Why I Ditched the At-Home Reading Log

Archive from The Teacher Triathlete, July 27, 2014

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We want three weeks with no reading log!

What?  That’s crazy!”  I yelled down below as my students hoisted me further up the bosun’s chair on that chilly San Francisco morning last January.

We hate the reading log!” A few yelled back in unison.  “If you want to come down, you have to agree to our terms.

You guys love reading. You beg for more reading time. Don’t you want something else? Extra recess, a pizza party, anything?”  

Then, Victoria, the class selected speaker yelled up to me in a strained voice, “Ms. Nosek, we love reading.  We hate the reading log.  There’s no point to it!  It’s a waste of time.

My heart sank.

This conversation and the accompanying image are from an annual overnight field trip on The Balclutha, a ship docked in San Francisco Bay.  Hoisting the teacher up the bosun’s chair is a favorite tradition on the ship.  The teacher is only allowed to come down from the chair when students and teacher agree to terms.  While I was dangling from the line that my students were holding, I realized I had to make a change.  Out of everything they could possibly ask for, getting rid of the reading log was the only thing that eventually brought me down.

As a literacy teacher who firmly believes in the importance of reading at home as well as at school, I was a steadfast supporter of the well known weekly reading log for homework.  Over the years, my approach to implementation of the reading log evolved.  

During my first three years as a teacher, my students were required to read and write a summary  of their reading each night.  Also, parents were required to sign the reading log.  I found that the summary was just too time intensive for my students at home.  So, I eliminated the log.

For two years, I did not require students to record their nightly reading in a log.  I knew my students were still reading based on our conferences during independent reading time and discussions with parents.  Yet, I grew uncomfortable.  I started feeling that I had to make my students accountable despite the fact that I knew they were reading.  So, I rethought things again.

The following few years,  I required students to read every night and record the title of their book, the author, and a parent signature on the weekly log.  That was it.  This also met with resistance.  After asking a few parents about the log, they honestly responded that they typically signed it either right before their students left for school on Friday mornings or just forgot altogether.  However, the parents I spoke with stated that their children did in fact read at home.  This is where I started questioning the validity of the log once again.

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Eventually, I created a Google Form for students to enter their weekly reading online. For the first couple weeks of school, I heard little feedback about the log.  I thought making it digital solved the problem! When we talked about the log in class, students responded positively.  However, after a month or so, I noticed a few students frequently forgot to fill out the form. Yet, I knew they were reading based on group discussions and individual reading conferences.  A few even mentioned that they loved reading at night right before bed, but just forgot to stop and fill out the log because they were so caught up in their books.  This made me ask a question:  Do I want my students to actually STOP reading to fill out a form that is solely for the sake of accountability?   

A few weeks later, I was up in the bosun’s chair overlooking San Francisco Bay, looking down at my students who were begging me to get rid of the log.

So, I ditched the log.

This past summer, I reread Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.  In the book, she describes how she approaches reading in her classroom.  She’s discusses the benefits of student choice and giving more reading time in the classroom.  While the entire book resonated with me, a few key things stood out.  I now believe we all have to take a different approach to at-home reading.

  • Yes, ask students to read at home.  Communicate to students and parents this is an absolutely necessary part of their growth and education.  However, don’t give a log.  Once an at-home log is in place, it puts a negative spin on reading for many families.  Reading becomes a chore instead of a habit.  A log suddenly makes the point of reading about the teacher.  The point of reading should be to learn, enjoy, and get whisked away into the pages.  This makes it about the students.
  • Make at home reading a big deal at school instead!  First thing in the morning, take 5-10 minutes to have book discussion time.  Students may record their reading in a notebook at school if necessary and discuss what they read the night before with their table partners.  All of this will only take 5-10 minutes each morning. If this is turned into a habit in the classroom, students will have daily, natural conversations about books.  This is what we want!  This should be our goal- to get students talking about books. It will also get kids excited about sharing their books and making recommendations.  Plus, I can’t think of a better way to start the school day!
  • Encourage students to bring classroom library books home.  This encourages reading at home.  Students who get wrapped up in a book at school will often ask if they can bring a book home to continue reading.  We want to encourage this!  I kept a check-out form on a clip board on a hook in the classroom library.  Students were able to manage the form and the book return process with no problem.  Very few books were lost along the way.  
  • Give more independent, uninterrupted reading time at school.  This idea is the backbone of The Book Whisperer. I agree. Nothing is more important than students selecting their own books and reading in school.  In fact, as a classroom teacher, it was my one daily nonnegotiable.  Even if we require reading at home, there is no guarantee students are actually able to read everyday. However, we can guarantee reading time at school.  

Ditching the at-home reading log can be an uncomfortable change for many.  When I first did it years ago, I changed my mind and brought it back.  When I started giving more time for students to select books and read at school, I really saw no need for the log.  Oddly enough, it took being hoisted 15 feet in the air on a cold January morning on San Francisco Bay for me to really realize this.  

Happy reading, friends!

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