Reading Logs and the School Librarian

Reading Logs & the School Librarian - Reading Logs can discourage students or they can be valuable enhancements for reading promotion. A perceptive School Librarian can develop reading promotion tools to make a School Library Reading Program preferred by teachers and enjoyed by students. #NoSweatLibraryDo 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 good way to develop students as readers:

  • They keep track of books they’ve read and which ones they liked.
  • They learn which kinds of stories (subjects/genres) they prefer.
  • They self-assess and understand themselves as readers.
  • 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 isher 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 believe 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 the next year we went back to free—and undocumented—reading (and our reading scores went back up)!

SOME READING LOGS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS

Reading Records That Encourage Independent Reading - Students like to keep track of books they read, but forced recording of time and pages discourages even the most voracious reader. Here's how School Librarians can give students a better way to track reading that also satisfies teacher & administrative demands. #NoSweatLibraryAs a Middle School Librarian I realized students do 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 students to indicate how much they enjoyed the book. It wasn’t required and the forms were on the circulation desk for students to put into their binder. This type of record isn’t discouraging—it builds pride in a personal accomplishment.

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 with students using interactive Reader/Writer 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 and devised a new strategy to promote more—and better—student reading. First, I identified more Fiction books with multicultural characters and added relevant spine stickers. While 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 created brand new Reading Records:

  • For ELA, a legal-sized sheet for students to fold in half and paste into their Reader/Writer Notebook:
    image of ELA Reading Record to paste into the student Reader/Writer Notebook #NoSweatLibrary #reading #ELA

    click to enlarge

    1. a reading chart with images of the 8 main Fiction Subject stickers,
    2. a chart with images of 5 Multicultural stickers,
    3. 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 moving the State Reading list to the Multicultural chart and added grade-level Social Studies books to the third chart 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:
    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 are elated with their new Reading Record and prefer it over the one provided by the district. Social Studies teachers also appreciate their customized Reading Record to promote content area reading. Now, I copy and distribute enough Reading Records 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.

ALTERNATIVES TO READING LOGS

To help students locate and keep track of similar kinds of stories, I’ve created topical 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 use the same topical bookmark over and over, so they can track books read by crossing off titles as they read them. Other students use them as a search tool, choosing a new one each time they visit 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, I thought Mike F’s comment 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. 

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.

line of books laying down

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.
Entice your students to read a variety of Fiction Subjects and other literary genres for English Language Arts class. Perfect for the school library or for an ELA teacher's classroom library. Lesson slide presentation, Reading Record for Reader/Writer Notebook, Bookmark of Fiction Subjects, Book spine labels for 11 Fiction Subjects, 6 Multicultural, State Reading List. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #readingpromotion #ELA #reading #middleschool Entice your students to read a variety of Fiction and NonFiction books to get better grades in their Social Studies classes. Customized reading promotion for 3 common Middle School courses: World Cultures/Geography, State History, and U.S. History. Make Library visits relevant and meaningful. You will find this middle school Reading Promotion Bundle a valuable tool to promote content area reading for both English Language Arts and Social Studies, and to minimize the time it takes students to find something to read.

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5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2 Content Area Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2 Content Area Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into any class visit. In Part 2 we look at 5 ways to incorporate Content Area/Disciplinary Literacy into library visits with subject area classes. #NoSweatLibraryIn our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies to be successful in our global society:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content Area/ Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer suggestions and examples about how we might do that. My Part 1 blog post covered reading, so this post looks at Content Area/Disciplinary Literacy.

Many educators equate Content Area Literacy to structurally analyzing subject area text to read more proficiently. But we need to take this a step further, to help students identify with the discipline itself. Disciplinary Literacy means students can think like a scientist, or a mathematician, or an historian, or a musician, or an artist. School Librarians are in a unique position to construct lessons that infuse reading, writing, thinking, and communication skills specific to each discipline’s vocabulary, concepts, and methods.

INTEGRATE DISCIPLINARY LITERACY

When I simplified my Library Orientations with ELA classes to focus solely on reading, I actually created opportunities for other subject-area Library Lessons where students would learn library skills in context and be more likely to remember and apply what they learn. Subject-area teachers see value in these kinds of library lessons, so they are amenable for more lessons as the year progresses. They share the positive experience with others, who are then motivated to collaborate with us. Here are 5 examples of how I integrate disciplinary thinking for various subject areas into my Library Lessons.

Dewey Decimal Numbers with Math Classes

My listserv posts suggest that School Librarians often struggle with presenting Dewey Decimal Classification in a meaningful way. Why not invite Math classes to the library? Dewey Decimals give them a curricular reason to visit, especially with a hands-on activity that practices identifying and using decimal numbers. My students love coming to the library with their Math class—it’s new and different so they’re excited! Math teachers like a fun, non-graded review where they can see which students are having trouble with decimals, so they come to me to schedule their class visit!

My middle school Dewey Lessons activate prior knowledge of decimals to prepare students for their coming Math decimal unit, while teaching how decimals are used in the library. Their activity has them solve decimal problems to locate decimal-numbered books, because what’s important about DDC is teaching students how to USE it, not memorize it.

  • 2 Library Lessons for Content Area/Disciplinary Literacy in Math - Give Math classes a curricular reason to visit the library. Integrate a hands-on activity that practices identifying and using decimals by using Dewey Decimal numbered book locations. #NoSweatLibraryMy 6g Dewey Lesson reviews decimal number place values and sequencing decimals, to prepare students for learning to add and subtract decimals. I tell students that when we get a new book in the library, we ask, “What is this book about?” The answer determines the Dewey number we assign to the book. We review how each place of a decimal number has a certain value—hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, hundredths, thousandths. Likewise in the library, each place has a value: a subject or topic of knowledge. As we move from left to right, each number denotes a more specific sub-topic of the one before it.
     a
  • My 7g Dewey Lesson reviews adding and subtracting decimals to prepare students for learning to multiply and divide decimals. This lesson does take some preparation, but it’s worth it to see student partners scurrying around the library to locate their 2 Dewey-number books and having a wonderful time…in a Math class!
     a
  • Even elementary students who have not learned decimals can put numbers in order:
    • Create a set of picture cards that match those on Dewey shelf signs and put a corresponding Dewey number on the back, using only 3 digit ones for the itty-bitties. Distribute them on tables and have students pick a favorite Subject from their table, then use the number on the back to find a book on the shelf with that number.
    • To help students understand that there are two parts to a Dewey number, create one color of cards with 3 numbers and another color of cards with a big dot & 1 or 2 numbers to the right of the dot. They can learn that each part is in separate numerical order, and that’s how you find the numbers. Students pair the cards, then find the Dewey Number on the shelf.

Because my Dewey Lessons focus only on locating Dewey numbers, students grasp that Dewey numbers listed next to search results in the online catalog tell them exactly where to locate the book on the shelf. I incorporate Subject searching the online catalog into Content-area lessons where it is more pertinent and better remembered.

Content-area Classes for Exploring Dewey Subjects

Integrating Dewey Subjects into related Content-area lessons is better than a generic standalone Dewey lesson because integrated lessons support classroom learning and are better remembered. For example, Science classes study the organization and classification of living organisms, and Dewey numbers follow that same disciplinary structure. My Library Lesson helps students make visible association between the Science content and Dewey bookshelf organization which reinforces their learning of the discipline’s vocabulary & content, and of library skills. I wrote about this lesson in an earlier blog post, and also about how Geography and Dewey organization of countries in the 900s is another subject lesson opportunity.

Online Databases with Social Studies & Science

My listservs often have lesson requests for teaching online subscription database services. Such lessons only have value when they are integrated into classroom subject activities. Early in the school year I have WebQuest lessons with Science and with Social Studies to introduce an online encyclopedia and 2 other databases that have the specific resources students need to complete their current assignment.

Recurring Library Lessons to Integrate Tech, PBL, and Social Studies - Develop content/disciplinary literacy in Social Studies with a project using world statistics from online sources to create different graphs & culminate the year with a UN economic symposium. #NoSweatLibraryI created a unit with ongoing lessons for 6g World Cultures classes that help students think like economic analysts. I introduce an online service from which students choose demographic statistics of a few countries related to their unit and record them into a digital spreadsheet. I teach students how the spreadsheet can create a graph comparing one demographic across countries. For each new continent unit students add new countries and statistics to their spreadsheet, and I teach them to create a new kind of graph. (This is great technology integration, too.) By spacing lessons throughout the school year students are developing content/discipline literacy in Social Studies.

Year-long project for Social Studies World Cultures Classes

Click to enlarge

The culmination of this long-term lesson is an authentic activity: students act as “members” of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (www.un.org/ecosoc/), whose goal is to “conduct cutting-edge analysis, agree on global norms, and advocate for…solutions” to advance sustainable development. During library visits, student groups analyze their spreadsheets and create new graphs, then collaborate for a presentation on why a chosen country is most in need of development by the U.N. At the end of presentations, student “members” vote on which country the organization will support. This lesson furthers disciplinary thinking along with critical thinking and cooperative learning skills.

Disciplinary Literacy and Research Projects

6g Science classes visit our Outdoor Learning Center during their ecology unit to conduct various environmental analyses. As a culminating activity students participate in a 3-day “Science Symposium.” In their science classrooms, small group “Workshops” compare & consolidate their gathered data. Next day, class periods meet in the library for the “Conference” and 2-table groups analyze the environmental impact of building a factory on empty land adjoining the OLC property. They create a presentation for whether to approve it or not. Last day is the “Plenary Session” when a spokesperson for each group makes their presentation, then students vote on a “Recommendation to the City” for whether to grant permission for the company to build its factory. This is another example of building the Disciplinary Literacy students need to be successful with coursework and with future decisions.

In 7th grade Social Studies & English Language Arts we’ve made a dull immigration project and a so-so personal narrative into an authentic interdisciplinary project“My Texas Heritage—How & Why I’m in Texas” has students learn the history of themselves the same way they learn the history of our State. It gives students a sense of identity (important for middle schoolers) and provides a personal understanding of conceptual factors that have brought people into the state.

As the School Librarian I teach research skills with a variety of primary and secondary sources, both in print and online—biographies, speeches, letters, diaries, songs, and artwork. In ELA they learn how to interview family members in person and through written requests. In Social Studies they learn to discern similarities and differences between historical events and the lives of their own family. Students create concise, well-written webpages to share information with family members, which forces students to thoroughly think through and edit responses to their research questions.

Texas Visual History clippingStudents who share common events can group together for mock newscasts of “eyewitness” accounts, and discern that historical “truths” often depend on one’s point of view—a valuable lesson for studying history. This project develops multiple disciplinary literacies as students learn to think like historians, journalists, webmasters, and newscasters.

SCHOOL LIBRARIANS & CURRICULUM

It is apparent to me that the only way we School Librarians can integrate Content Area/Disciplinary Literacy into our Library Lessons is to become very familiar with the curriculum taught by our teachers. When we take to them a lesson plan that fully incorporates what they are doing in their classroom, they will be more willing to collaborate with us, knowing that the library visit is not only essential for learning the Subject-area’s content, but also for helping students think according to that Discipline.

This is the second entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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