Looking Back @ Reading Logs & the School Librarian

Looking Back @ Reading Logs & the School Librarian - Student Reading Logs can be horribly discouraging for students or they can be valuable enhancements to any reading program for English Language Arts or 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. #readingliteracy #readingpromotion #contentareareading #schoollibraryDo 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:

Excerpt of a typical Reading Log

Unfortunately, this type of reading log doesn’t really fulfill any of a reading log’s intended purposes!

Such reading logs were the topic a few years ago on Scott McLeod’s blog “Dangerously Irrelevant”, based on a blog post by parent Lisa Morguess, who had this to say:

  • 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:

  1. We became an International Baccalaureate school, which encourages global-mindedness.
  2. I reorganized our Fiction book area by Subjects (genres) using pictorial spine stickers & color transparent label covers.
  3. The district English Language Arts department launched the Reader/Writer Workshop model and R/W Notebooks.
  4. 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 RWN:
    1. a reading chart with images of the 8 main Fiction Subject stickers,
    2. a chart with images of 5 Multicultural stickers,
    3. English Language Arts Reading Log with charts for Fiction Subjects, Multicultural Books, a State Reading List book, an Informational book, and a Poetry book.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 RR to include the State Reading list in 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.
      sp
  • for Social Studies, a letter-sized sheet for students to paste into their IN, one for each course:
    1. a chart for 6g with images of the continents identifying their GlobeTrekker collection
    2. a chart for 7g with reading options for their Sensational State collection (Totally Texas for us)
    3. a chart for 8g with reading options for their Read America collection

Content Reading in Social Studies - Sample Reading Records, Bookmarks, Stickers for 3 grades in Middle School.

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 then on, every year I copy and distribute enough to ELA and Social Studies teachers 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 had over 2 dozen different bookmarks available for students, and they were 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 visited to try a new book topic.

Snip of several colorful topical bookmarks side-by-side

Colorized examples of topical bookmarks

While reading the comments on the blogs mentioned above, Mike F submitted this comment that I think would be a cool alternative 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!

line of books laying down

Looking Back @ Becoming a Culturally Responsive School Librarian

Looking Back @ Becoming a Culturally Responsive School Librarian - We can't be satisfied with promoting a heritage celebration for a month. We must be responsive to cultures, races, and ethnic groups throughout the school year, and work diligently to build respect for diversity within ourselves, our library collection, and our Library Lessons. It's the only way our students can learn to love themselves.February’s Black History Month is an important national celebration and a busy time for School Librarians. As I read and hear about activities I often wonder: What will School Librarians do about Black History during other months of the school year? How will we honor other cultural groups throughout the school year? We need to consider all aspects of our School Library Program and ask: How can School Librarians make ourselves, our Library Collection, and our Library Lessons culturally responsive to all students?

Ourselves

I believe our school libraries reflect the beliefs and attitudes that we School Librarians have toward others. Our collection development, our library decor, our library lessons, and how we interact with our students reflects that. We must examine our own attitudes carefully: Do we consider someone of a different race, ethnicity, or cultural background with “empathy/sympathy” or with “respect”? They are quite the opposite!

Both empathy and sympathy stem from the Greek ‘pathos’feeling—and relate to suffering. Both apply to a sharing with another individual; when carelessly associated with groups, it may engender either shame or arrogance about our own background.

Conversely, respect is from the Latin ‘respectus’looking at—and connotes regard and consideration. It is more encompassing; respect impels us to see the glory in the culture and heritage of others. If we have respect for the culture and heritage of others, then we will choose materials, presentations, and conversations that build positive cultural awareness among our students and teachers.

Be passionate about affirming respect in personal interactions. One year we had a substitute teacher who spent his entire lunch break complaining about “those kids” and their behavior or language or ability. I finally challenged him:Barbara Jordan "If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority." ‘I was tired of hearing him complain about our kids, and if they bothered him so much why didn’t he just quit coming to our building?’ I informed our principal that I had “mouthed off” to the sub, but she was relieved someone had finally spoken up, as were other teachers who heard about it!  (thankfully he never returned.)

I’m not promoting myself here. I’m trying to say that we may be inclined to ignore such actions, but supporting any and all of our kids when necessary will ensure that students have an upbuilding educational experience in our libraries and our schools, and that impacts everyone’s future.

Our Library Collection

Students can’t develop pride in their culture and heritage if they never read about its positive aspects, and students won’t develop respect for other cultural backgrounds if they only know about their own. Expanding awareness through reading builds pride and respect.

I was fortunate to be the librarian at the most diverse middle school in our district: 33% African-American, 25% Asian, 25% Euro/Anglo, 15% Latinx, and 2% Native Nation. One year our ELL students spoke 30 different languages. I was initially impressed with the collection in the 2-year-old school library, yet later that year a library course on multicultural books helped me discover how few resources we had for 75% of our students:

  • A few books on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but nothing about African-American culture or other time periods.
  • Numerous books on countries, but nothing on Latinx or Asian culture, events, or place in U.S. history.
  • Typical food/festivals/folktales books for various cultural groups, but few on other aspects of culture and none on contemporary society or issues, especially emigration/immigration.
  • Some reference series but few individual biographies about Black, Latinx, Asian, or Native Nation people.
  • A few historical fiction books or award-winners about other cultures/ethnic groups—many by authors who didn’t represent who they were writing about—but meager contemporary realistic Fiction.

Over the years I worked hard to acquire materials that were more representative of our school and that would broaden our students perspective on the U.S. and its history:The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, a visual history of life aboard a slave ship.

  • A more comprehensive view of slavery
    • ante-bellum personal narratives & biographies, such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Solomon Northrup
    • slave resistance and rebellions, and runaway slave communities such as those in Florida and Mexico
    • U.S. court cases where slaves prevailed
    • Slaves and former slaves who fought, spied, or worked with Union soldiers during the Civil War
  • Various cultures, ethnic groups, and time periods in U.S. History, from the Trail of Tears to the American Indian Movement; from early MesoAmerican settlement to United Farm Workers to contemporary border issues; from the Transcontinental Railroad to WWII Internment Camps to Southeast Asian refugees; the Harlem Renaissance and African-American roots of contemporary music.9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it was unconstitutional to segregate students of Mexican heritage into inferior schools, paving the way for Brown vs. Bd of Education in 1954
  • Contemporary non-fiction about art, music, family life, and other cultural elements over a wide range of ethnicities.
  • Individual biographies about Blacks, Latinx, Asians, and Native Nations from ancient to modern times (Eventually 42% of the biography collection.)
  • Historical and Contemporary Realistic Fiction by and about all races, ethnicities, and cultural groups in various situations and locations in the U.S. and other countries

Building a culturally diverse collection is essential, but we must analyze both the quantity and the quality of diverse books on our shelves. Here are a few sources I use for recommendations on quality reading material:

Even with authoritative recommendations, I believe we can only choose quality diverse material for our school library if we cultivate a broader view through personal reading about culture and history. I began my own quest in college with 2 books that still reside on my shelf—No More Lies by Dick Gregory and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Even after ‘retirement’ weeding, I retain nearly 5-feet of multicultural non-fiction and fiction books on 2 shelves in my home office. What books are in your personal library?

Our Library Lessons

A year ago I read something in a blog post that embodies my mindset for Library Lessons, and, with slight rephrasing, I believe this goal can enable all school librarians to be culturally responsive teachers:

Teach students of all cultural backgrounds to love themselves.

Black History Month can bring out the worst in our lack of cultural respect for Black Americans. I’m referring here to slavery simulations. This is an example where supposed “em/sym-pathy”—expecting students to “feel slavery”—is dispiriting and devoid of cultural benefit. Rafranz Davis states it even more boldly:

If your idea of “celebrating” the contributions of Black people during the month of February is a lesson in slavery…you are the one that needs a lesson in history and the countless contributions that we not only have made but are still making.

I’m not suggesting we avoid the discussion of slavery, but rather use care about how and when we do it, and include topics like those I mentioned earlier. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieI’m reminded of a TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The consequence of the single story is this—that it robs people of dignity.”

Slavery can’t be the only story our students—regardless of color, ethnicity, or cultural background—hear about the history of Blacks in America. The Holocaust can’t be the only story they hear about Jews. Terrorism can’t be the only story they hear about Muslims. Pearl Harbor can’t be the only story they hear about Asians. Undocumented workers can’t be the only story they hear about Latinos. And Thanksgiving can’t be the only story they hear about our Native Nations.

When developing Library Lessons, I ask myself:

  • How can I make this lesson culturally responsive for all my students?
    • Can I choose a wider range of resources?
    • Does the activity allow for the cultural learning styles of all students?
    • Am I phrasing my topic in a culturally sensitive manner?
  • Is this lesson building respect for all students?

Book cover of "Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta HammonBook recommendation for lessons: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


With the divisiveness that currently pervades our society, it’s imperative for School Librarians to build respect for other cultures/races/ethnicities in every facet of our School Library Program. We can’t just promote heritage celebrations for a month. We must work diligently, and throughout the school year, to be culturally responsive with ourselves, our library collection, and our Library Lessons. It’s the only way our students can learn to love themselves.

line of books laying down

Looking Back @ Teacher Lesson Ideas/Requests

Looking Back @ Teacher Lesson Ideas/Requests - Every school librarian experiences a teacher coming in with a great new idea for a library visit—something from their previous school, from a book/curriculum guide, or from a meeting or conference. How can we decide whether to accommodate this teacher's request?Every school librarian experiences a teacher coming in with a great new idea for a library visit—something they did at their previous school, a suggestion from a book/curriculum guide, or a great project they heard about at a meeting or conference. How do we decide whether we should accommodate this teacher’s request? Over the years, here’s what I learned:

We can’t discourage teachers from bringing us lesson ideas, but they can’t expect us to instantly put together a lesson.

So, when a teacher approaches me about an idea, I grab my Library Lesson Planner and use it to fill in information as they tell me their proposal. Then I ask them these 2 questions:

  1. Can I learn more about this from a book, handout, Website, or lesson plan?
  2. Can I have the rest of the day/until tomorrow/a couple days to make sure we can meet the needs of the visit?

I find that this response is better than a simple yes or no, because the teacher sees I’m taking their suggestion seriously enough to investigate it. Having some time to cogitate helps me put everything in perspective and to prepare myself for the next conversation with the teacher. When I return to them with “Yes, let’s do it!” and what we can do together (or “Sorry, this isn’t possible and here’s the reason.”), they are impressed and I create the pattern for future dialogue.

How to Decide

Using the pre-filled Library Lesson Planner, I begin my ‘thinking-time’ by asking the same question I ask for all my school library decisions: How will this impact my students? Does this lesson:

  • Promote reading?
  • Promote problem-solving?
  • Support the subject and/or library curriculum?

If I can answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, I know the lesson will have a positive impact on students, but I’ve learned that I also need to ask myself the question: How will this lesson impact library management?, specifically:

  • Collection development
    • Do we have the materials for the lesson?
    • If we don’t have materials, do I have enough time to gather them through Inter-Library Loan?
    • If I purchase materials, will they be used again?
  • Facility
    • Can we accommodate this lesson in the library?
    • Do we have the audio/video/digital equipment needed for the lesson?
    • Will we need to rearrange the facility or bring in anything else for the lesson?
  • Library schedule
    • How much time will students need in the library?
    • Will this be a single visit, or do we need more than that?
    • Is the teacher flexible with the timing of the visit, or must it be within a certain time frame?
  • Library Promotion
    • Do we need involvement by other teachers, administration, the district, the community?
    • Will this lesson advertise the library program in a positive way?
  • Professional development
    • Do I have the expertise to do this lesson?
    • Can I get help from another district librarian or on one of my listservs?

Answers to these questions determine preparation time/effort and whether it can be accomplished by the time the teacher wants the library visit. I may need to offer suggestions about how to implement or improve their original idea, which is a delicate process:

We don’t want to patronize teachers, but rather use tact to infuse their idea with what we know is best library literacy practices and guide the lesson toward student-centered inquiry.

Usually when the teacher sees my Library Lesson Plan with detailed consideration of their idea, they readily accept my suggestions and appreciate the work I’ve put into making their idea come alive.

Implementation

An example of developing a lesson from a teacher request is my 6g Multicultural Folktales Unit, which began as a single-visit ELA lesson idea from a student teacher. Our collaboration was so successful with students that the following year teachers asked to repeat it; I suggested, and teachers accepted, a second lesson visit. The third year I suggested a third visit for teachers to introduce a student project. This entire unit is a truly joint-taught collaboration between teachers and the School Librarian.

We use picture books to explore multicultural folktales because they can be read during a single-period library visit and even struggling readers can do the lessons. Initially I borrowed from elementary schools, but purchases now allow two ELA classes together in the library. (Theater and art teachers also use them for projects, so they were a good investment.)

1st Library Visit
Multicultural Cinderella Double-Bubble Graphic OrganizerWe introduce plot and story elements using the fairy tale Cinderella as an “exemplar.” As the teacher presents story elements and each plot element, I read aloud the pertinent segment from the traditional Perrault Cinderella story. Then, student partners read a multicultural Cinderella picture book from their table and use a Double-Bubble graphic organizer (the daily grade) to compare/contrast story elements of the original French story with their cultural version. I have some very humorous Cinderellas, so even boys enjoy this activity.

2nd Library Visit 
Multicultural Folktales Zoom In-Zoom Out Graphic OrganizerTwo weeks later we introduce unity/diversity of cultural beliefs, customs, and traditions with the 5 types of folktales—myths, fables, legends, tall tales, and fairy tales. The activity is similar to the earlier visit, but with a deeper examination of a story. Student pairs choose a folktale picture book from their table and, as they read it, use a ZIZO graphic organizer (daily grade) to “Zoom In” on cultural details of the tale and “Zoom Out” to universal ideas common to every culture.

3rd Library Visit 
At the next visit, two weeks later, I begin with the oral storytelling tradition of folktales, relating “Little Dog Turpie and the Hobyahs”, an Old English tale I learned from my grandmother, using dressed pipe-cleaner dolls as storytelling accessories (also from my grandmother). Then teachers introduce the student project using the project guide/rubric worksheet and elaborate on the presentation choices, while I show other examples so students know what is expected.

Multicultural Folktales Project Presentation Slide

Students will create their own cultural folktale, including cultural story elements and unity/diversity principles, and then present it in a unique way:

  • tell it orally with an accessory
  • create a book, handwritten or digital, with a handmade book cover
  • create a graphic novel, by hand or digitally

4th Library Visit 
About 2 weeks later students come in to present their folktales project. We begin with students seated and intersperse oral storytellers with browsing “books” on tables so students have a chance to move around. Not only do 6g ELA students enjoy this project, but it coordinates with their study of World Cultures in Social Studies.

The 7g teachers were also impressed and began offering options for their mythology unit project: a diorama or mobile illustrating their own myth (which we display in the library), a narrated group pantomime, or a compare/contrast interview with a “mythological” actor, pop star or sports figure. The latter appeal to those 7th graders who need movement and peer interaction!

Folktales-to-Fiction Presentation SlideContinuing the “Story”
At the regular ELA book checkout following the folktale project I present to students that folktales may have “morphed” into the different subjects of our fiction literature.

Students and teachers are fascinated by this idea, as are other librarians. I don’t know if I’m right, but it excites kids into expanding their reading choices of fiction books!

line of books laying down

NoSweat Multicultural Folktales Unit PromotionGet these great “No Sweat” lessons from my TPT store!