Reading Logs that Work!

If you ask any reading teacher why they use a reading log, the answer in almost every case is to hold students accountable. Over the years my opinion of reading logs has changed drastically.

When my own children entered elementary school and needed to read independently and log their reading, I hated the reading log. It was in a notebook or binder packed in their schoolbag. The problem? My kids always read before going to bed, so the log was not readily available to complete each night without everyone getting out of bed, unpacking schoolbags and repacking to go back to bed. I figured this was why my students were not filling in their logs. So I solved the problem and recreated the log so it was a bookmark.

Did this solve the problem? Well, it did for my kids who had the same routine each day, but not my students. They still were not filling in their logs. Then my children grew older and became more and more involved in sports and other activities. That’s when I realized reading 20-30 minutes every night was not always possible when my fourth grader was not getting home from soccer practice until almost 9pm a couple nights a week and still had to shower and do homework. Then I decided as long as everyone was averaging three hours a week of at home reading, we were good.

No matter what I did those logs told me one thing…LIES. They are nothing but lies. How many pages did you read? Lies. How many minutes did you read? Lies. What page did you start and end on? Lies.

I stopped focusing on the log (otherwise known as the web of lies) and started focusing on the readers. I started with having kids make lists of what they want to read in their reader’s notebook. Something they could continuously return to and add new books as we have book tastings, book talks, and just casually share with our reading partners and friends while crossing off the books as they read.

Through sharing my own reading, this idea then morphed into a new kind of reading log and students began to create similar pages in their notebook with keys to identify what different marks meant. My key shows:

  1. Fully highlighted books are completed
  2. Halfway highlighted books are abandoned
  3. A dot next to a book is the book I want to read next (my book on deck…because readers have a plan!)
  4. A line next to a book is the book I am currently reading.

I found that when I started logging this way, I was able to have real conversations with kids and get a quick glance during a conference. I could see quickly how much and how widely a student was reading. I could see how often books were being abandoned and if that was the case, I could share some strategy lessons with my frequent abandoners about choosing just right books and improving reading engagement.

The reading log certainly has a place in the reading workshop. It is used to help teachers determine needs and determine next steps for kids. It is a snapshot that teachers can use as a tool. What I’ve learned in my own experience is the reading log is not going to hold kids accountable or prove they are reading. More than likely it may even create an environment where compliance is seen as more valuable than reading because the web of lies is okay as long as it is complete.

I know what you’re thinking…so how do I know kids are reading? How do I hold them accountable for reading? My go to answers? Make reading real and not a chore we have to do. Make reading real and not busywork. Always make reading real. Real readers don’t write down how many minutes each night they read. Real readers share their reading, talk about their reading, and even post about their reading. So find ways to make reading real.

Web of lies at its finest

The funny thing about the webs of lies that students turned in was that most of them were reading. They just weren’t filling in the log. And I knew they were reading because I watched them read and conferred with them about their reading.

I’m not saying to abandon all logs. I am saying to ask yourself if you are creating real reading experiences and a tool to talk about reading or are you pushing busywork that is more about compliance than reading? And the best part is you will not have to pay anyone on Teachers Pay Teachers or make any photocopying. Now that’s money and time saved!

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