On Reading Logs

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I write this post not to shun, not to rage, and not to put down. I write this post not to say what is right or wrong, but instead to add a little tiny piece to the ongoing discussion of where reading logs may or may not fit into our classrooms.  Of the damage and the usefulness of reading logs.  This is not a post with absolutes, or at least, I don’t think it will be.  Instead it is a post meant for discussion.

I have written before on my complicated relationship with reading logs; from being a teacher who demanded all students fill them out, to a teacher who threw them out, to a teacher who was asked to use them as part of their teaching, to a teacher whose students asked them to stop, to a parent who has signed them.  I have written about what to do instead of a reading log.  But I have never written about how to use them better.  Because I don’t like reading logs, there I said it, but at the same time, there are so many teachers that do, great teachers that care about children’s love of reading, and there are even teachers that have to use them.  And I don’t feel that shaming others will further the conversations.

My biggest issue with reading logs comes from the inherent lack of trust that they communicate; we do not trust you to read every night, we do not trust you to read long enough, we do not trust you to grow as a reader, so fill out this paper instead.  And while I could write a whole post on that, I think Jessica Lifshitz did a much better job on it than I ever will.

And yet, I also see the value in getting a window into the reading lives of a student.  I see the value of having students understand their own reading habits so they can figure out how to grow.  To mine their own data so to speak in order for them to discover new patterns and new goals.  So what can we do, if we have to use reading logs (or we want to) to make them better for students?

Ask the students.  Ask the students their feelings on reading logs and consider their feedback carefully.  If most of your students think this tool will help them become stronger readers then work one out with them.  For those that are opposed to them, figure something else out.  If we truly want students to fully embrace the opportunities that we say can be found within a reading log then we need to make sure they have buy in as well.  Create reading logs that are meaningful to the students, which means that they will probably look different from year to year, based on the students we teach.

Ask the parents.  I will flat out tell you that I will sign whatever I have to from school.  I will not count the minutes, I hate writing down titles because we read a lot, and I do not see much value in her logging her reading every night.  If you want proof, ask me in an email or in conversations, but do not make me sign a piece of paper.  If some parents like reading logs then by all means work out a system with them, but exempt the other parents since more than likely they will probably not be invested anyway.

Differentiate.  For the kids that do want a reading log, find out what it is they would like to gain from it.  I have a few students that love coming in every Monday and writing down the titles of the books they read or abandoned over the weekend (that is all they keep track of plus a rating).  For those kids their record keeping is a way for them to remember what they have read and whether they liked it or not.  They do not keep track of minutes or anything like that, we discuss that in our written reading reflections that we do once in a while or face to face.  So find out what it is that the students like about logging their reading, if it is the reward that is attached to it then that should be a huge warning sign.

Keep it in class.  When I had to do a reading log in my former district, we kept it in class.  Students were asked to write down title and for how long they were focused on the book right after independent reading.  That way, organization and parent follow up were removed from the equation and all kids (and me) were following the district expectation.

Stop rewarding.  If reading logs really are meant as a way to investigate ones’ own reading habits then stop tying in rewards with them.  The reward is in the reading, not the ticket, not the pizza, not the trinket.  Ever.

Make it an experiment.  If you like using reading log to find out student habits, then do it as a 2 week experiment with all students.  Have them for 2 weeks keep track of when, where, what, and how much they read and then have daily or weekly conversations and reflections on what they discover.  Set tangible goals from that.  Do it periodically throughout the year if you really want this to be seen as a learning opportunity, that way students can see a value in tracking their reading life this way.  If you have them do it all year, most students lose interest and will not see it as an opportunity to grow but just as one more thing to do.

Leave time for reflection.  Rather than log, we reflect.  My students set monthly reading goals and then at the end of the month they reflect on how they did.  The students and I will meet and discuss formally and informally and this is what I use for my vantage point into their reading life.  I ask them to tell me what they are working on and they do.

Don’t forget the purpose of reading logs.  If the purpose is to help students grow as readers then make sure that the very act of filling out a reading log, with or without parent signature, is not damaging that purpose.  It is often when we set up more processes for students in order to help them read better that we lose them as readers.  When kids spend more time doing things attached to reading, rather than the act of reading we have a problem.

 

In the end, in our pursuit to establish classrooms filled with passionate readers, we must make sure that the things we do, even little parts of our day like reading logs, do not do more harm than good.  That we fit our processes around our students, rather than the other way around.  That we continue to debate, question, and consider as we decide what to invest our time in.  And that we always, and I mean always, ask the students what they think.  Even the little ones, they have a voice that matters too.

For all my ramblings on reading logs, here is where to start.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

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14 thoughts on “On Reading Logs

  1. I keep a reading log of sorts on my white board. I write down the books I am reading or listening to as well as a song or album of the week. I think it is great to share those things, but I think it would be better if the kids had the opportunity to do it like that to. A reading log for a teacher is about accountability while one that is public is about sharing. Sharing is so much nicer than accountability. 🙂

  2. Great post. I go back and forth on this and have yet to get it right. The best years were years I had runners and birdwatchers and others come in and talk about how important their logs were–how keeping track of everything as a runner helped her reflect and she loved her logs. So many real life logs. I can’t imagine being a reader without some type of a log. The issue is–who is the log for–the teacher or the reader? Great conversation. Thx!

  3. I teach reading and my son in 3rd grade has not turned in a reading calendar all year. Sometimes I feel bad that he could be missing out on an activity or made to feel inferior because he didn’t return it. But when the time comes to turn them In I have no idea where it is. I don’t feel right just filling in minutes, so we don’t do it. We read. He loves joke books and non-fiction on bugs and other gross things. I want him to pick up a book because he wants to, not because he has to.

  4. Having spent the past five years signing off on a plethora of reading logs, I consider them imBOREtant work: boring to the student and parent, but important for the teacher. Students will make reading logs due diligence if that is the attitude of the teacher.

    If teachers have very high standards of ALL their students, then as a parent, I should not have to fill out a reading log. I should see the pages turning at home. I see my child wake up at 6am and run to the living room couch to read his book, his eyes still focusing to the light. I’d like to take a picture of that and send it to the teacher as evidence of reading. Log that.

    As a high school teacher, I have one means of assessing my students’ reading lives, and it comes down to one word: diorama. Psych! Really, I just talk to my students. It’s hard to talk with each of them in a timely fashion, particularly at the high school level, but I do. They’re very honest with me, and I don’t recommend and hand them one book. I make a stack of them, then ask them to take a picture of the tower of spines listing the authors and titles, a “shelfie.” Just as students need real choice about their reading lives, they need choices about how best to be assessed. My child wants to talk about his books. To anyone and everyone. Let him record his talk on a voice memo, or videotape his reading log. He’d love that. But a row on a chart, day in and day out? Not so much…

    And dear schools everywhere, if you are going to require logs, two words for you: GOOGLE FORMS! You’re welcome. 🙂

  5. Hi Pernille,

    This was a though-provoking post! I do use reading logs, but only for the students to keep track of the titles and genres and how long it took them to complete the book. Nothing for parents to sign!

    I was wondering what kinds of reading goals/ reading reflections your students do? I’m interested in having my students do something along those lines. I’d love to hear your suggestions/examples.

    Thanks in advance!

  6. It has taken me almost 10 years to create an independent reading system that students do not hate. I have tried every type of reader response journal, nightly or weekly reading log, and quarterly book report that is out there. Each time I had hopes that my students would embrace my plan and magically become the avid readers that I wanted them to be. Instead, I was creating students who avoided reading for pleasure or who would simply grab any book without regard to their interests or abilities, simply to appease me. I knew that in order to create a culture of readers, I needed to forgo many practices and start fresh. The day I renounced the nightly reading log, cheers broke out in my classroom. I’m not kidding! I outlined my new plan:

    1. Students could read any genre they wanted. Any.
    2. I promised to move the sun and Earth to help them find books they really wanted to read. (I have spend hours picking through stacks at Goodwill to find a book about dragons for one student or using Scholastic bonus points to get another student the sequel they had been wanting, bringing kids to the library, conducting Book Talks and building a classroom library that has something for everyone.)
    3. I taught them how to time themselves reading one page and how to complete a few calculations to determine an approximate “due date” for their self-selected book.
    4. Students turn in a half-page Reading Contract to me.
    5. I check-in weekly with the entire class and have informal conferences as often as time permits.
    6. Students are allowed to abandon books from time to time. (I am quick to intervene if this becomes a habit.)

    That’s it. I have never had so many students begging for SSR time or stopping me between classes to chat about their books. My students are readers! They can’t wait until the next Book Talk and have recently created Good Reads accounts so they can connect with one another about recommendations! They tell me they have never read so many good books in one school year. Many tell me that this is the first time they ever considered themselves readers. Giving students the opportunity to choose their nightly reading material, taking away the loathed tasks and showing them that I am invested in their reading habits has made all the difference.

      • On the front side I ask for the basic book information (title, genre, number of pages, author, etc.) However controversial lexiles are, I also ask them to include the lexile of the book. This is only so that I can look for patterns of students choosing books that are too challenging and end up abandoning them. Then I know that we need to spend more time finding a “just right” book for that reader. I also mix the contracts up with different prompts. For example, I might ask them to make a prediction or ask a question. I try to make the contracts quick….the whole point is to not make reading a chore…..but at the same time, I am able to follow up with my readers by asking if their predictions panned out, or if they were able to answer their questions. It’s enough to get a conversation started in the class check-in or during a private reading conference. On the back, I have a fill-in-the-blank template that helps them calculate an approximate due date, based on how long it takes them to read one page. Once they get used to the system, it only takes them about 5 minutes to complete a contract and turn it in to me.

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  10. As a teacher in South TX at a school with 95% Hispanic demographics, I always wondered if my use of Accelerated Reader to motivate and encourage reading was as bad as some librarians seemed to think it was. I didn’t do Reading Logs or book reports because I didn’t want my students to associate book reports with reading or to kill the joy of reading for my students. i just wanted to quantitate their reading in some way for my reflection as a teacher and to empower them to set, achieve, and surpass a goal. At first I used rewards, but after a while it was about the reading not the rewards. I love to read and I wanted them to pick up the habit of reading everyday. My students set the number of AR points they would try to attain each week and then raise it at the end of each school quarter or not. If they attained their goal by Thursday they had the choice of free time or the normal SSR on Friday. Their only Reading homework was to read 30 minutes each night with a book or magazine of their choice. They had to try to keep their AR testing at 80%, read at or above their expected grade level average and attain 225 points by the end of the year. If there was any cheating I deleted their points and they started over. I only had to do that once. The school required that parents sign that nightly reading had been done. I was also a number cruncher like the author of this blog. By the end of the year the class had read over 12,000 points worth of books, nearly double the class goal. We didn’t do the STAR test, just the tests on the books. They shared good reads,talked authors and genres and good writing which they called a book having good “guts”. After 15 years of doing this and crunching the numbers I noticed that when students read as much as mine did, the state tests were a breeze for them. Many would come up and tell me they knew the answer to this or that because they read it in a book. We didn’t have to practice for the test or cram. Every single student passed every state test in all content areas, many got PHS(Post High School) in most areas of the Stanford 10, and many took ACT tests in 7th grade. BUT, the most rewarding event from all of this came when the superintendent of my school in TX went to St. Mary’s College in Boston to the graduation of one of my former students and when asked at dinner with her parents why she thought she was so successful in college, she said it was because I had started her on a habit of reading 30 or more minutes a night in 4th grade and turned her on to reading and that she still does this 16 years later. That was my answer to if it worked or not.

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