I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, it is part of the life of someone who reads voraciously and publicly. I share a lot of book recommendations in real life every day with my students as I do a 1-minute booktalk, with colleagues as we swap books, on this blog where I compile the books I use for various units, on Instagram where I share the ones I have loved, in my Facebook group for my book, Passionate Readers. I don’t mind handing over recommendations, after all, I am so grateful for those who recommend books to me and have throughout the years.
And yet, I am also reminded of why I can recommend so many books. I read a lot. Sometimes more than at other times. I try to read widely. Broadly. I try to keep up with new books and those that I missed the first time. I try to follow the recommendations of others who discover books that I have not yet come across. Whose passion in reading is a gap of mine. I try to fill my gaps and find more knowledge when it comes to the books that I can potentially place in the hands of the readers I am entrusted with because being asked for recommendations by the very students I teach fuels me to read more. Fuels me to think of the kid that is in front of me and potential books that may help them re-connect or stay connected with reading. I have seen what being able to recommend the right book can do. I have seen certain books help them out of slumps. But I also know that recommending books can be a slippery slope. That if I continue to be the only one recommending then the voices of my students are not heard and the identities of them as readers, and, indeed, as human beings, will never be fully independent. Yes, I can recommend, but it is so much more powerful when a child is able to recommend to their peers or when they can successfully find books to their liking by themselves. And so it is a fine line between recommendation and discovery. Between asking students to study their own patterns and discovering their own gaps in order to help them read more broadly and see other people’s experiences that perhaps do not mirror their own.
I see this play out too when we, educators, turn to each other for specific book recommendations for that child we cannot seem to find a great book for. That often we educators, who teach future readers, are not keeping up ourselves with reading. Are not aware of what is out there now in these years when it comes to the incredible books that beckon our readers, and that is a problem. Because too often I see the same authors recommended, a new canon of books exclusively by white authors touted as the must reads. I see the same books recommended time and time again, I see the same titles used as read alouds, as novel studies, as book clubs. I see books that certainly have been worth our time never be replaced because we, the adults, deciding the books, haven’t kept up with our own reading. And I am not sure what to do about it other than discuss this pattern and recommend more books.
This is not to say that we cannot turn to each other for recommendations, but it is to say that we, as a profession, need to read more broadly and more overall in order to serve the kids we teach. In order to change our own understanding of what quality literature is and also what the gaps are in our curriculum. In order to see that the canon, whether traditionally established or not, needs to be questioned, disrupted, and that we also produce our own canon year after year. That when we are asked for book recommendations we audit ourselves and think of whose work we highlight. Whose books we hold up as the best. Whose voices we give more power to when we pass the recommendation on.
I try to see the children who come to me for recommendations as the invitations into reading that they are; see it as an invitation to read more. To pick up another book in the hopes that I can pass it on. To study my own gaps; what am I not reading and why not? Why is it hard for me to think of a title for this kid? For this particular reader? I treat my book gaps and lack of recommendations as a research project; which are the books that should be read? Which are the books I can use in class? Pass on? Recommend? I dedicate my limited time to reading as many books as I can in order to better my practice and become more than I was.
And so while I will continue to recommend books, I will also remind myself that I have much more work to do. That recommending a book isn’t the only step in the journey. That I should track what I recommend so I can see what I don’t. That I should continue to listen to the voices of those who spend so much time helping me see my own book gaps. That I have so many more ways to grow. That before I ask others, I will look at my own reading habits and make a plan so I can continue to grow myself. After all, my students are not the only ones who are still figuring out who they are.
You may have noticed that this blog is slowing down a bit, while life continue to churn, I am slowly starting to work on a new book potentially. This means that there may be less brand-new writing on here and instead a mix of from the archives and new. The wonderful thing with continuing to be a teacher is that our teaching, hopefully, evolves as does our understanding of the work we do. With that I present to you a reworking of an older postfrom 2015.
I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching. Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner. No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner. So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it. And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation. Repeat with every book. I don’t think he ever read anything beside “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” that year, and that was to spite me more than anything as I forced him into my choice of book time and time again. because I figured that when he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to do it. When he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to create accountability.
Everyone has these types of readers. The ones that abandon book after book because they hate to read, always have, always will. The ones that abandon book after book because they cannot find a great book, or perhaps they found one once, or perhaps they never have. The ones that abandon book after book because they get bored easily and while a book may have started great, now it is just meh. Some years we have a lot, others not so many.
Often for every child that abandons a book, there is a conversation missing, one that we need to engage them in in order to break the cycle. One that centers on one of the true goals of reading which is that the children we teach should be able to leave us being able to find a book that they are wanting to try on their own, without relying on artificial supports such as their level, their Lexile, or their teacher because they inherently know themselves better as readers.
This conversation takes time, it takes patience, and it takes diving into all of the many components that centers around the giving up a book. While often it may be seen as a rash decision made from an overall disinterest in reading, one that we dismiss when we hand a child another book to try, it is important that we dive into the nuances surrounding book abandonment in order for a child to know themselves more every time they abandon one. Make the act of abandonment one of internal reflection so that it no longer becomes automatic but instead becomes a choice that they can use to further investigate who they are as a reader.
This, therefore, means that there are questions we should be asking of our programming as well as the children that choose to leave yet another failed read in their wake. These questions shape the future decisions they make as well as their overall journey into their own reading identity.
Do they have choice? Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start. And not limited choice based on levels, Lexiles, or AR scores, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials out of all the reading materials we have. This includes choosing the format and how to access it. Even as they abandon book after book, that choice needs to be protected at all costs, because while we may think that limiting choice will help them in the short-term, that’s exactly the problem with this approach, it helps in the short-term but does not push them further in their own understanding of book selection that works. So even when it seems like the list of abandoned books is too long to bear, let them continue to choose as there are other perimeters to consider.
Do they have time to actually book shop? Often we ask kids to quickly select a book and then wonder why they seem to not be invested in the choice they make, yet, if we study our own adult reading habits we know that leisurely browsing through selections is a pillar of how we choose books. So what are the time constraint placed on students? Do they have time to look through books, try a few pages, sit with a book for a while before they fully commit? Do they have time to speak to their peers about potential titles? Book shopping should be a social endeavor not one done in solitude if they don’t want to, so what are the conversations that need to happen as they browse?
Do they have time to read? If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like only outside of school. That is foolish and also malpractice when it comes to the use of our time. Every child, every day, should be engaged in supported independent reading. So when can they read in class and try on the book? When can they be under the guidance of a trained adult that can help them navigate difficult concepts or words?
Do they have access? We know that students need great books in their hands. We know students need great libraries coupled with a librarian, but they also need books in our classrooms. And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high-interest books that they can check out easily. So when are they surrounded by books to choose from, what are those choices? Can they check the books out and bring them home or do they have to be kept in class? Yes, I lose books every year, but it is worth it to me if it helps a child read.
Are they overwhelmed? One student I taught told me 6 months into the year that our classroom library was simply overwhelming to browse in. That he didn’t know where to start despite my labels and bins. It took that long for him to tell me because he didn’t trust me with the information, afraid that I would think it silly or stupid, and yet, I didn’t think anything like that. What a way to know oneself! Once he had told me, we were able to create a way for him to browse specific sections of the library that he liked and able to pull out books from large stacks that I would pull for him. As he gradually got more comfortable, I was able to pull back my support.
Do they see themselves in the books? We discuss students needing windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors in their reading lives as crafted by Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, but do we also evaluate the stories we have? Are we making sure that we are not just crafting a new cannon of sorts that continues to misrepresent marginalized populations or only share one aspect of someone’s journey? What reading choices are the students surrounded by? Is it culturally responsive such as how Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses? Will it further a perhaps damaging narrative that they already have about others, or will it break down misconceptions, stereotypes, and harmful thinking?
Do they have people? Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group? Who do they have to talk books to? Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher? Who are the people that have similar tastes as them, that they can speak books with? Many of my students tell me that they don’t have many others to get recommendations from despite being in book-rich environments for years and teachers working specifically on this. So how else can we increase the natural book conversations, students are having in order for them to make connections with the reading tastes of others? I often invite kids to book shop together so that they can find books together, we also use book talks for this as students discover others with similar tastes as them. Also, who are the adults that can speak books to them? It should never be just the classroom teacher, invite your librarian in, create a rich reading community so that students can see many readers int heir day, and many opportunities to speak books.
Do they have reason to read? And by that, I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward. Do they see any kind of gain from reading? Is anything positive connected to the art of reading? Will it actually make their lives better or is it just one more thing to do? Many of my students who abandon books repeatedly do it because they see no point and until we start to help them see a point of reading that goes beyond “the adults make me do it” then it is going to be hard to break any kind of habits. So how can we stress the importance of reading, what is it they want to accomplish in their lives where reading plays a central role? Is is that they want to understand others? Understand the world? Or is it much smaller than that?
Do they have different ways to read? Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked on an incredible audio book. This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way. Sometimes getting them into text is what makes a difference, especially if they would like to read a book that may be difficult for them to decode independently, why not use audio books as a way to help them become invested in a text? Then we can work on the decoding separately.
Are they hiding gaps? I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills. So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem such as not actually understanding what they are reading or not having developed the stamina to stay with the story? Is reading seen as something emotionally draining because it is incredibly difficult? We cannot dismiss the emotions that are attached with reading for many kids, especially our vulnerable readers, and so we must work on developing their understanding of themselves as readers along with the skills of reading. This requires trust.
Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading? When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices. And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok. Are reading logs killing their love of reading? Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI? Are we constantly asking them to do things with their reading rather than “just” read? What else is attached to our reading that may make a child abandon rather than finish a book?
Have we asked them? This is the biggest component needed because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why. Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?” So instead we must give the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits. What patterns do they see? What types of books might they like to read? What can they do to change their habits? Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise, their pattern won’t change. They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress. This is part of the much larger work that must be centered in who they are as readers and how they want to take control of their reading identity.
Do they trust you? Trust is often something that is taken for granted in our classrooms, as if by simply being together, we build trust, and yet that is not true. Often we have to work hard to earn the trust of students, particularly those whose school experiences have not been safe or those whose lives are different than the ones we lead. Trust takes many things; choosing to be vulnerable, creating a calm and safe space, acknowledging our own limitations as a teacher and adult, recognizing our own limited experience of the world, and also being genuinely invested in the success of every child no matter where they are in their journey. We earn trust, plain and simple, and we do it by showing up, asking questions, actively listening, and passing no judgment. By investing into the lives of each child, by partnering with those at home, and by removing shame as a tool in our learning environments. By expanding our tools as a teacher, and more importantly our knowledge so that we can do better. Often students tell me much later in the year why they really hate reading or why they abandon book after book but it takes time for them to feel that I deserve the truth. Sometimes they are not sure why until much later. Until they do, I engage them in conversation both planned in our reading conferences and casual, I congratulate them on the accomplishments they do have, and I continue to provide them with the tools I can think of to help them be successful. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes trusting your students even if they don’t trust you.
Abandoning books is often seen as an irritating habit that we must break quickly at all costs when it comes to students, but what if it instead is viewed as a starting point for a deep and nuanced exploration into the reading journey that a child is on? Think of the conversations we can have.
A conversation I find myself having often with other educators is just what to do next for curriculum. How do we get everyone on the same page? How do we ensure that what we do is actually happening in different classrooms with different teachers? How do we ensure that the very kids we are entrusted with have somewhat similar experiences within our classrooms all while protecting the art of teaching?
You may think that textbooks with daily lessons are the answer, and for many it appears to be, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As Dr. Allington reminds us, “…no research existed then, or exists now, to suggest that maintaining fidelity to a core reading program will provide effective reading lessons.” (What Really Matters When Working With STruggling Readers, 2013) . Yet, fidelity has become a major selling point as we see many programs being touted to schools who are unsure what to do next. Fidelity has become a point of judgment; how closely aligned are we? Do we use the same texts? The same worksheets? The same words in order to ensure the same experience for all? I was once told by a well-meaning but ill-advised administrator that “I better be on the very same page of the textbook as my colleague next door” as he passed from classroom to classroom.
And yet if there is one thing I know about teaching, it is that our kids are not the same. From class to class, from year to year, the kids have needed different things. Have needed educators that are adept at adapting, that are unafraid to try something new, that know their research, but also know to seek out others for more ideas. Who know their own areas of growth so that they can provide better and better experiences year after year. Sure, use a program to start you off, but don’t forget about the very art of teaching that asks to be responsive to the very kids we teach, that require us to be disruptors of inequitable practices that have shaped the educational experience of so many.
I teach in a district that puts an incredible amount of trust in their teachers and fellow staff who support our students. Whose very core of teaching is autonomy, responsibility, and professional development. Who believes in developing teacher craft so that students can be vested in classroom experiences that speak to them personally and not just whatever the pacing or curriculum guide has told them to care about. Who believes in disrupting inequitable education experiences and providing the room to do so, supporting each teacher on their journey. But how do you then ensure that students aren’t unknowing members of an educational lottery where their growth is based on the experience and know-how of a single teacher? How can you create room for your teachers to personalize while still ensuring that certain experiences are in place?
The foundational idea is deceptively simple; create student rights together. A living breathing document that shows which experiences every child should have in every room, no matter the teacher. Live by it. Work by it. Discuss and change as needed.
But in practicality, how do you get there?
The first step is to have time to discuss what the experiences of students should be. What do we, as the practitioners, believe every child should have as rights in their English (Or whichever curricular area) educational experience? Reading books they like, having a librarian and time in the library, abandoning books, picking writing topics, a teacher that will confer with them, discussing relevant topics. Brainstorm as many things as you can. Group them to see patterns. And then step back.
What is missing? This isn’t something that is done quickly, after all, this will be a guiding document. Do research on best practices within your curricular area. What do you not know about? What do people like Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Zaretta Hammond, or Dr. Louise Rosenblatt say about the experiences students deserve?
Then group all of the post-its or thoughts together. What are the clusters? What clearly speaks to all of you as a team? Try to come up with words that can tie it all together. Which patterns do you see? The right to read, to speak to one another, to have texts and materials that reflect their experience and the experience of others? The rights to connect with others? To free write? To skillful instruction? Again, pay attention to your own gap areas, which parts of instruction are you not thinking about? Do these potential rights mirror an entire experience or only parts of one?
Then translate the goals into actual experiences, such as if your team believes in student choice in reading, what will that actually look like? When will there be guaranteed time for that? How often do they get to choose? How will you support their choice? Who else will support it?
Then it may look something like this…
If students need…Empowerment – then we will commit to giving them choice throughout their time with us.
How: Choice in their independent reading book, choice in their topic of writing when possible, choice in who they work with, choice in who they share with, choice in how they work through learning. Space to reflect on their experience, speak up about it, and shape the teaching that happens.
If students need to read and write every day, then we will commit to giving them dedicated independent reading time every day and writing time every day.
How: Start with 20 minutes of independent reading focused on developing their relationship to reading and reading identity. An emphasis on free writing when not otherwise steeped in their own writing. Planning reading and writing experiences every day.
It may end up looking something like this then.
Go through each foundational right as a team and then commit to it as a team. Bring it up throughout the year to see whether you are actually living it. What are the opportunities for the students throughout the year? What is missing and needs to be added?
Having a foundational understanding of what the experiences should be for every child provides us with a guide of which direction to go while also being able to see our own gap areas. Where do we need to grow as practitioners? What are we not yet providing for students and how is that impacting them? How do our choices in our learning tie in with these rights?
So often we look at curriculum and think that is where to start with any changes when really what we need to do is step back and look at the foundational beliefs and rights that support and determine the curricular choices we make. Because those beliefs are what shape every single experience kids have with us. Because those beliefs sometimes hurt the very endeavors we are trying to accomplish. While I know our documents and guiding beliefs are not perfect, nothing ever is, it gives us a place to start when we discuss what we are working on, what kids need, and the disruptions that need to continue happening for all of our students. Perhaps these guidelines can help others as well.
The books have been flying off our shelves once again in room 203. So many titles that barely get to rest for a moment before another eager set of hands attached to an even more eager reader grabs the book, so happy they finally got it. This book they have been waiting for, this book that everyone seems to be clamoring for. And while many books are receiving love this year, a few stand out above the rest; an entire format of books, as it has for several years now.
Books that at a glance may seem easy, or not that challenging, after all, we all know to not call books easy by now, right? Books that entice kids with their colors, their visuals, as they deftly maneuver complex topics but do it in an accessible way for many. In a way that grabs even my most vulnerable readers and tells them to give them a shot. That they, too, are readers and that this is just the right book for them.
I often step back and simply marvel at the wonder of graphic novels and how they make so many kids reconnect with reading or connect with it for the very first time. I am not alone, if we look at sales numbers for graphic novels they are dominating, circulation increase around the nation, and those who for decades have been holding them up as great books are being heard more and more.
And yet, I see so many adults, so many of us teachers, lament the fact that kids continue to reach for graphic novels, for comics, for books that for whatever reason seem to be too easy, whatever that may mean. I have seen it most often discussed when a book has pictures of any form. I hear it when we tell kids that it is time for them to graduate into chapter books. That they should read chapter books rather than picture books. When we tell kids that is time to try something harder and we stare at the graphic novel in their hand. When we pull out comics for fun but not for real reading. When we tell kids that we will take graphic novels away from them if we see them reading them (true story). When we tell them that, sure, they can read graphic novels, but just a few, because then they need to read something a bit more substantial. We say it with the best of intentions, after all, how will these kids grow in to “real” readers? Grow as readers if they only read “those” books? And we share the worry so that those at home start to worry too and they rush in with their questions and their eagerness to make sure their child is becoming the reader they always envisioned, a child who reads serious books that show off their prowess and skill. We do all this so casually that we don’t even see what it is we are all really telling kids.
“These books won’t teach you…”
“These books will not challenge you…”
“These books will not help you grow the way I hoped…”
“You will never be a reader…”
“You will never know how…”
“This will never be enough…”
And so we hand them other books. Anything but books with images. We search for recommendations in order to steer them away, to guide them on a new path instead of embracing the medium. Instead of letting them choose and celebrate their choices. Instead of immersing ourselves as fully as we can as their partners. Instead of embracing this newfound obsession with a complex medium and helping them challenge themselves within the format.
And it hurts kids’ reading lives.
And it hurts kids, period.
Because what we forget is what the research tells us about these books. About books like 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damn, Sonny Assu and many others. About books like Last Pick by Jason Walz, Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai, and Stargazing by Jen Wang. About the books that bring kids into our libraries and keep them there. That these books are not easy. That these books do not stop kids from growing as readers. From reading difficult texts because theseare difficult texts. Sure, there may be less words but every word matters. Sure, there may be pictures but that every picture tells part of the story and if you skim them, you miss out on the depth of the story. That reading these formats of books will not stop them from growing, from challenging themselves, from gaining vocabulary, or understanding difficult concepts. But indeed, as Krashen and Ujiie remind us, ““…those who read more comic books did more pleasure reading, liked to read more, and tended to read more books. These results show that comic book reading certainly does not inhibit other kinds of reading, and is consistent with the hypothesis that comic book reading facilitates heavier reading.” (1996)
And so we must embrace it. We must celebrate it much like we do when a child goes for a deep dive into a specific genre or author. Invite them to build reading ladders as inspired by Dr. Teri Lesene and challenge themselves within their chosen format. We must hold them up as the successful reading choices they are and continue to surround students with amazing choices. When they pick up another graphic novel, encourage it by discussing it, not shun it and forbid it.
This doesn’t seem hard and yet for so many kids this is not their reality.
So the next time a child grabs yet another graphic novel, perhaps we should read it too. Perhaps we should help all of our students see the nuances within these masterful stories, help them read them correctly, to slow down and see all of the details. Honor this format by teaching them rather than thinking of them as frivolous, as desert books, as books we read when we need a little break. Help students create them.
We forget that the kids we teach are on a lifelong journey of reading; why do we feel the need to rush them into different books? Why rush them away from images? From pictures? From anything that embodies visual literacy despite it being the world we live in more and more? Why not embrace the books they read and help them find more books like it instead? Why not let the kids read and be there to hand them another book rather than tell them that it is time to read something different? Why not let kids choose their own books, graphic novels and all, because in the end what we seem to have forgotten the most is that they are books. End of story. Magical, mesmerizing, enticing, books.
We are two weeks into the year and slowly the routines are starting to shape up. We know each other just a little. Our community is growing. The incredible inquisitive and funny nature of our 7th graders is coming out more and more. And every day we start the same way; twenty minutes at least of independent reading. Twenty minutes to “Settle in, settle down, and get reading.” Twenty minutes where I get to book shop with kids, check in on their day, and also do initial reading conferences with the kids as we start to get to know each other more. After all, how am I supposed to help them grow as readers if I don’t know them as readers, as people?
Our first reading conferences are simple yet effective as we start this journey together. All it takes is a few things: our reader survey, their goal setting as it ties in with their 7th-grade reading challenge, my note taking sheet, my home information sheet and time. Hmm, maybe that sounds complicated, but it is not. What these different things do is allow me to slowly gather information on the students and open up conversation.
The reading survey helps me get insight into their reading habits and emotions tied in with reading. They do this within the first few days of school.
The home sheet was used during our ready-set-go conferences prior to school starting but I also use it throughout the year to fill in more information. (The pronoun question/answer is an optional question from a different survey).
And my note-taking sheet, a constant work in progress, gives me a place to keep all of my information, in order to have a place to remember our conversations by.
Every class has its own binder where the information is placed alphabetically, and that’s how I start; alphabetically and call up two or three students every day during their reading time.
A few easy questions start us off: When we meet would you prefer to come to me or me come to you? (Many prefer the relative privacy of coming to me). Which book are you reading, how did you choose that one, how would you rank it on a scale from 1 to 10?
Then we move into their reading goal. Questions I ask are: What is your goal, how come you set that, and tell me more about your reading life last year? I take relevant notes throughout our conversations and I make sure the kids can see what I am writing down, I don’t want them to have to worry about what I may be recording. There are often follow up questions but I also want to be cognizant of wait time and the delicate nature at times of reading and how kids feel about themselves as readers.
Then we discuss their progress, how is it going? How is the book working for them? How is reading outside of English going? We also discuss what is hard about reading, no surprise, even my most adapt readers have challenges. Finally, I ask them if there are things I can do to support them right now better as we get to know each other. Many don’t have ideas right now but I like the openended question in case they do.
As we wind down, I ask them a few more questions. What is their favorite color? What is their favorite treat? And what do they do well? This information is used throughout the year as I celebrate them. It also gives me a peak into where they see themselves right now, many kids tell me they don’t do many things well, and so I always try to help them see great things about themselves.
I thank them for their time at the end. Thank them for investing in our class and allowing me this time with them and that I look forward to helping them grow this year.
The next time I meet with them, there are less questions so the conference goes quicker. Then it starts with, ‘What are you working on as a reader?” as you can see from the note-taking sheet and then evolves from there.
A simple way to start but one that sets us up together to work on reading, to maybe better their experiences in reading, to make it matter beyond the work, the pages, the labor that it is for some. I am so grateful for these kids and the conversations we get to have.
Inevitably, every few years, one of our four children brings home some variant of a reading log. Typically it involves logging the minutes that that they have read every night, a signature, perhaps the titles as well and sometimes even the need to write a few lines about the book they read. Often times it is tied in with a reward; pizza, parties, extra recess.
And while it used to anger me that kids (and their adults) were being asked to do this work, I have realized that the request for a reading log is typically not anchored in any kind of malice. Rather, it is sent home with a genuine interest in the reading lives outside of school. With a hope that a child will make the time to read. With the hope that a family will make the time to read because it is now expected as homework. What is the harm in that? So every time we are presented with one, I find myself in a dilemma; do I say anything, ask for my child to be opted out, or do I let the practice ride? After all, there are bigger things to worry about when it comes to the reading experience of children.
And yet, I have seen the damage that the simple requirements of a reading log has done to my own children. When our oldest came home with our first one, she asked for a timer, set it for 20 minutes and when the alarm went off, she resolutely shut her book and told us she was done. No matter that she was in the the middle of a page, no matter that the previous nights she had read for a much longer time. The 20 minutes was all she needed to read. Or our son, who when he did a book logging program that offered up prizes didn’t care so much as to what he was reading or having read aloud, but instead would pick the shortest books in order to log as many titles as possible, so that he could get whatever prize was attached to the amount of books. Or how they make me a liar. I don’t know what my children are reading often, they are surrounded by books and while we talk about them we don’t always. So when I am supposed to sign off on their minutes or write down their titles, I do it gladly, without really knowing if it is true or not. Should I know every minute read and every book read, sure, if I had unlimited time in the day. Instead, we discuss many things in our household, books included, and focus on our time together not just the homework they have to do.
When I ask my students to discuss their negative experiences, reading logs rise to the top. It doesn’t matter if it was only for one year or even for a shorter amount of time, having to account for the minutes read did little to inspire further reading, but instead added yet another to-do to their to-read. So last night I sent out the following tweet, and with that comes this post, because it turns out there were many that also have wondered how to advocate for their own child when faced with a reading log or other potentially harmful measures.
So I have an email that I send when the reading log comes home, and I do hesitate to share it here because I am sure to some it is not enough, and yet, in my years of teaching, I have found that engaging in dialogue with other teachers about their practices from a lens of genuine interest is going to take me so much further than citing research, telling them about the wrongness of their choices, or in any other way trying to prove that I am right and that they made a mistake. No teacher wants to be shamed, and why should they be for this?
So the email I send in its edited form is simple:
Hi, I saw the reading log sent home today and wanted to ask a few questions, if you don’t mind.
A big focus for our family is that reading is its own reward so we don’t tie anything to her reading; no minutes, no prizes. She needs to understand that reading is something you do for personal enjoyment and not outside gifts. In the past, when (insert child’s name here) has seen the time requirement, she right away told me that was all she had to read for. We don’t want her to think that there should be a maximum time for reading, but instead follow her natural rhythm for reading when she has a great book.
Are you ok with us not filling it out and instead me giving you my word that (insert child’s name here) reads every night for at least 30 minutes? Is there another way we can show our accountability to reading? We read every day so it won’t be a problem.
I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, I don’t really know how to put it in other words. We love you as a teacher and so does our child and want you to feel supported. If you would like to discuss this in any way please let us know. Best,
I could cite the research, I could go on for a long time about the damage of reading logs and offer up other ways to measure reading. Or I can simply ask questions and see what happens. We have never needed to do any of those other steps because often it is not the teacher that mandates the reading log but rather a team, a school, or a district. And that teacher deserves my respect and gratitude for the care they give our children.
Would I though if I had to? Of course. The reading lives of my own children and others is too important to let linger in harmful practices. So here are my other posts on reading logs if you need them, including one that discusses how you can make it an option or other ways to see if kids are reading. For now, I will wait to hear back.