Reading Logs: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Lately I have been noticing that reading logs have become a hot-button topic!  Lots of teachers are feeling that reading logs are punitive, discourage reading and offer no value to instruction.  Others teachers assign them because they feel that they would get less students to read if they stopped using them.  

I think that just like anything, balance is important!  In my opinion, reading logs can be used inappropriately and stifle a student’s love of reading,  OR, they can be used to mine really valuable information for your teaching.  So, in today’s post, I’ve decided to explore the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of reading logs.  

The Ugly

At their worst, reading logs can be used as rewards and punishments.  Students that fill them out (or whose parents fill them out) get stickers, or candy or points.  Students that do not fill them out (or whose parents won’t / don’t) lose recess, or points, etc.  I call this the Ugly because research shows that intrinsic rewards are the best kind of rewards, while providing these external rewards/punishments can actually have the opposite effect of what is intended!  Either kids read because they feel they have to and then stop when reading logs are no longer assigned, or they hate the reading log so much that it turns them off from reading immediately.   In fact, a recently released book called No More Reading for Junk, by Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell, addresses this.  It is part of Heinemann’s “Not This But That” series.  (Click here for a synopsis).  Using reading logs for behavioral purposes is definitely the UGLY.

The Bad

When reading logs are used to simply keep track of books read, I call this the Bad.  Here, students spend lots of time meticulously filling out logs that they don’t do anything with.  These then become simply busy work.  While it is nice to have a running list of books of you’ve read, I myself use Goodreads, instructional value is completely lost.  Students in these cases, don’t see a point and will often forget or lose their logs, frustrating their teachers.  

The Good

Used well, reading logs can glean valuable information about your readers.  How much are students reading?   Are they getting through books quickly?  If so, are they understanding what they have read?  Are they stuck on a particular book for a long time?  Why?  Is it too hard?  Not what they are interested in?  Is it time to abandon that book?  What types of books are they reading?  Do they continue to read the same kind of books?  What other books could we steer them towards?  Where are students reading?  At home?  At school?  This information can then be used to help you set goals for and with the student.

Things To Think About When Assigning Reading Logs

  • If the reason you are using reading logs is because you want the information for your teaching, give kids time in class to fill out.  It’s the information that’s important, not where they do it.  
  • Don’t penalize! It will turn kids off of reading.
  • Really think about what information you want.  What columns do you need?  Do you need pages read?  What information will that give you?  Don’t add lots of information that you will never use; it takes away from their reading time!  Instead, really think about what you want to know.
  • At the end of the month/year, take a picture of kids with the stacks of books they’ve read that month.  Or, as Donalyn Miller suggests, have every student count the number of books they have read and write it on a dry erase board.  Take a picture of the class and display it.  It will make it fun for students.  They will WANT to write those books down.

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  • If you are assigning reading logs to students to get them to read more, really think about what you want.  Do you want kids who read only because they have to?  To get kids to read more and to read at home, we have to instill a love of reading!  Make them want to, not have to!  Classrooms that produce avid readers:
    • Create a community of readers
    • Talk about books
    • Have lots of books available
    • Give students lots of time to read at school
    • Recommend books to each other
    • Have a teacher who loves to read and shares that with the class!

Reading logs can be a great tool depending on purpose and use.  How will you use them next year?

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