Want children to love to read? Throw away reading logs. - Nancy Teaches

A Teacher Who Loves to Learn


Friday, August 6

Want children to love to read? Throw away reading logs.

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During my early years as a classroom teacher I wanted every student to love to read as much as I did.  I thought by sheer desire and passion, they would eagerly embrace the joy of reading.  They would jump up and down with excitement when I assigned their reading homework.
Well, that didn’t work.  They would rather watch TV.  Reading was for school only.

I reflected on this attitude and decided to make reading prize-worthy!  I set up a system where every time a student finished reading a book, I would punch a hole in their reading card.  When the card was filled, they got to shop for a prize to celebrate.  Well, you can imagine what happened. There were many accusations of cheating and students were spending more time figuring out how to beat the system than read.

Next, I decided to make it mandatory for every child to read every night for a set amount of minutes.  I naively thought they would do it.  Wrong!  They all claimed to do it, but parents informed me they weren’t reading and it was a battle.  Some students admitted that they didn’t read and their parents just signed the log anyway.  Not a good way to foster a love of reading. Furthermore, I began to review what was happening in my own house.

At the same time I was attempting to grow passionate readers, my son was in elementary school and he had a nightly reading log. Although it pains me to share this, and although he has a reading specialist for a mother, he didn’t like to read.  (His strength was math! Go figure!)

Each night we would sit together on the couch.  I had my book to read as I wanted to model good reading habits and he would grudgingly hold his.  Each time I looked over at him, he was asleep.  I would nudge him awake and plead with him to finish his minutes.  The teacher wanted the reading log signed by parents.  When I asked him about why he didn’t enjoy reading, his response was, “I had to read all day at school.  This is more work!”

All of these unsuccessful events led me to the conclusion that reading logs turn kids off from reading.  Making parents sign a reading log to prove a child read for a certain amount of time makes them partners in turning kids off from the joy of reading.  What is the solution?  How do we share that reading is a life-changing, passionate, totally enriching experience?

It begins by talking.  We must talk to children about their interests.  I’m not a big science fan, so reading a book about it would be a chore I wouldn't want to do. My son’s passions were numbers and sports. I helped him choose books about these topics.

He worried that some of the books weren’t challenging enough, but I told him not to worry. All I cared about was that he was reading!  (I met with his teacher at the time and explained that the journey began with baby-steps! She agreed with my plan.) Slowly, we found more and more books about sports and stories about math. Next, I encouraged him to read magazines and newspapers.  Finally, I encouraged him to talk and talk and talk about what he read.  I gave him permission to abandon books he didn’t like. This was a "novel" idea for him; he didn't have to like everything or finish everything.
At the same time, I was doing all of this in my classroom.  I started listening to my students.  I read what they were reading so I could share their experiences.  I would get them talking about what they read.  At first, they loved the attention and then, even the most reluctant reader, began to read just because of the joy it brought.  I started greeting them by asking, “Did you find out what happened to the character?  Did he make it across the river?”  This generated excitement and connections.  Reluctant readers saw the enthusiasm and conversations that I was having with other students, and they wanted to be included.

Admittedly, some students are slower to become passionate readers, but at least we no longer count minutes. Each night my students have homework and on their homework log it says, read for pleasure.  No counting books or minutes.  No parent signatures.  Just read.  Just enjoy!


Jaki said...

This is such a refreshing post. Thank you. I personally love to read, but like you my oldest's interests are mostly math related plus he has the added hurdle of wanting to follow his own agenda - doing things in his own time. I have struggled with the idea of the reading log since he was in Kindergarten (he's now in Grade 5). It became a chore, a dreaded chore despite trying to find creative ways to tackle it. I remember thinking maybe I just didn't get the reading log because I was an intermediate teacher and the primary teachers were all over it!

Reading was so important to me and I wanted to provide him with opportunities to develop strong reading habits and a love for reading. I eventually gave up on the log and put up with the sighs and comments from his teachers that he didn't have it done. It wasn't that he wasn't reading. He really liked to read. But there were nights he didn't read at all (which he was penalized for if we handed in his reading log) and then days where he literally read all day because he couldn't put it down. Problem was ... the log really didn't reflect that. So in the long run, I just focused on the fact that he was reading and how he felt about reading and we're both happier for it.

Thank you for sharing your experiences. You can feel the connection you're making with your students and reading through your writing. After all, lifelong learning isn't about tallies and gold stars.

Cathy said...

When I was in school, way back in the day, I remember having required reading from our basal. Boring! I remember considering it "school reading". I completed these assignments so I could read my finds from the library. I read my library books over and over again as we were only allowed to go to the library once a week and pick two books. (How times have changed!) I enjoyed reading those library books over and over again --- preferring them to the basal stories which seemed formula to me even as a child.

I worry that sometimes by requiring reading in minutes or numbers of books we actually get in the way of developing readers. (And don't get me started on summer high school reading...) It is one thing to turn a kid off to a basal, but a complete travesty to turn a child off to real reading. It's a tough balance.

Like you, I think there is such power in using conversation to check in with readers. Talking with them lets us gage their understanding, helps us learn their reading preferences, and sends a message we think their opinions and choices are important.

Educating parents is also an important part of this process. Not all of them are readers, and not all grew up in classrooms that allowed them to have choice and read real books (sad, huh). Helping parents to understand ways to help their children find their reading niche, sharing ways to support their readers, and helping them to understand the significance of their children's choices is a process.

Sarah said...

This concept is a "novel" idea to me! I like the way that you decided to engage your students in what they were reading as a way to foster the love and enjoyment of reading. You've given me a lot to think about for my reading homework policy for next year!

George Couros said...

Thank you for your post. I love that you are seeing that students being "pushed" to read does not actually create a love of reading, but sometimes actually turns them off of it. I loved your post. Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts.

Julie said...

Your post gives me some things to think about. I am someone who loves to read, and like you, want to impart that passion to my students. I have used reading logs in the past with mixed results. I think most teachers would say that they always have some students who never fill out their logs, which is frustrating. As a parent, I remember the drudgery of the reading log (and I wholeheartedly agree with
Cathy when it comes to high school summer reading). All 3 of my children love to read and each of them has their own interests.

With that said, I do like to have a record of what my students are reading for a couple of different reasons. I like for them to see their growth as readers as well as to look for patterns in their reading. Giving our students choice is so very important. I want them to find out who they are as readers and I want them to experience a variety of what is available out in the reading world.

Your post gives me food for thought on how to balance my desire to help my students love to read and be able to find books that they can lose themselves into with being able to have a record of what they are reading without the drudgery of filling out a nightly log.

Mr. Gamboa's Classroom Blog said...

Bravo! I teach third grade and struggle with this a great deal. As a child I was a reluctant reader and having to do logs and having things forced on me did nothing more than make me despise reading (in fact I've never really learned to truly love fiction again). I see the same thing with my students. Turning anything into a job will automatically take some of the joy out of it and it just gets compounded if the student might be a reluctant reader. I can't wait to share this with my teammates (we have this argument all the time!).

Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) said...

Great post... too often we make learning seem like work. Who wants to do work? Making learning and reading enjoyable is the most important thing we can do for our students. I love how you have used your experiences both as a parent and as teacher to affect the way you model the joy of reading. Thank you for sharing!

IPessoa said...

Thank you for giving me some interesting food for thought. I have used all the same things you have used (logs, rewards) and it is very true that some kids don't do well with this. I have been thinking about how to tackle this for the coming year.

Michelle Howell-Martin said...

Thanks so much for this post. My school implemented a reading program several years ago (it shall remain nameless) that requires a reading log and offers prizes and medals and a chance to appear on the morning news. You would think that students would be hot on it. Unfortunately, they are not. I think that teachers need to be able to foster a love of reading in whatever way works for their students and your experience illustrates that. Thanks again so much. I will be sharing this post!

Our Family said...

Thanks for such a thought provoking post. I think a lot of teachers use reading logs as an accountability tool, but now I am already thinking of other options that a teacher could do instead of requiring a parent signature to signify time spent reading. Something to think on.....

RobinG said...

Awesome post. I agree and the recent article in the NYTimes does too:

I have nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award (see the link below). Thanks for all you do to promote reading.


happy reading,

Jackie H. said...

Excellent post. I agree. (although there were several years in there that I made my students fill out reading logs). In our part of the country, it's not only about recording what you read but having it be the correct "level" even for the library "fun" summer reading program, children could only record books that were on their level. It kind of shocked me. I thought summer reading programs were just to encourage kids to read for pleasure. Requiring it to be a certain level seemed to take a lot of the pleasure out of it. I'm sure the librarians had the best of intentions (as we all do when we require such things) but it's good to step reflect on it and see if it's really helping the child.

Anita Strang said...

I am so with you on this! I used to sign my two kids' logs if they brought them to me along with a pencil so they could get whatever prize was attached if they really wanted it. I made it clear to them why I disapproved of this type of system and refused to make sure they were doing the 'minutes' or 'pages'... Both of my kids were avid readers so why would I mess with that? I always loved the report card comment each of them always got: "___would benefit from participating more consistently in the home reading program." Hmmmm...

Shaha said...

Beautifully said and done!!!! i am all for talking and making kids love to discover and get to know whats hidden inside each book....a different exciting world...Thanks for sharing...

Kathy, Grade 3 Teacher said...

Thanks for your post. I believe that allowing children choice is essential. I will be implementing more of this in my classroom this year. I will also be removing the read for thirty minutes each night from our assignment sheet and replacing it with "Read for Pleasure". I can't wait to share with the kids each day what they are reading at home and watching my more reluctant readers become eager to share as well. I also hope your ideas will be helpful to the parents in my room who struggle with reading at home with their children. I will be sharing this post on my Wikipage, too. Thanks again.