When I announced to my fourth graders that we would not be having reading logs this year, they breathed a collective sigh of relief, and a whispered chorus of thanks ensued.
By “reading log,” I am referring to the sheets that go home nightly or weekly where students write down the titles of the books they are reading and the number of minutes they read. These often require a parent signature upon return. Until last year, I gave out these logs every Monday and expected students to read at least 100 minutes a week and bring the logs back signed by a parent on Friday. It is a common practice that fills kids, parents, and even many teachers with dread. If you asked the teachers who have used them, including myself, they would likely say that the logs are meant to hold students accountable and help us ensure that they are reading outside of school. They can also serve as a record of some of the books the students have read. In some cases, a score or grade is tied to the completion of the logs. Even though students did not seem to like them and some parents would complain—“But he reads all the time. Do you really need the log?”—I still required them.
Two years ago I started to hear about how more and more teachers were getting rid of these types of logs altogether, and it made me take a hard look at this practice and ask myself some tough questions.
- Could the reading logs be making my students less motivated to read?
- Would they read if I did not have them write it down as proof?
- Is there a better way to motivate students to read while keeping track of the books they have read at the same time?
I started reading articles by amazing educators like Donalyn Miller, listening to colleagues in my professional learning network, and, most importantly, listening to my students and their parents. I finally realized that these types of logs do not motivate students to read. They cause friction at home and, in some cases, tension between teachers and parents. Although my intentions were good, this practice clearly was not doing what it was intended to do.
I decided to stop using home-school reading logs completely and have not regretted it for one second. I feel bad that I did not do it sooner. If you or someone you know is looking for ideas to help students cultivate their reading lives in a meaningful, motivating way, while giving the teacher information about their reading in school and at home, here are a few ideas that are working for my students.
Use a Reading “Diary”
My students now have what we call a reading diary in their reader’s notebooks. Like a traditional diary, the intent is to document their reading life. In the front of the diary the students keep a running to-be-read list where they jot down titles of books they are excited about reading. They can track their reading stamina development by periodically tracking the number of pages they read during workshop time. They also keep a list of (most) books they finish and set goals for themselves. You can develop your own diary, but here is a link to a blank copy of the reading diary I use.
Status of the Class
Remember this practice? It is still a valid and informative strategy. Asking students what they are reading, what page they are on, and if they finished a book gives you valuable information. Are they reading books too quickly? Do they need help with book selection because they are abandoning almost every book they start? Are they using reading time wisely? Used consistently, it also gives teachers a record of the students’ reading. It is helpful to be able to see which genres students choose and which books are comfortable for them. This information can be used during individual conferences and is helpful when looking at future book selections.
Record, Review, and Recommend Books with Technology
There are a few sites online where kids can add books to their virtual “shelf.” Some also allow students to rate the book, write and share a review, and recommend books to their friends. My students use Biblionasium. Other sites include Shelfari and Goodreads (for those over 13). These sites are motivating because they make the process fun, interactive, and social. They also mimic what many adult readers do after finishing a book. Students take the time to add the books they have read a couple of times per week. They love giving and receiving recommendations and adding to their TBR lists.
Book Talks or Commercials
People who are lifelong readers feel the need to talk to others about great books after they have finished them. Periodically having students share a book they have loved with the class using a short, energetic speech is a great way to build TBR lists. Students will be asking to have their names put on waiting lists for a chance to read a book their friend enjoyed.
Confer, Confer, Confer
If you are worried that a student is not really reading the books he says he is reading, then conferring is the best way to find out. If you know the books your students are reading, you are better prepared to conference with them, but even if you have not read the book, some general questions will reveal your students’ level of understanding.
- Tell me what surprised you in this story.
- What was the main character’s goal?
- What was one problem the character faced?
- How did it work out in the end?
- How would you describe the character?
- Did you enjoy it? Why? Why not?
You will be able to glean, from the clarity of the student’s responses, his or her level of comprehension of the book. If it becomes clear that the student either did not read the book or did not understand what he or she read, it gives you information to make decisions and have valuable discussions. Perhaps the student needs help with book choices that are more comfortable or help finding a place to read with fewer distractions, for example.
Set and Reflect on Reading Goals
Helping students set realistic goals about their reading weekly or biweekly is another way for them to see their growth. We have a running list of possible reading goals, generated by the students, that we add to regularly. Students can put these in their reading diary, reflect on them periodically, and set new goals based on their progress.
Talk with Parents
Many parents dislike reading logs. Some say they make reading a chore and that it can be a battle to get their child to read for all of the minutes required. Getting them signed and returned is often just one more thing to think about on a busy Friday morning. Most of my parents have been relieved that I don’t use them and understand my reasons why. However, a couple have shared that their child will not read without having a weekly requirement. If this is the case, we take a look at what could be going on with kiddos like this. Are they finding books that interest them? Are they overscheduled? Is there a quiet place to read at home?
Make Time for Students to Reflect on Their Reading Lives
None of the suggestions and strategies will serve to inspire students to lead a reading life unless teachers value them and weave them into the fabric of the classroom. Too often reflection, goal setting, and sharing are pushed aside during our hectic days. Taking the time to set up simple routines and carving out time for reflection, sharing, and record keeping will show students that it is important and help keep them invested in their own growth.