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.  

Before You Assign a Reading Log

 

“…Mrs. Ripp, should we bring this home?”  A student is waving the status of the class form I just had them glue in their notebook during our first week of 7th grade English.  “No, please don’t,” I answer, “This is not a reading log, just a tool for you to use here in class.”  I can see the relief spread across the student.  They thought it was a reading log.  I am glad it isn’t.

I have written about reading logs before; how I used to use them, how I had to use them, what to do instead.  I know there is a possibility that Thea will have one at some point.  And I worry about what that will do to her, how she will react not so much to the logging of reading, I do that myself through Goodreads, but the prize aspect, the reading to get something. You see, Thea reads for fun.  Not because she naturally developed that, she would much rather read for prizes, which kid wouldn’t?  But I have learned though her reactions to reading challenges to shield her from that, to build up that we read for the sheer enjoyment of reading.  That we don’t get a reward when we finish a book other than the experience.  That we talk about books and remember them that way, not to log them, not to see how many we can read so we can earn something.

Yet, I get why reading logs are used.  Not all kids read, not all parents push reading as a thing to do every day.  Some kids need a prize to get them motivated or a log to see their habits so they can develop better ones.  Some teachers have to use them because of a school or district initiative, even though they would rather not.   But here’s the thing; not every kid needs one.  Just like every kid doesn’t need an intervention.  Just like every kid doesn’t need homework help, not every kid needs to create better reading habits.

So instead of assigning a reading log to all if there has to be one, how about a tiered approach?  How about a quick conversation with home or the student to discover reading habits?  How about choice?  I will gladly share with Thea’s teachers that we read for 30 minutes or more every night.  That Thea pretends to read for another 30 after we tuck her in.  That our house is filled with books.  That going to the library or the book store is viewed as the biggest surprise.  That getting a new book is something we celebrate.  That we read the same books over and over because we love them so much.  That we don’t need a reading log for that, we just need time.

I don’t have to do a reading log anymore so instead I asked my 7th graders about their reading habits to see who needs help establishing better habits.  It doesn’t take long, it is not hard work, but the information I gained will help us grow. They don’t need reading logs, they need a place to jot down how much they read in class and a place to record their ratings of books.  Their parents don’t need to be involved.  There will be no prizes.  They are expected to read and I can tell if they don’t through conversation.  That works for me, for the students right now, and hopefully it will in the future as well.

For ideas of what to do instead of a reading log, here are some

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

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It’s January.  In the perfect world all of my students would love reading by now.  All of my students would bring their self-chosen book to class, eager to dive in, begging for more reading time.  In a perfect world, every child would have a goal they were working toward, every child would be eager to book talk their books, to browse our library, to read outside of class.  I don’t teach in the perfect world, I don’t think anyone does.

Instead, by now here in January, I have kids that still show up with no books.  That still tell me they hate reading.  That still would rather flip the pages and not actually read anything.  I still have kids who don’t read outside of class, who have no goals, who would rather do everything they can to avoid having a reading check in with me.  Not a lot, the numbers have dwindled, but they are still there, they are still prominent, and I still lose sleep over how to help them have a better relationship with reading (or writing, or speaking, or English, or even just school…)

We all have these kids in our classrooms, in our learning communities.  These kids that seem to defy the odds of every well-meaning intention we may have.  Who do not fall under our spell or the spell of a great book.  Who actively resists not so much because they want to but because they feel they have to.  And so our initial thoughts are often to tighten the reins.  To tell them which book to read.  To hand them a reading log so that you can see when don’t read.  To tie in rewards to motivate or even consequences to punish.  We create lesson plans with more structure, less choice, less freedom overall thinking that if we just force them into a reading experience, perhaps then it will click for them.

We must fight our urges when it comes to the regimented reading experiences.  What these kids need is usually not less freedom, more force.  What these kids need is not more to do when it comes to their reading.  What these kids need is not the carefully crafted worksheet packet with its myriad of questions that will finally make them read the book.

What they need is patience.  Repetition.  Perseverance.  I am not in a fight with these kids.  I am not here to punish them into reading.  I am not here to reward them into reading either.  I am here to be the one that doesn’t give up, even if they have themselves.  I am here to be the one that continues to put a pile of books in front of them and say “Try these…”  I am the one that will repeat myself every day when I say, ‘Read…” and then walk away.  Who will crouch down next to them and ask them how they feel and listen to their words, even if I have heard them a million times before.

We look to external systems and plans because they entice us with their short-term promises.  We fall under the spell of programs, of removing choice from those who have not earned it, in an effort to get these kids there faster.  Yet, what I have learned from my students is that every one is on a different path.  That every child is on the journey  and while their pace may be excruciatingly slow, they are still moving forward.

So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I.  I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.  And so that is what I will do, every day, up until the last day, hoping to reach every single one, even if I have not reached them yet.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers

Why is it all right to impose rules on children's reading lives that we would never follow as adults?

Choice.

The number one thing all the students I have polled through the years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Removing choice.   I have to start with the most obvious; removing choice in reading (and even in writing).   We know that choice matters, we know as adult readers we revel in the sheer experience of being able to choose what we want to read.  We take it for granted and will even rebel in small ways when someone says we have to read something.  Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers.  And I get it, we think we know better when students repeatedly choose wrong, yet, it is in the selection process that students can uncover who they are as readers, if we give them time to discuss, reflect, and yes, even try the things they choose that may not be a great fit.

Forced reflection.  We seem to be reflecting kids to death with our requirements to write a little bit about every book they read.  Or having them keep a reading journal or having them write about the signposts or whatever else they are finding when they independently read.  It is not that we shouldn’t have students reflect when they read, it is that we make these one-size-fits-all requirements where students cannot discover how they would like to digest their reading.  How often do we as adults write a paragraph every time we finish a book?  Or summarize it?  Or make a diorama, (which yes, I made my students do)?  While I know adults that would love to do all of those things, I also know many that would not.  In fact, many adult readers I know would slow down their reading or hide their reading if they had to do all of that “work.”  When I teach the signposts (from the excellent book Notice and NoteNotice and Note) I tell my students that they are not expected to find them when they are reading at home, but that they are meant to be able to find them when asked.  There is a big difference in the way they feel about the task because it is not something they have to do all of the time.

Forced tracking.  Oh reading logs, I am looking at you here.  Yes, as an adult I track my reading on my Goodreads account.  I even write reviews sometimes.  But I don’t track my pages (unless I have a bigger purpose in mind and then it is for short amount of time), or time how long I read for, or even have my husband sign for me.  I make time to read because I love reading.  And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it.

Points and competition.  Yes, AR, you have it coming.  Plus all of the other initiatives that we put in place to urge students to read.  And I get it; we desperately want students to become readers and to keep reading, yet this short-term solution can actually have a long-term consequence; kids who do not read for reading’s sake but for the prizes or honors attached to it.  We know what the research says regarding motivation and reading and how it can actually have adverse effects, and yet, we continue to concoct programs to try to get them reading.  How many adults though would read more because we then could take a computerized test that would give us points?  How many adults would be okay with their reading lives on display for the world to see?  Some would, while others would hate for the world to know something that they see as a personal discovery.  Why do we assume that what might work for one child will work for all?

Limited abandonment.  As an adult reader I practice wild book abandonment, passing books on when I know they are not right for me, yet as teachers, we often have rules for when students are allowed to abandon a book.  I used to subscribe to the 50 page rule myself.  Why?  If a child wants to abandon a book, they are on their way to knowing themselves better as a reader.  This is something to celebrate, not something to limit.  If a child is a serial book abandoner, and yes, I have a few of those, then we should be asking them why, rather than just stopping them.  What did they not like about this book?  What do they need to look for instead?  Help them explore their reading identity so that they can develop it rather than have them mimic yours.

Inane bookshopping rules.  My students used to be allowed to bookshop on Fridays.  That was it.  Yet, as an adult reader I bookshop all of the time.  I am constantly on the prowl for the next great read and my to-be-read list is ever expanding.  I get that book shopping or browsing sometimes becomes an escape for a child when they do not want to read, but then we work with that one child, rather than impose limits for all.  My students know that book shopping can happen anytime during our independent reading time, or even if they have completed other tasks.  I would rather want children that want to look at books, than those who abhor it.

When my students started telling me their reading truths, I drove home in shame; how many of the very things they told me had killed their love of reading where things that I had done myself as a teacher?  How many of the things was I still doing?  Yet, within the words of my students, I found the biggest truth of all; different children need different reading experiences and so that means now is I try to create a passionate reading environment, where there is room and scaffold for all of my readers.  Not just those that can work in one system concocted by me.  I know that sometimes large things are out of our control, yet, there are so many small things that are.  Think of what made you a reader or what stopped you from becoming one and then use that reflection to shape the way reading is taught and practiced in your own learning environment.  Being a teacher means that we learn from our mistakes, I have made many, and it means that we continue to strive for better.  We cannot do that if we don’t listen to the students.  And you know what; don’t take my word for it; ask your own students.  Then listen. Then do something about it.

PS:  Today I pondered out loud on Twitter how many educators tell students to read at home or over the summer and never read themselves.  Being a reading role model should be a requirement for all teachers of reading, it makes a huge difference.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading

Protect your child's love of reading as you would their health; it is vital for a happy life pernille ripp

I have not hidden the fact that my oldest daughter has been a developing reader for the past 2 years.  That something that came so easy for me, has been a fight for her, where the words stammered and stuttered and her frustration grew.  But.  We just received word from her teacher that she is at grade level as she finishes 1st grade.  That all of her (and their)  hard work has paid off.  That it now is up to us to keep her reading to keep building on the momentum she is on.

Thea is lucky.  She has been in a school where they value creating reading experiences above everything else.  Where they work with each child at their level and try to keep reading magical.  Where each child is given time to read self-chosen books, receive one-to-one or small group instruction, and the emphasis is on reading for fun, not reading for requirement or prizes.  As a school, they have said no to so many things we know can harm the love of reading.

Our role as parents has been to uphold the expectations they have created; reading for fun, reading as a natural part of our day, reading as something that becomes part of the conversations we have every day.  We have gladly embraced it.  We have not had to protect our daughter’s burgeoning love of reading from some of the practices such as reading logs, reading for rewards, AR, or forced daily reading reflections we see around schools, but what if we did?  What can we do then?

We can ask questions.  I think of all of the well-meaning things I did my first years as a teacher that I thought would help children read more that I now cringe at; reading logs, rewards, book reports and projects, reading reflections every night and so on.  No parent ever asked questions because they assumed I knew what I was doing, but the truth is, I was still developing and learning.  I did these things because I thought that is what good teachers did.   Whenever parents ask questions, it may at first be off-putting, but in the end it always helps me grow.  It always offers me a chance for genuine reflection, a chance to re-visit the components that I teach.  This is never a bad thing even if it feels that way at first.

We can share the research.  These ideas of protecting a love of reading are not just based on momentary whims.  Research has shown time and time again how for example external factors such as points, scores, or even food negatively impact a child’s desire to read.  (For a great article on reading logs see this).  If a school has misguided practices in place, then perhaps they have not seen what is out there that can help them grow?  There are nice ways to present research that doesn’t involve chastising other people, especially since it is not always the choice of a teacher to do some of these things, but instead that of a well-meaning district.  So share research and don’t be disappointed if it makes no difference, sometimes even the best research only plants a seed that we will not see come to fruition for a long time.

We can lie.  I know that sounds terrible, but as far as Thea’s kindergarten reading log, I decided to sign it every night and not show her.  She didn’t need to know that she was working toward anything, nor did she need to know that I had to keep track.  So I didn’t tell her and I didn’t keep track, instead I rummaged through her backpack every night and simply signed so her teacher could in turn sign off every morning.  Thea was a reader but even readers take a night off her and there.

We can say no.  No one wants to be THAT parent but sometimes we have to be.  Saying no to a school-wide practice such as reading logs or the use of AR can be a daunting task, but we have to remember the bigger picture; protecting a child’s love of reading.  In Thea’s first kindergarten class,  she was presented with a reading log on the 2nd day of school, all in order to be included in a pizza party.  When I asked questions about it, I was told that in later years the reading log would be a part of her grade for reading and that if she didn’t do it, her reading grade would suffer.  Her grade!  While, at first, this startled me  I soon realized that I was fine with that.  So be it if her grade was lower because she didn’t participate.  Her grade didn’t matter as long as she found reading enjoyable and not something you did to earn something.  Sometimes change will not come until parents speak up, so be the voice of reason and if you see something changing your child’s reading habits for the worse, then do something about it.  Don’t just expect it to be ok in the end. Protect your child’s love of reading as you would their health;  it is vital for a happy life.

We can create our own enjoyable reading experiences.  Sometimes we have to be the counterpoint to the environment our children are in.  If we know that self-selected books are a major component to creating pleasurable reading experiences then that is what we should strive for.  While the parent in me often felt panicked that Thea was not making the necessary gains as a reader, the teacher in me knew that it simply would take time.  That forcing her to read more books every night, or even write more about her reading, would only make the experience miserable for her.  So keeping reading fun, making it a family event (see this blog post for lots of summer reading experience ideas) and making it a natural part of your day are all choices we can make, whether or not our child’s school believes in it.

We have been so lucky as we look back on Thea’s short reading life.  As she switches school this coming school year, I can only hope that it will continue.  We may sometimes wonder about the policies that directly influence our children, but we should never feel powerless.  As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must ever forget that.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

On Reading Gaps and Book Recommendations

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I have been racing through the pages of Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy this weekend.  Finding every moment I can to read it.  Not because I love football books, anyone who knows me would probably laugh at that considering I don’t watch any football, ever.  Not because I  am under a special deadline to get it done.  The book is mine, I can read it as slowly as I would like to.  No, because the book was recommended to me by an 8th grader and I know just the right 7th grader to pass it to.  But first I want to read it, to add it to my repertoire of books my resistant readers may embrace.  And so this weekend, Gym Candy and I have been spending a lot of time together and it has led me to contemplate my own reading identity.

I  speak and write (and even think) a lot about how our classroom needs to be filled with books and children eager to read them. How one of my biggest missions in teaching is to help students fall in love with reading or remain there.  How we must create interest for many genres of books and then expose students to them through informal book talks or reading displays.  But what about our own reading identities?  Do we give as much thought to what we read, what we share, what we embrace, as we do that of the students?  Are we branching out and putting ourselves through the very motions that we try to put our students through?

I know I am not.  If you were to look at my reading display you would notice a pattern; science fiction, fantasy (but not too fantasy-y) and a great realistic fiction story now and then.  Mostly new books, geared at 12 plus in ages.  Even though I should be reading for the Global Read Aloud.  It seems as if I have found myself as a reader a long time ago and firmly stayed there, happy with the destination. Yet, within my own reading preferences I am creating limitations in how I teach.  I am missing out on entire genres of books that some of my students might fall in love with.  I am becoming less of a book lover and more of a genre lover.  And that is a problem.

When we only read for ourselves, even with a mission to find great books to share with students, we forget to study our own habits.  We forget to see the book gaps, which many have blogged about before, and how these gaps affect us as book recommenders.  If you had asked me to recommend a great sports book, my list would have had  2 on them, now it has 3, and that is still not enough.

So when my former student told me to read Gym Candy he only had to mention it twice.  Not because I owed it to him and our continuing book conversations.  Not because this would probably be the only way he would ever recommend another book to me.  While both important, these were not the biggest reasons, but instead because it allowed me to make an investment in the students I have yet to reach.  In the students who need my experience with books to guide them.  For the students who don’t know what to read and hate the very genres I love.

So I pledge to read more widely.  I pledge to ask more questions.  I pledge to not judge and I pledge to recognize my own deficiencies in order to inspire my students to do the same.  There are entire genres I would never read on my own where  I would be just fine as a reader, but I would not be fine as a teacher.  So as I finish the pages of this book, I look forward to the next challenge and not to the comfort of the books I would naturally read.  Who knows; there may be an entire genre for me to fall in love with.  I just need to find it first.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.