Reading Logs? Reading Logs…

I read this and the coffee and lack of distinct obligations took over.  

I understand the points that Lisa Morguess and even agree with them in many circumstances, maybe even most, but I find the level of absoluteness being communicated disquieting.  I was struck by the sheer single-sided nature of the blog entry, yet I respect that that is sometimes what it takes to get communication moving.  The use of words like, “stupid” in a written argument always make me want to take an opposition stance. Nonetheless, written rants have a powerful place in motivating thought. My thinking that this post is offered a rant not as thoughtful debate, helps me forgive the author’s lack of an attempt to reasonably explore the positions of those who created or use Reading Logs, those who somehow feel there is a educative purpose for them.

So, why do I bother with a comment on this blog? There are already 13 comments that generally support 
Morguess’s frustrated personal experience and stance and 7 comments on McLoed’s re-post that explore the subject with a bit more diversity of perspective, yet still with the majority offering validation.   My response is based on validation of the criticism as well.  And yet, I am adding my thoughts because, one,  I have some insight on why reading logs are used, even poorly; and also because this year, for the first time, I have used them with some educational validity and evidence of effectiveness.  Indeed, this the first year that I have found some value in a reading log. I wanted to explore the thinking around the Reading Log tool.

As a Student

Would I like to keep a reading log? No!  Would I like my employer to check in on my reading?  No. Would I find a reading log, whose purpose was primarily to verify my compliance with an expectation, inspiring? Nope. However, in the role of a student with a curriculum was focused on my reading skills, keeping a log, (here is the critical part) that is reflected upon and used as a dynamic tool, makes sense.  That does not change the fact that I might still find it a humbug to track my reading data and even harbor some resentment about its use as a form of tracking by others.  

As a Parent

As a parent, do I like having to worry about remembering to sign my child’s reading log? No.  Do I often find that I have not paid close enough attention to their reading to feel like I am signing with integrity (like when I just checked that I read and agreed with the new Apple iOS7 user agreement)? Yes. On the other hand, do I wish that I was not being asked by my school to show that I am aware of my child’s reading life? No. Am I glad for a signature trigger to check in on my child’s reading? Yes, it gives me a chance to remember to, at least once in a while, ask my child about his reading. Could I do that without the parent signature on the reading log? Sure, but this check in point really helps me remember to take the time to do it. Now, that is not to say that other parents are more organized or disciplined and thus would not need this check point, but as a teacher I see that those parents are rare in this very busy age.

As a Teacher (My dominant point of view for this post)

Initially, Reading Logs were an attempt to ask the parents to be involved in a child’s reading, at least by being aware of it.  Did I love checking them and following up with unsigned logs? No.  Do I feel that Reading Logs fulfilled a desire for power and obedience? No, I found them frustrating as well.  Did I feel like they were used with any great value much of the time? No.  Did I feel like they were a waste of everyone’s time and energy?  A lot of the time.  Did I see a correlation of strong readers and consistent “compliance” with complete reading log? No.  Did I see any sign that reading logs cause dips in reading skill and motivation? No.   Did I see any sign that reading logs had a positive impact on readers? No and Yes. I did not see strong readers getting stronger because of reading logs, they would read no matter what.  I did see that reluctant readers, whose parents saw reading logs as a way to support regular reading, increased skill simply because they had more time reading than they would on their own.  That said, it was still not enough to justify the hassle of dealing with Reading Logs for all. As I agree that too often the Reading Log is generally a farce, all best intentions aside. 

So why bother?

As with any educational tool, thoughtful purpose and active relevance are key to their effectiveness.  I completly agree with some of the sentiments expressed by Morguess, regarding reading logs as they are most regularly used and experienced, but this year, I had a positive experience with Reading Logs. 

We are really focusing on reading skills at the upper elementary, where in that past it has been assumed that children already know how to read (period), so reading instruction is generally about elements of a story and writers’ craft all done through class novels.  However, moving into a primarily “class novel” scenario seems to me actually to grind independent reading to a halt for all but the avid readers. That is a whole other post subject!  Anyhow, there are many components of the process and curriculum that we are working with but one of them involves a reading log.  

The first time I saw the proposed reading log, I groaned.  I have never like Reading Logs for all the reasons articulated by Morguess and the comments to her blog post, but, ironically, the pressure I found to use them is from parents.  There are parents who want teachers to manage homework, from the classroom. One commenter mentioned a teacher using recess to complete a reading log, another practice surprisingly encouraged by parents. Loss of recess is one area where I have drawn a line on my managing of homework and I politely refuse when parents ask me to keep their child in for recess to do homework.  That of course begs the whole question of homework at all. Again the biggest pressure I have had for regular homework is from parents who see intensive homework expectations as “rigor” and thus quality.  Ah, yet another subject!

In the past, I had wheedled my reading log down to date, book, author and a comment about the reading.  The new reading log proposed for this year asked for not only  the date, title of the book, author, but pages read, parent signature and time read.  My groan was in response to the idea of readers having to include even MORE data on their reading… what a pain in the… pencil grip!  

However, my experience so far has been positive,  here is the key piece: I do not tell students how long to read.  Therefore, the time data has actual individual relevance.  The Reading Log is treated as a data sheet that we use to for students and the teacher (and hopefully the parents, they are signing it after all:-). The data is to reflect on progress and provide information for awareness and goals around developing reading skills. Already I have had a parent of a struggling reader ask me to please give her son a required reading time for homework.  I had to explain that my goal is for students to begin to notice their level of reading stamina and purposely work to increase it.  To that end, we work on noticing this in class, noticing how much time passes before a student needs to look out the window or move locations, how easily a reader is distracted by sounds or sights in the environment.  I communicate regularly that it is not for anyone to make judgements about the amount of time someone reads or their reading skills, that the focus is on increasing stamina, engagement, and comprehension starting at wherever a student really is.  

Keeping the data relevant is also key.  Students find meaning in the Reading Logs because we regularly take them out and reflect on them as data.  We calculate pace and time on text in general and then implications of reading location (car, bedroom, yard, school), reading genre, time of day/night, etc. We use this data to build an understanding of the individual reader, how they can experience reading most successfully (the best place, time, and text for them), while also challenge themselves to grow and strengthen their skill by expanding genre selections, finding new great places to read, and staying focused on reading just a couple of minutes longer than before, etc.

We also use enter Reading Logs after reading in class, making it a consistent data collection tool, not a homework validation tool.  The homework reading entries are actually more authentic because students control their reading time, while in school the time is set and tends to be a compromise for those who could read for hours and those who can read with engagement for only minutes.  Within that time we work to address those differences in how we use reading time for different readers.

I have watched kids become more facile and interested in their Reading Logs as a live artifact of learning and less resentful of the hassle involved. I have also seen reader’s, reluctant readers, make changes in their reading lives based  on what they learn from analyzing the data on their Reading Logs.  I am extremely proud of my students for creating a class community in which some students can share their struggles with reading, volunteer to say that they went from reading 10 minutes before being distracted to 12 minutes, while others share that they were forced to sleep after reading for 188 minutes! I am seeing actual progress in students and we are only two months into the school year! Better yet, they are seeing progress and it gets them pumped up about building their reading skills and stamina!

I still have parents sign Reading Logs, which I could do without, but I do find that some parents appreciate the initialing process as an opportunity to take a look at their children’s reading.  Thus, I won’t take the parent initial column off, but I will not require parents to initial after the first month of school. 

To keep the thread and thinking going, here is a comment and link from Robert on McLeod’s posting:

I think that parents, and sometimes teachers, misunderstand the purpose behind reading logs. They are used for more than forced reading. I am not saying that some teachers do not utilize it for that reason, but there is so much more insight that a teacher can gain by having parents track their child’s reading.

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