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July 27, 2018

Goodbye Reading Log: 5 Tips to Keep Readers Accountable

By Juan Gonzalez
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou

    I work on being a better educator by reading. Some of my favorite professional texts that I find myself revisiting yearly are Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. These books have helped me rethink my work as an educator and started me on my journey into creating reading instruction that builds REAL readers.

    When I reflected on my work in the classroom, the very first thing I removed from literacy instruction was the reading log. I have used reading logs as a teacher and a student. Who invented this idea of nightly signatures to prove student reading? I’m sure it was with good intentions, but it does nothing for readers. Reading logs simply become a task to complete and creates mindless work for both the teacher and students.

    Since throwing out reading logs, I have been asked many times: How do I know if my kids are reading? This blog post is my answer. Here are five things I do in my classroom that have helped keep readers accountable and thriving:

    Reading Conferences  

    Reading conferences in my classroom are a time for me to check in on my students and have a discussion about their reading. I don’t have a set schedule for these conferences. The goal is to make sure I’m meeting with readers every day. I meet with my students as they arrive in the morning, in-between small group instruction, and at the end of the day. On a good day, I will meet with three to five students. On a crazy day, I fight for at least one. My goal is to simply to make sure I’m meeting with students daily to talk about their reading. Plus, once it becomes part of your routine, the students will beg to meet with you.

    I try to keep this process and discussion as natural as possible. When I sit down with a reader, I want to know three things:

    1. Do they understand what they’re reading?
    2. What do they need from me to keep going?
    3. Are they using the tools in place to build their reading life?

    These guiding questions help me stay on track because sometimes I can get too chatty. Most importantly, it allows me to focus on what the reader is doing and what they need from me.

    What to do when they're not reading?

    Reluctant readers are going to happen. In those cases, we have to guide these readers onto a path of success by listening to their doubts, acknowledging that reading slumps happen, and showing them how to get back on track. It is important that we support these fragile readers with tools rather than punishment. When a student is not reading, I walk them over to my library and help them find a text they’ll be successful with. Then we set goals together that we’ll revisit at a later conference. This isn’t easy work but it's necessary.

    Help Students Keep Track of Their Reading Life

    Showing students how to keep track of their reading life is a great way to build readers. While the list you see in the picture above might resemble a reading log, it serves different purposes. The book lists are completed by the students and used to notice patterns about their reading behaviors. This is a fantastic tool for reading conferences. These sheets can be used to discuss how long they are taking to complete a book, what genre they’re continuously visiting, and to help remember all the great, and not so great books, they’ve experienced.

    If you're looking for reading life tracking sheets, the ones I use are all adapted from Miller's Reading in the Wild. The appendix in the book is filled with templates to get you started. You can also access some of the documents on her SlideShare page by clicking here.

    Talk About Reading

    I believe it’s important to talk about our reading life with students. Sharing moments from our personal reading journey shows the students how to discuss their reading life with others. I start the school year by sharing things such as:

    • How I buy books
    • Challenges I’m facing with the books
    • How I’m adjusting my schedule to fit in reading
    • Who recommended the book that I’m currently reading
    • Something new I’m trying to grow as a reader

    I share these stories before a read-aloud, in the cafeteria, at recess, etc. Then, starting around the late fall, Friday mornings become “What’s Going on in Your Reading Life?” This is quick 5–10 minute opening where students verbally share the highs and lows of their reading with their partners. I listen in on these conversations and make note of things I need to do to support readers.

    Give Students Different Opportunities to Show Their Thinking

    I ask students to complete some type of response in their reader’s notebook weekly. This response represents their understanding of a mini-lesson and/or the book they have self-selected to read on their own. Instead of requiring one way to show their thinking, I offer students multiple ways to share their thoughts in their notebook:

    Reading Response Letters

    These are letters that are written to me or the author of the book about what they're reading. The letters are written in different ways and include reflections, questions, and connections the readers are having.

    Sketches

    I encourage sketches in their notebooks because it supports my visual students and growing writers. When conferring with readers about their sketches, I ask them about their images and lead them to trying to add some writing to their work.

    Thinking Blobs

    Thinking Blobs is something I started doing with my students this year. It’s a combination of reading response letters, sketches, and sticky notes on one page. I tell my students that when they come to part of a story that is worth remembering or a quote they really love, they should give it a blob. Soon, their pages start to fill up with many blobs that lead to great discussions.

    Book Talks

    I love book talks. A book talk is when a reader shares what a book is about and encourages others to add the book to their reading list. This is a great way to expand book knowledge, build your reading community, and get an insight into what your students are reading.

    I ask my students to give a book talk at least once a month. I keep track of this on a simple spreadsheet to make sure everyone is getting his or her chance to shine. Some students will be ready to share books with no guidance, while others will need some coaching. For those students, give them guiding questions to help deliver their book talk:   

    • What is the book about?
    • Why did you enjoy the book?
    • Why should someone else read the book?

    Closing Thoughts

    Teacher friends, I will leave you with a reminder that this work takes time to build, and patience. It’s rare that classroom practices worth keeping work perfectly on the first attempt. The five ideas I shared have been used and reworked every year to meet the needs of the students. More importantly, this work gives my readers authentic reading experiences and helps them grow. As you move forward in your classroom, I encourage you to throw out any practices that bring no value to your instruction. When you know better, you do better, and our students deserve our very best.

    Stay connected with my classroom on Instagram! Click Here

    “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou

    I work on being a better educator by reading. Some of my favorite professional texts that I find myself revisiting yearly are Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. These books have helped me rethink my work as an educator and started me on my journey into creating reading instruction that builds REAL readers.

    When I reflected on my work in the classroom, the very first thing I removed from literacy instruction was the reading log. I have used reading logs as a teacher and a student. Who invented this idea of nightly signatures to prove student reading? I’m sure it was with good intentions, but it does nothing for readers. Reading logs simply become a task to complete and creates mindless work for both the teacher and students.

    Since throwing out reading logs, I have been asked many times: How do I know if my kids are reading? This blog post is my answer. Here are five things I do in my classroom that have helped keep readers accountable and thriving:

    Reading Conferences  

    Reading conferences in my classroom are a time for me to check in on my students and have a discussion about their reading. I don’t have a set schedule for these conferences. The goal is to make sure I’m meeting with readers every day. I meet with my students as they arrive in the morning, in-between small group instruction, and at the end of the day. On a good day, I will meet with three to five students. On a crazy day, I fight for at least one. My goal is to simply to make sure I’m meeting with students daily to talk about their reading. Plus, once it becomes part of your routine, the students will beg to meet with you.

    I try to keep this process and discussion as natural as possible. When I sit down with a reader, I want to know three things:

    1. Do they understand what they’re reading?
    2. What do they need from me to keep going?
    3. Are they using the tools in place to build their reading life?

    These guiding questions help me stay on track because sometimes I can get too chatty. Most importantly, it allows me to focus on what the reader is doing and what they need from me.

    What to do when they're not reading?

    Reluctant readers are going to happen. In those cases, we have to guide these readers onto a path of success by listening to their doubts, acknowledging that reading slumps happen, and showing them how to get back on track. It is important that we support these fragile readers with tools rather than punishment. When a student is not reading, I walk them over to my library and help them find a text they’ll be successful with. Then we set goals together that we’ll revisit at a later conference. This isn’t easy work but it's necessary.

    Help Students Keep Track of Their Reading Life

    Showing students how to keep track of their reading life is a great way to build readers. While the list you see in the picture above might resemble a reading log, it serves different purposes. The book lists are completed by the students and used to notice patterns about their reading behaviors. This is a fantastic tool for reading conferences. These sheets can be used to discuss how long they are taking to complete a book, what genre they’re continuously visiting, and to help remember all the great, and not so great books, they’ve experienced.

    If you're looking for reading life tracking sheets, the ones I use are all adapted from Miller's Reading in the Wild. The appendix in the book is filled with templates to get you started. You can also access some of the documents on her SlideShare page by clicking here.

    Talk About Reading

    I believe it’s important to talk about our reading life with students. Sharing moments from our personal reading journey shows the students how to discuss their reading life with others. I start the school year by sharing things such as:

    • How I buy books
    • Challenges I’m facing with the books
    • How I’m adjusting my schedule to fit in reading
    • Who recommended the book that I’m currently reading
    • Something new I’m trying to grow as a reader

    I share these stories before a read-aloud, in the cafeteria, at recess, etc. Then, starting around the late fall, Friday mornings become “What’s Going on in Your Reading Life?” This is quick 5–10 minute opening where students verbally share the highs and lows of their reading with their partners. I listen in on these conversations and make note of things I need to do to support readers.

    Give Students Different Opportunities to Show Their Thinking

    I ask students to complete some type of response in their reader’s notebook weekly. This response represents their understanding of a mini-lesson and/or the book they have self-selected to read on their own. Instead of requiring one way to show their thinking, I offer students multiple ways to share their thoughts in their notebook:

    Reading Response Letters

    These are letters that are written to me or the author of the book about what they're reading. The letters are written in different ways and include reflections, questions, and connections the readers are having.

    Sketches

    I encourage sketches in their notebooks because it supports my visual students and growing writers. When conferring with readers about their sketches, I ask them about their images and lead them to trying to add some writing to their work.

    Thinking Blobs

    Thinking Blobs is something I started doing with my students this year. It’s a combination of reading response letters, sketches, and sticky notes on one page. I tell my students that when they come to part of a story that is worth remembering or a quote they really love, they should give it a blob. Soon, their pages start to fill up with many blobs that lead to great discussions.

    Book Talks

    I love book talks. A book talk is when a reader shares what a book is about and encourages others to add the book to their reading list. This is a great way to expand book knowledge, build your reading community, and get an insight into what your students are reading.

    I ask my students to give a book talk at least once a month. I keep track of this on a simple spreadsheet to make sure everyone is getting his or her chance to shine. Some students will be ready to share books with no guidance, while others will need some coaching. For those students, give them guiding questions to help deliver their book talk:   

    • What is the book about?
    • Why did you enjoy the book?
    • Why should someone else read the book?

    Closing Thoughts

    Teacher friends, I will leave you with a reminder that this work takes time to build, and patience. It’s rare that classroom practices worth keeping work perfectly on the first attempt. The five ideas I shared have been used and reworked every year to meet the needs of the students. More importantly, this work gives my readers authentic reading experiences and helps them grow. As you move forward in your classroom, I encourage you to throw out any practices that bring no value to your instruction. When you know better, you do better, and our students deserve our very best.

    Stay connected with my classroom on Instagram! Click Here

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