Do your teachers use reading logs to document student reading? Does your “school policy” dictate that teachers employ reading logs with students? If so, you—and some of your teachers—may be asking these questions: What is the purpose of reading logs? Are some reading logs better than others? What are the alternatives to reading logs?
If you were an elementary or ELA teacher before becoming a School Librarian you may accept reading logs as a normal part of the classroom experience. I’m a School Librarian from a different subject background, and I have some concerns about this practice.
The Purpose of Reading Logs
Many teachers believe a reading log is a way to develop students as readers:
- as they keep track of books they’ve read and which ones they liked.
- as they learn which kinds of stories (subjects/genres) they prefer.
- as they self-assess and understand themselves as readers.
- so teachers can dialogue with students about their reading.
These are admirable purposes, but too often the result is forced daily reading and recording the number of minutes and/or pages on a chart, to be signed by a parent, and turned in to the teacher. I saw hundreds of these during a quick image search, and here’s a typical layout:
Unfortunately, this type of reading log doesn’t really fulfill any of a reading log’s intended purposes!
- A reading log says, “I don’t trust you to read.”
- They turn reading into a chore.
- Time spent matters more than content or understanding.
- This is not learning – it’s obedience.
There were dozens of comments on both posts, and commenter Mark was particularly anguished:
I shudder at the very recent memory of my 5th grade daughter proudly bringing me her reading log to show me how much she had read this week and then, of course, get me to sign it. My daughter loves to read, but now her pride is getting wrapped up in what she is producing about her reading—her log, rather than discussing her books in great detail as she did just this past summer, when there was no log.
As a School Librarian, I think this type of reading log is not about students at all–it’s about teacher accountability. How else can a teacher “prove” that they are “teaching” kids to “love reading”? For many years we had free reading at our school with great success. One year teachers were told to have students “document” the time they were reading by filling out reading logs and using weekly bookmarks with daily questions to answer. To comply, some teachers even began to dictate what kind and how many books students must check out at their library visits. Well, that year our state test scores dropped, and some of our best ELA teachers left for less rigid environments. All the fun had gone out of reading, so after 2 years we went back to free—and undocumented—reading (and our reading scores went back up)!
Some Reading Logs Are Better than Others
As a Middle School Librarian I quickly discovered that students like to keep track of books they read, so I created a simple Reading Record with space for the title and author of the book and a star rating for the student to indicate whether they’d enjoyed the book. It wasn’t required and the forms were on the circulation desk for students to put into their binder. When I began encouraging students to read a variety of different kinds of stories, I added Fiction Subjects to the Reading Record.
Then, four consecutive developments prompted me to re-evaluate reading promotion:
- We became an International Baccalaureate school, which encourages global-mindedness.
- I reorganized our Fiction book area by Subjects (genres) using pictorial spine stickers & color transparent label covers.
- The district English Language Arts department launched the Reader/Writer Workshop model and R/W Notebooks.
- The district Social Studies department instituted Interactive Notebooks and advocated for more content area reading to support their curriculum.
I could see an interconnection among these events for more—and better—student reading. First, I identified more of our Fiction books that had multicultural characters and added relevant spine stickers. Then, having already seen the value in reorganizing Fiction, I created 3 Special Collections for Social Studies, one of which focused on global books. Finally, I modified my Library Orientation Lessons to incorporate the wide variety of reading options and I created brand new Reading Records:
- for ELA, a legal-sized sheet for students to fold in half and paste into their Reader/Writer Notebook:
- a reading chart with images of the 8 main Fiction Subject stickers,
- a chart with images of 5 Multicultural stickers,
a chart with 2 additional Fiction Subject stickers, our State Reading List sticker, a space for an expository text informational book, and a space for a poetry book.
I later modified this Reading Record by adding the State Reading list to the Multicultural chart and made the third chart for grade-level Social Studies books so students (by agreement between teachers) could enter the same Narrative Fiction and Expository Informational books for both classes.
- for Social Studies, a letter-sized sheet for students to paste into their Interactive Notebook, one for each course:
- a chart for 6g with images of the continents identifying their GlobeTrekker collection
- a chart for 7g with reading options for their Sensational State collection (Totally Texas for us)
- a chart for 8g with reading options for their Read America collection
My ELA teachers were elated with their new Reading Record and preferred it over the one provided by the district. The next year the Social Studies teachers asked to have copies of their customized Reading Record for their students to paste into their Interactive Notebooks. From that time on, I copy and distribute to ELA and Social Studies teachers enough Reading Records so each student can paste one into their Reader/Writer and Interactive Notebooks when they create them during the first week of school.
If you, too, want to increase reading & improve student achievement, get Reading for ELA, Content Reading for Social Studies, or the Reading Promotion for ELA & Social Studies bundle from my NoSweat Library store on TeachersPayTeachers.
Alternatives to Reading Logs
To help students locate and keep track of similar kinds of stories, I created topic-oriented bookmarks. Copied to both sides of colorful card-stock and cut apart, I provide over 2 dozen different bookmarks to students, and they’re a big hit. Some students used the same topical bookmark over and over, as means to track books read, crossing off titles as they read them. Other students used them as a search tool, choosing a new one each time they visit to try a new book topic.
While reading the comments on the blogs mentioned above, Mike F submitted this comment that I think would be a cool idea for older students:
I love an alternative model from Jim Mahoney in his awesome book, Power and Portfolios. He does “literary letters” where students write more deeply about what they are reading and thinking, and exchange letters with classmates about once a week. I would definitely revisit the literary letter instead of falling back on reading logs.
Student Reading Logs can be horribly discouraging for students or they can be valuable enhancements to any reading program for English Language Arts and other content areas. A perceptive School Librarian can see the interconnections between content reading and develop tools that will make a School Library Reading Program preferred by teachers and enjoyed by students.
If you use Reading Logs in your School Library, please share what they’re like, how you use them, and how successful they are with increasing—and improving—student reading!