observation alone. So, how can teachers make reading work easier to see? How can we know students are making good book choices, reading at a good clip, and deepening their comprehension?

One attempt to hold students accountable has been through the use of reading logs. Reading logs were developed as a tool that teachers and parents could use to make sure students completed their daily reading. Unfortunately, however, all of this immaculate record keeping, meant to prove students have been reading, tends to have a reverse effect. There are many students who “cook the books” and just write down any old information in their logs to appease their teachers and parents without caring about or doing much actual reading. And as Kylene Beers would say, “If we teach a child to read but fail to develop a desire to read, we will have created a skilled nonreader. A literate illiterate.”

Unfortunately, when used in such a way, reading logs can decrease engagement, leading to a decrease in comprehension. So, rather than assigning reading logs, I see reading logs as a tool to be used by and for students. The purpose of recording book titles, time spent reading, pages read, and so forth should be for students to spy on themselves as readers by asking questions such as:

  • What do I notice about myself as a reader?
  • What do I notice about my reading rate at school? At home?
  • Am I reading books that are a good fit, at a good pace, in a good spot?

Teachers can support students in their reflection by making the reading log a part of the reading conference because, after all, it’s the conversation you have with students around the data on the log that is much more important than the log itself. Once students have tracked their book choices and reading rate a bit, they can usually figure out the conditions they need in place in order for independent reading to be successful and no longer need to track.

So, if students make good book choices and stay focused while reading, removing the need for a reading log, how else can we help students onto their ideas and develop their thinking so that their work becomes more visible? This is where writing and talking come into play.

Writing about reading need not be a laborious task with lengthy responses (since it’s unlikely those do much good other than further decrease engagement). Rather, I prefer to offer students multiple strategies that help them informally and quickly think about what they’re reading. To help students keep track of important moments in a book, I might show them how to create a two-column chart in their notebooks, with the left column for jotting down standout moments from the text and the right column for jotting down reactions to those events. I frame this work for students by saying that the meaning we make in a text is like a conversation between what’s in the book and what’s in our mind. When readers trace the events across a text in such a way, they create an ongoing record of their thinking. I might also offer students the tool of character-connection webs to help them follow the characters and plot lines in a text to reveal how characters affect one another.

Whichever strategies I provide for readers to help record and deepen their thinking, I’m sure to match the strategy to the readers’ goals and texts they choose. For example, tracking complexity in character traits usually works best for texts at F&P level N and above since it’s at that level of text complexity that characters seem to be more developed with both positive traits and flaws.

Mind you, accountability can be established in more than logs and jottings. We can also use the power of talk to help readers deepen their comprehension and reveal what meaning they’re making in a book. During a reading conference, ask students questions that get at the general text complexities rather than ask specific questions about the content of that particular book. For example, to gauge a reader’s understanding of the plot in any book you might ask, “What problem(s) is [character] having?” Using your knowledge of text complexities, you’ll know by the student’s response if she’s noticing all of the nuances and structures of that book. Meaning, if the book is at level M, the plotline is very much problem/solution-based with one main problem. Then by level O, for example, books tend to have complicated plotlines with multiple aspects of the main problem. The plots at level P continue to be multifaceted and include time travel and subplots, which make it even more difficult for readers to determine what’s significant.

The great news for teachers who allow their students to choose their own books for reading time is that you don’t have to have read the book in order to engage in a meaningful conversation with your readers, to listen in to their conversation and support comprehension, or to evaluate their writing about reading! By knowing what to expect of the books and reader response, you begin to pivot away from teaching the book toward teaching the reader.

Getting back to the original question about reading logs, any strategy or tool we give our readers should be purposeful and individualized. If students are disengaged, try showing them how a log can help them learn about themselves as readers. If students are engaged in their reading, offer them ways to write and talk about their books to deepen their comprehension. If writing about their reading gets in the way of their engagement, don’t do it.

Response From Stephanie Affinito

Stephanie Affinito, a former classroom teacher and literacy specialist, is a literacy teacher educator at the University of Albany. She has a deep love for literacy coaching and supporting teachers’ learning through technology and she presents nationally on this topic. You can find her online at stephanieaffinito.com and on Twitter at @AffinitoLit:

I am a reader. I read for pleasure and for professional learning. I read blogs, news articles, self-care books, and fiction. I especially love children’s literature and always have a title on hand to share with students in the classrooms I visit. As a reader, I engage in very reader-like actions: I read. I collect books. I recommend titles to others. I talk about books. I join in book clubs and book studies. I do not answer comprehension questions about what I read. I do not take a quiz after I read. I do not create projects based on my books. I do not fill out a required reading log with the pages I read or the level of my book. That simply is not what real readers do. But that is exactly what is required of many students today.

If we want students to grow into real readers, we need to treat students as real readers and give them the same opportunities for authenticity as we demand as adults. This begins by reimagining the reading log. Here are three ways that we can bring intention to the reading log and use it as a tool to grow readers rather than document them:

Provide choice. Students deserve choices. Give students options in how they choose to showcase their reading life. Perhaps they keep a running list of books on a sheet of paper. Perhaps they take a picture of each book they finish and compile those book covers into a reading portfolio of sorts. Perhaps they take a ‘shelfie’ (selfie with a book) and add a tile to a digital reading wall. Perhaps they record brief videos of the books they read to share with others. They might even document their reading on a social-networking site, such as Goodreads. By providing students with choices, we acknowledge and honor that reading is a highly personal act that serves a true purpose in our lives.

Reconsider the purpose. For many students, the reading log serves one purpose only: to prove their reading to their teacher. Used in this way, reading becomes a chore, something a reader is forced to do, rather than chooses to do. When used in a celebratory manner, reading logs become artifacts of our reading lives. Artifacts that help us reflect on our reading preferences and help us choose new reading goals. Readers can reflect on their volume of reading, the genres they gravitate toward, and the topics they choose to read in. They can set new goals to stretch their reading lives and develop as a reader.

Share our reading lives. By making our reading lives public, we have an authentic reason to keep track of our reading life: to share it with others. Give students time to share book titles and give book talks to others. Display newly reimagined reading logs in the classroom or in digital spaces so students can see what books are being read and enjoyed. When we give students the chance to connect as readers with other students, we open their minds to new possibilities for themselves.

I often hear educators lament that their students do not identify as readers. Perhaps if we start valuing reading as a highly personal and social act and provide students with authentic ways to demonstrate and share their reading lives, we will inspire lifelong reading habits. If we reimagine the reading log, our students might reimagine reading and the place it holds in their lives.

Response From Amanda Koonlaba

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S., is an educator with 13 years of classroom experience. She blogs at Party in the Art Room and serves as a content specialist with Education Closet. She is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and presenter for arts integration and STEAM. She was the Mississippi Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2016:

This is a hard question to answer. I’ve had parents look me in the face and tell me they weren’t going to do any academic work with their child at home because it was my job to teach them while they were at school in my classroom. I’ve also worked with many struggling families who simply couldn’t make it happen at home. Parents are working multiple jobs with inconsistent hours. Kids are staying with relatives or at day care for longer during the day. Lots of kids simply have extracurricular activities that take up their evenings. As educators and parents, we want our children to want to read, but asking that a reading log be signed each day is tricky. You have parents that don’t see it as their responsibility, struggling parents, elderly caregivers, busy kids. I don’t think a child should be punished for any of this because a reading log didn’t get signed. I wish we could provide students more opportunity to read independently and aloud during the school day.

I suppose the correct answer is that each teacher in each school really has a different context. That context should be considered. And, as with anything else, teachers and parents should communicate about what is going on in the life of the students. I know it can be hard for parents to talk about struggles with their child’s teacher, but I promise any time a parent came to me with a concern, I kept it confidential and only used it to make decisions for the student. Maybe it is possible to find alternatives to having the parents always sign the reading log every day. Perhaps they can read for a really long time one night and then skip a couple of nights. Perhaps the students can read at day care and have the day-care teacher sign the log. If reading logs are going to be required, there should be flexibility and consideration. Ultimately, this is a great conversation to have at the school level where the stakeholders can have input.

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Jennifer, Sephanie, and Amanda, and to readers, for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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