January 10, 2012

Reading Log Alternatives

Since I was home yesterday, I was online to see a neighbor's irritated post about her son's reading log assignment. Apparently, his homework was to read 500 pages during the month of December. Mom diligently signed off on the first 470 pages within the first couple weeks of the month, while school was still in session. But over break, even though her son did read, she forgot to sign his paper. The result was an unhappy second grader with a failing grade on his reading assignment.

Reading is important. Any educator can tell you that. And the intention behind a reading log, commonly used in K-8 classrooms, is positive: encourage reading. The problem, in my opinion, though, is that they don't work.

When I was subbing and working toward my teaching certificate, I saw many reading logs at many grade levels. Although the approach varied (some teachers require only a record of time spent reading and pages read while others require short summaries), the result was always the same: it didn't motivate student reading. In fact, I think it often does the opposite by making reading a fight between parents and children.

I have plenty of students who read on their own. Whenever they have even a few minutes of free time between activities, their noses are deep into thick novels that I basically have to pry out of their hands. But do you know what I learned? Many of these very students were the ones with failing grades on their reading logs! Why? Because these students are reading for the joy of reading and aren't worried about recording their every page. Or because they forget to take their sheets home for the required parent signatures. So, in this case, a reading log punishes students who actually read because their parents aren't signing off on it. Dumb!

Even more common, though, were reading logs that were completely falsified. Students who forge their parents' signatures (I was totally that kid, I admit it) and/or make up stories about what they supposedly read. On more than one occasion, I've seen incomplete reading logs with parent signatures down the page... so the students can fill in whatever they want. And you know what? These students end up getting full credit because their sheets are complete by the time they're collected on Friday. So, in this case, a reading log rewards students for lying. Also dumb!

I am passionate about reading. I understand how important it is for students to spend time reading on a daily basis. I, too, want my students to be motivated to pick up a great book and get lost in its story. But the first thing I did when I had my own classroom was abandon the reading log assignment (a decision that was applauded, literally, by parents and students alike).

So how do I make sure my students are reading?

I give them time to read every day in my classroom. Yes, that means I sacrifice other activities, but I think it's that important. This also gives me the opportunity to have mini reading conferences with my students where I can help them find new books, encourage them try a new genre, and have meaningful dialogue about the stories.

Additionally, one of the best decisions I ever made in my classroom was to start book clubs. I allowed my students to choose their own groups, books, and reading speed. I have been conscientious about stocking my classroom library with relevant, engaging novels in sets of 4 for this very purpose. One of the inherent benefits of my books clubs is that even my most reluctant readers are motivated to participate because their friends are reading the same stories. And because I gave them the freedom of choice (something that's very important to middle school students). I met with each group once per week to listen to their discussions and facilitate deeper thinking as needed. It's one of the most authentic things I've ever done in my classroom, and my students responded with enthusiasm. In their eyes, I gave them a pass to "hang out" with their friends, but I can tell you with certainty that they were learning! They applied the reading strategies, made deep connections, challenged each other's thinking, and most importantly... they read a ton of books!!

And not once did I ever use a reading log.

*** Note: I have posted a follow up to this post to address many of the questions I've been asked. Please see my new post here, and of course, let me know if you need further directions. :)


  1. BRAVO! This is a case of the teacher actually using her gift to create a learning environment. THIS is what school should be.

    And amen to banning grades on parents signing off on anything. What a stupid concept.


  2. I was totally the kid that forged the signature too. When it was a required assignment I hated reading, but when we got to do a similar book club idea, I totally loved it.

    You should link your blog to your resume lol

  3. I was the one who begged my mom to sign my sheet when she knew full well I hadn't read a page. I lied quite often about actually doing the reading..how sad!

  4. I haven't fully explored your blog yet, but I'd love more information about your book clubs. i think this is something my students would LOVE!

  5. I haven't fully explored your blog yet, but I'd love to know more about your book clubs. This is something I think my students would LOVE!

  6. Please respond about your reading l clubs- they sound great.

  7. Please respond about your reading l clubs- they sound great.