Monday, May 26, 2014

On the Fence About Reading Logs... but Why I Lean Toward "Like"

Over the last year I have read many books and blog posts concerning Reading Logs... most of which frown upon this practice; so I found myself torn as I decided to try them out amidst all the negative hype. The Reading Log I decided to try simply has the title of the book students are reading and a place for parents to initial. There are no columns for "start page" or "end page" or "how much time you read." I just basically wanted a "what are you reading?" page that was turned in once a week for me to check...but still... I almost felt as if I was doing something counterintuitive to the kind of reading teacher I wanted to be. And while no- I was NOT trying to be the Reading Police, and YES- I DO want to encourage a wide variety of reading, I felt implementing a read log could be multifaceted for several things I was needing:

  • Student accountability for what they were really reading: Even though we regularly share book titles with one another, discuss books, look at book trailers, and call dibs on the next book we want to read from our friend, I found that sometimes students were reluctant to share. Many times it was the voracious readers who clamoured for a few seconds to share a great new find; which is awesome for sparking excitement and a general reading buzz in the room- I love seeing the excitement these students can generate with their enthusiasm, however I wanted to know what the kid who rarely shared was reading... and why. As a mom of Struggling Developing Readers (thank you, Donalyn Miller for the term), my own kids are often reluctant to share what we read simply because of book level. For a reader who struggles with fluency and/or comprehension, nightly reading can be difficult and daunting. So I can't expect that these same students would turn around and celebrate that in front of their peers.
The Reality: What I found was when given the option of writing it down, often students shared exactly what they were reading, even if it wasn't a coveted library book. I started seeing things like "Bible," "Helped mom plan some meals- we read recipes," "Spiderman comic," "Biscuit and Friends," "Minecraft Handbook" etc.... I LOVED it. It gave me a true inside peek into their reading world that they might not otherwise share in an out-loud classroom setting. It also allowed me to see that many of them understood themselves as readers even when reading for a multitude of purposes and variety of print. It also allowed me to see who was continuing to struggle finding the "just right" book, who tended to "shoot for the moon" in terms of what he/she would realistically read, and gave me an opportunity to set some reading goals with these students to not only help them with goal setting themselves, but also provided some accountability on their part as a reader in a reading class.

  • A common place for exchange of ideas about reading:  I wanted students and I to have an official common place to share tidbits about the books they were reading, progress, ideas, "next read" suggestions and the reading log provided that place. I found that when I reviewed the reading logs over the weekend, I had more time to consider the student and title he/she was reading. I was able to jot down ideas or questions I had in the margins or on the back. It allowed me time to write a note of encouragement or the opportunity to make myself a note that a conference with the student was needed. 
The Reality: This truly evolved into my favorite part. Many students would leave little notes about their next read or whether I had read the book myself. I found myself jotting down several titles that I saw popping up a great deal on my own "Must Read" list! But for some, it was just a safe place to leave little messages. "Worst day ever" was written one week on one log. I responded "Oh no! I hate to hear that. What happened?" The student shared with me his parents had given his dog away with no warning. Since this student was the perpetually happy-go-lucky kid who never shared anything negative in his life- I was happy he felt that his reading log was a safe spot to share- even when it had nothing to do with reading. 

  • An additional way to communicate with parents on the reading lives of their child: I wanted a way to document what a student was reading from their (the student's) perspective, but also a way to use that data for goal-setting, parent meetings, and possible data for RTI meetings. There seemed to be a needed element to realistically put the parents in the mix of the reading lives of my students. I know for me, personally, when my kids were in the lower grades a nightly reading log was expected to be filled in with title, time read, and signature- nightly- no exceptions (at least... in my mind there weren't any); and while there were many a night we were coming in late from some activity or another, me grumbling because we still had to read (GUILTY!)... reading was still seen as a priority. We read even when we were busy, even when we didn't want to, even when we had other things to do. It was expected, so it's what we did. While I realize that I teach a wide variety of students with differing backgrounds and home-lives and not every student will have a parent so involved enough to jot their initials or signature 2 or 3 times a week as a check-in point for their child, it does provide me with 1. knowledge of that and provides an avenue to work with that student on helping him/her in their own goal-setting but 2. allows the reading life of my kids to be shared with their parents and gives us a starting point when discussing the child's progress, fluency, comprehension, etc. 
The reality: Yes- I know that sometimes the initial on the reading log is from the student and not the parent. And yes- sometimes there is the student who consistently loses it...EVERY.WEEK... and yes- sometimes I know the information the student is providing isn't really what's going on during independent reading at night... but that's ok. It is still a starting point and provides a foot in the door when brainstorming with parents possible books/strategies we could try. Do they always work? Nope. Are parents always available and involved? Not always. Are there times when I read something on how horrible Reading Logs are and why teachers should NOT do them and wonder what in the world I've done... at times. But all of that is ok. I really feel like the good outweighs the negative; it provides a jumping-off point for figuring out the real reading-lives of my kids, as well as helping me know what they enjoy/like/tend to lean on as far as style/genre, and technically provides an opportunity and expectation that the parent is just as involved and a part of this process as myself and the student.  

So while I sometimes find myself on the Reading Log fence looking at both sides, I lean (and usually fall off) on the "like" side... and have some additional ideas for making it even more of a positive experience for next year.