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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A Call for Common Sense Reading Instruction

It appears that in our quest to make sure students can comprehend what they read that we have lost our common sense.  That we have started listening much more to programs, politicians, and shoddy research than the very kids who the programs are happening to.  That we have pushed the ideas of teachers aside, of best practices, and solid pedagogy, and gotten so lost in the process that we turn to more experts to tell us what we used to know.

So it is time for a little reminder of what we know about best reading practices; those same ideas that my students have been reminding me of for years.  Those same ideas that the godfathers and godmothers of reading have been shouting loudly for years.

Choice matters.

And choice for all matters.  Not just for the kids who already know how to read well.  Not just for the kids that seem to be able to pick the right book almost every time.  Not just for the kids who already feel like readers.  Choice for the vulnerable, for the strugglers, for the resistant, for the kids who don’t think they will ever like reading, for whatever we deem to label a child that just not has blossomed as a reader just yet.  And real choice, not the pretend you have choice when I ask you to select from this one stack of books.

Time matters.

And not the time to do more stuff about reading, but actually read in class.  To plant the seeds of further reading as Allington discusses in his research.  To actually give them time to read within our school day before we make them do more with their reading.  How can we say that reading a great book is vital and then deny them the chance to do it right in our very own classrooms?  How do we find time to have them read in class, we, educators, stop speaking so much in class.

Perception matters.

How we view the abilities of our students directly influence the instructional choices we make.  When we perceive them as high-achieving and capable we give them freedom, more chances of creativity, and have better relationships.  When we are afraid that they will not be able to handle something, we restrict them, we tighten our control, we have them read less, do less meaningful work, and also have a more strained relationship with them.  Do you see all of your students as capable readers or just some of them?

Access matters.

We know children should be surrounded by books, and yet how much money is spent on other resources rather than books.  When I see 1 on 1 programs rolled out or other major tech initiatives, I always wonder if the same amount has been spent on books?  Not because I don’t support the technology, but because books aren’t often seen as investments.  I always wonder if there is a classroom library in every room.  Yes, we need fully staffed school libraries with certified librarians for all kids AND we also need classroom libraries in every single classroom.  In fact, research shows that students read 50-60 % more in classrooms that have libraries than in those without.

Representation matters.

And those classroom libraries need to represent the diverse society we live in.  We need to critically evaluate what we bring into our students’ reading lives, not because it always has to be classical reading but because we need great books for many readers.  That means we say yes to graphic novels, audio, comic books and other amazing formats of books.  That means that we search out and specifically purchase stories featuring a diversity of characters from #OwnVoices authors.  That means that we not just aware of who is represented, but also how they are represented.  And we constantly assess who is not represented in our classroom library.  We start small with our library collections and build them every month.

Reflection matters.

When we finish a book, what do most of us do?  I can tell you what most people don’t do – write about it.  And yet, what is one of the most common practices we have students do in our classrooms?  Those little jots, reflection pieces, reviews, and logs are making the very act of reading a chore.  Not for all but for some.  So why make all kids reflect after they have finished a book?  Why not give them choice?  Perhaps they want to do nothing, perhaps they want to book talk it, perhaps they want to share the book on social media, perhaps they want to write.  Let them discover what their reading identity tells them to do rather than follow a blanket rule.

Our knowledge of children’s literature matters.

If we are teaching readers then we should be reading their books.  Every time we read a children’s book we are able to speak another language with our students.  The books we recommend get read more, which also means that the book gaps we have (books we do not tend to read) dictate what we don’t recommend.  So read widely and proudly.  Read children’s literature as much as possible so that you can become a proper reading role model, not just because you said you are, but because you are able to speak books with the very kids you teach.

Trust matters.

When a child tells me that they read at home, I trust them.  Much like I trust them to work on reading outside of our class.  If I hand them a reading log to have parents sign, I am telling them that I don’t trust them when they share their reading decisions with me to quote Jessica Lifshitz.  For some that may take all year to achieve, for some, the habit never fully solidifies.  But we try every day as we offer up reminders of why reading more than just what is accomplished in class matters.

Personalization matters.

When we purchase the programs, when we make blanket decisions, when we force the same procedures on every child, we are telling them that we are too busy to get to know them.  That their unique reading identity needs to fit within this one box, no matter where they are on their journey.  That we would rather trust a program than trust the very kids we teach.  So use the program but keep your students in mind, detour when needed, and administrators, please tell your teachers to trust their experience rather than just follow a program to fidelity.  Give them time to wrestle with new ideas, new challenges, and new curriculum.  Trust those that are ready and support those that need it.  So much can depend on one great administrator.

You matter.

And so you must find the courage to speak up when you see instructional decisions harm the love of reading that our students carry.  You must start conversations within your own district, your own buildings, and you must reflect on your own decisions.  Ask your students how you can be a better teacher for them.  Ask them what makes reading amazing and what makes it awful.  Question your own practices and admit when you need to grow.  We are only as good as our last decision to change.

So we can purchase the programs, we can get caught up in test scores and test prep.  We can continue to search for the next big thing or we can go back to the things we know work for all kids; time to read, choice in what they read, access to books, and a community to grow with.  Don’t lose touch with your own common sense.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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 7th Grade Reading Challenge

33% of my 118 7th graders told me they had not read a single book last summer.  That books were just not their thing or they were simply too busy.  33%…Many of them told me they had read the book club books they had been assigned the year before but not that much else.  Some told me they had fake read most of their way through years prior, averaging 1 to 2 books a year if even.  Some told me how much they loved books, that their summers were spent with their nose in pages because what else would you do when you have all of the time in the world

Teaching 7th graders has taught me many things, but one of the biggest is the incredible need to inspire a larger love of reading in more of their lives.  Not because teachers before them haven’t, but because for some reason it hasn’t completely stuck for all of them. So that becomes our mission; for the students to fall in love with reading or at the very least hate it less.

When I read the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, it significantly changed my reading instruction as a teacher.  Coupled with other landmark books for me such as The Daily Five by The Two Sisters, and also Mosaic of Thought by Elin Keene and Susan Zimmerman, I finally felt like I had a path I could follow when it came to the aspiration of reading.  It was as if I did not know how high of expectations I could hold my students to until after I read these books.  Donalyn’s 40 Book Challenge became a central tenet of my instruction, not as a requirement, but as a way for my students to challenge themselves.  While I made tweaks because that is what reflective teachers do, I stayed true to its original intent; to challenge my students to read voraciously, based on the research that Donalyn cites in her book that kids who score in the 90th percentile of reading tests read between 30-40 books a year.  I did not offer incentives.  I did not do logs.  I did not tell my less developed readers that their goals should be less because there was no way they could accomplish 40 books.  I asked them to shoot for 40 or more and then helped them reach their goals by giving them time to read, time to book shop, and support as they needed.  Some kids made their goals, others did not, but they all read more than they had before.

I knew that when I moved to 7th grade I wanted to do the 40 Book Challenge but I was also faced with the incredible limitation of 45-minute instructional blocks.  45 minutes to do everything.  45 minutes that only allowed me to give them 10 measly minutes of reading, rather than the 30 we had enjoyed in 5th grade.  After my first week with my 7th graders, I decided to change the language of the challenge in the beginning to 25 books rather than the 40, not because I did not believe that my 7th graders could not read 40 books, but because for some, simply saying 40 in the beginning seemed completely un-doable, especially because I could only give them 10 minutes of reading time every day.  However, if I had 60 minutes or more, I would still start with 40 books, after all with that amount of time kids should be given at least 20 minutes of reading every day.  But the idea remained; this was a challenge, something to strive for, something to work toward, and something that I believe all of my students can reach if we help them have successful reading experiences.

It appears that some believe that because I have called this the 25 book challenge in the past that that means I want my students to only read 25 books.  That somehow the original 40 book challenge is too hard for kids.  Neither of these statements are true.  All kids should be challenged to read 40 books or more.  I believe all of my students can read more than 25 books, my job is often to help them believe it too.  But just as in the original, it is not really about reaching the quantity set, it is about having incredible reading experiences.

As the year goes on we, therefore, adjust our goal, some continue to focus on the quantity while others change their focus either to different genres, harder vocabulary or even formats that they have not dabbled in before.  While some kids continue to focus on quantity, and for them we do the following breakdown for how books count, for others the challenge morphs into figuring out how they can push themselves as readers beyond a quantity standpoint.  (To see more about this read about the reading identity challenge).

  • Books under 200 pages count as 1 book
  • Books over 200 pages count as 2 books
  • Books over 500 pages count as 3 books
  • Books more than 750 – see the teacher
  • Depending on its size a graphic novel may count as a whole, half or quarter of a book.
  • 10 of the books have to be chapter books
  • If this goal is not high enough for a learner, they set a higher goal
  • They write down their titles in a reader’s notebook we keep at school and update it every Monday or whenever needed.

To see the hand out I give my students, please go here 

I do not ask them to read certain genres but instead take this as an opportunity for them to explore themselves as readers and figure out what they love to read.  I constantly book talk books, as do they once we get rolling, and I am constantly sharing recommendations to individual students.  We practice free book abandonment, making sure that the books we read are books we actually want to read, and we book shop monthly if not more.  Our to-be-read lists are extensions of our reading life and are used weekly, if not daily.

After three years with 7th-grade book challenge, I can tell you, it works.  I am not surprised, after all, Donalyn Miller and her ideas have never let me down.  While not all kids reach their goals, many do, and many of those who did, never thought they would.  Yet the biggest success is not just the kids that reach their goal but within the kids that don’t.  As one child told me on his reading survey, “…I even read a book at home for fun, I had never done that before.”   That child’s number?  Five more than the year before.  Five more great books that he loved so much he book talked them to others.  Books that gave him such a great experience that he continues to chase that feeling again.

I will not pretend that it worked for everyone, there are always kids that issuing a challenge will not work for, where what we did together was not enough, but there are so many that it made a difference for.  Where the expectation to read every single day and reach a certain goal that mattered to them meant that they turned up their reading, that they selected their books more carefully, that they spent a longer stretch reading then they normally would have.

So for the 118 7th graders that I teach, I am so grateful that they believed me when I told then, “Yes, you can read more books.”  But do not take my word for it; let these pictures show you what it looks like when 7th graders read and become readers.  Let these pictures show you that yes we can get kids at this age to read, that just because a child is going through huge personal development reading does not have to become not lost.  What matters is the reading community we create.  And the high expectations we have for all of our kids.  27166703430_98b5a337ba_o26835817253_48478693c8_o27344117862_70e104318d_o27443368625_dc2b4b5b2b_o27344097252_2fe674e6bd_o

And in case you are wondering, that is 4,357.5 books.  Not bad for how many kids told me that reading was not something they felt like doing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

 

Are They Reading At Home?

But how do you know they are reading?  How do you know they read at home?  How do you know that what they are reading is worth their time?  Is challenging them?  Is what they should be reading?

These are the questions I am asked a lot.  These are also the questions I juggle myself.  Once those kids leave our classrooms, how do we know what they do at home?

We are so focused on data.  On proof.  And I get it; without proof of further reading, how will they ever get better?  And yet, the things we implement often lead to less reading, to less enjoyment, to future damage.  So why spend our time now, thinking of ways to hold kids accountable for their outside reading when we don’t even know the kids yet?  Why search for the one perfect way when choice and figuring out how we want to share our reading is vital for our reading identity development.

I used to use reading logs, after all, that parent signature certainly meant compliance.  Then I had kids of my own and I realized that I pretty much sign whatever it is that is sent home from school.  I also realized that the minute my kids had a log attached to it, the last thing they wanted to do was reading.  I gave up the reading logs to the cheers of my students who told me that they had been instrumental in wanting to read less.

So then I turned to reader’s notebooks.  Forced reflection after every read.  Five minutes of writing about your thoughts, your feelings, or one of the questions I had posed.  Five minutes to digest your reading, in silence.  Five minutes every day, until I heard the groans of my students.  Until they begged me to please stop.  So I stopped.  And I wondered, how then do I foster accountability in their outside reading lives when I know how important it is for kids to read?

And then I realized, that I can’t.  That there is truly little I can do the moment they leave room 235D.  That instead of worrying about how I will keep them accountable when they are not with me, that what I needed to focus on was what they were doing with me.  That the biggest component of our reading instruction has to be to foster the love or lessen the dislike of reading so that it might inspire further reading once they left the classroom.

Because as adults, we figure out how we want to reflect on our reading.  We read our books and then we make a choice; what do I want to do now?  The book itself seems to guide our decisions; there are some books that I have to write about because they change me in such a fundamental way.  There are some books I have to hand to others because I want them to have the same experience as I just did.  There are some books that I cannot wait to book talk, knowing that they will inspire more kids to read.  There are some I share on Instagram hoping that others will place them in their classroom.  And then are some that I read and I put aside and then do nothing with.

Sometimes when we read we do nothing.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t read, it just means that we had an experience we didn’t want to share.  Why not offer that as an option to our students too?

So I ask my students now to explore.  I give them time to discuss, more time is needed for sure, to book talk, to recommend.  Sometimes we write.  This year we will look at Flipgrid (I think) and use Instagram, and any other things that my students think may work for them.  And there will also be times where we do nothing.  Where the experience with the book was enough.  And for some kids their reading will incerase at home because they finally fid some books to love, while for others it will be a whole year goal.  Some will fight me on it, they do every year, and others will just need gentle nudging.

So perhaps our discussion should not be how do we hold kids accountable for their outside reading, but instead how do we create passionate reading environments in our schools?  How do we foster a need to read?  An interest that will carry through their days?

I am in this quest to create readers for a lifetime, not just for this year, and so I don’t need the false accountability that will end the moment they leave on the final day of school.  I do not need tools like AR quizzes, reading logs, or forced nightly reflections that they do not change their habits long-term.  I do not need to create more hoops for my students to jump through when it comes to reading; I need them to want to read.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.