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.