By Jessica Lifshitz, guest blogger
“My daughter loved reading until she got to school and had to log her reading minutes. I think it may have taken some of the joy out of reading.” This comment, made by the mother of one of my students on a start-of-the-year parent survey, stopped me in my tracks and absolutely broke my heart.
And then it made me think.
If this is what reading logs are doing to our students, why do we continue to use them?
With all of my heart, I believe that teachers use reading logs with the very best of intentions. I believe that we, as teachers, know how important it is for reading to become a daily part of our students’ lives. We know all of the good that reading brings to a child’s life and so we want to make sure that our students are, in fact, reading outside of the walls of classrooms and the hours of the school day.
And we believe that a reading log is the best, or only, way to do that. To turn our students into readers.
But what we perhaps aren’t seeing is the harm that these reading logs are doing. The way they are killing the very love of reading that we are trying to promote. The message these logs are sending that reading is a chore. That it is something that our students MUST do instead of something that they are choosing to do. These logs are making the act of reading completely dependent on us, the teacher, because they make reading something that is done in order to comply, in order to avoid consequences and in order to complete an assignment. These are not the kinds of things that create life-long readers.
But perhaps the most damaging part of a reading log is that it can come from a place of mistrust. When we ask our students to get a parent signature in order to prove that they are reading at home, we are telling them that their word is not enough. We are telling them that we do not trust them. We do not trust them to tell us about their own reading habits at home. We do not trust them to make good choices for themselves in what they are reading and for how long they are reading. We do not trust them to have honest conversations with us about their reading lives. And that kind of mistrust is harmful. That kind of trust may not just destroy a love of reading, but it can also destroy a relationship between a teacher and a student.
So what would happen if we DID trust our students? If we listened to our students and trusted what they had to say, would we still need a reading log? How else might we know if they were reading?
Several years ago, I did away with our reading logs. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell who was reading and who was not reading. But what I quickly learned is that there are so many ways to discover what our students are doing outside of school and in their reading lives. Here are some of the ways that I have been able to assess my student’s reading lives without the use of a reading log:
Reading Conferences and Notes: Each day, during independent reading, I sit and talk with my students. I have learned that there are few, if any, types of assessments that tell me as much about my students as readers as a reading conference. When I confer with students, I make sure to take notes on what they are reading and what they are thinking. When I first sit down with a student, I have his or her conference notes from the last time we met right in front of me. I can see quickly who is reading the same book and who has finished one book and moved on to the next. I also keep notes of the observations that I make during independent reading. During our conferences, I often talk with students about how much they are reading at home and how successfully they are reading in school. I find that when my students are not scared of me, when they are not operating under the threat of punishments, they are really honest with me. They are willing to share with me if they are reading or not or if they are abandoning one book after another or not. And then we can problem solve. Because they aren’t simply having a parent sign a reading log or lying about how many minutes at night they have spent reading, our conversations are more honest and we are able to deal with any problems that might be occurring.
Locker Signs: This year, each of my students has a sign on his or her locker that shares the title of the book he or she is currently reading. When my students change books, they change the title on their sign. As I walk into my classroom each day, I can take a quick look to see who is reading what. The signs that remain unchanged become a good signal to me that someone is struggling. That someone needs my help to find a way to read outside of school. But the signs have more purpose that just that. Not only can I see what each student is reading, they can each see what their classmates are reading as well and this builds the kind of reading community that makes kids want to be a part of it and makes kids want to read.
Book Recommendations: I love sharing the books that I love with my students. And even more, I love watching my students share the books they love with their classmates. These recommendations sometimes happen in whispered conversations in corners of our classrooms. Sometimes they occur while students are looking through the books in our classroom library. Sometimes they are more formal and are done as a student sits in the rocking chair and talks to the class about a book she loves. Sometimes they are recorded, linked to QR codes and taped to the covers of books. Wherever and however these book recommendations happen, I listen for them and watch for them and let them do the work of a reading log.
There are so many ways that I can tell if my students are reading or not. But the bottom line is that all I really have to do is ask them and then really listen to what they have to say. Reading logs are not what is going to get our students to read. Creating a trusting and thriving community of readers who read the books they love and talk about the books they love and share the books they love, THAT is what is going to get our students to read. Because that is something that everyone will want to be a part of. And when you want to be a part of a reading community, you have to start by reading.
Jessica Lifshitz is a fifth grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Northbrook, IL. She writes about her life as an educator and the amazing children she gets to teach on her blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom.