That Cursed Reading Log

Cubicles

Well, school has started again, and with
it all the tiny forgotten pleasures and irritants of the school day.
Forgotten pleasure: amazing and interesting books are discovered in the (for us) neutral
territory of the teachers' libraries. Forgotten irritant: the reading log.
When I first started this blog I wanted to be careful to respect teachers and their ways. And truly, that hasn't
changed. It is amazing to me that anyone has the focus, patience, and
fortitude to try to reach a whole classroom-full of children, and I am
forever grateful that they do, and that we have been lucky enough to
encounter so many amazing ones.
That still leaves me with the reading log, though.
I
don't know how many of you out there have reading logs in your life.
For those who don't, it is, essentially, a record your child keeps of
the books he or she reads every day, including title, author's name,
how long read, etc. Since daily reading is part of the assigned
homework, every day the child then enters the book read into the
reading log. And it isn't supposed to stop there—every book the child
reads, at any time, for any reason, is supposed to be entered into the
reading log.
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? As I write it down I can't quite believe what a horrendous burden it has turned into for us.
As
I see it, the reading log is difficult because asks the child to do
something that is antithetical to the act of reading, taking something
that is essentially interior and amorphous and making it exterior and
quantifiable. And how does this, er, difficulty, manifest itself? By intense and
prolonged protests.
In Chestnut's case, it's mostly a constant "forgetting" to fill it in,
prolonged weeping when a missing 3 or 5 days of reading presents itself
("I don't remember what I read! I don't remember how far I got!"). With
Diana, the resistance is deeper and more complex: the reading logs
disappear; she will forget to fill them in; for a long time she read an
additional and entirely different set of books to put on the log so she
wouldn't have to disclose what she was really reading, because that
felt private to her.

I do understand that it really helps teachers to know what and how much
a child is reading, but to me, the logs end up making reading this
unlovable regimented chore. In my house, by this time (third and fifth
grades), the protests have faded. The girls dutifully fill in their
reading logs (when reminded), they haven't yet cried so much about
them, they just…do it. But the whole enterprise still feels so wrong
to me. It's as if someone came up to you post-orgasm and said, "How was that? Would you give it a five? Or a four? Please, just write it down on this form each time." It just seems so—contrary to what great reading is.

And I know, I know—teachers have to know that they do, in fact, read the books. No doubt if I lived in the age of book reports I would hate that just as much. It just sort of kills me to watch the two of them have to do it. It reminds of that Donald Barthelme story, the one called "A Manual for Sons" in Sixty Stories where he says, "Son, you're going to have to be socialized." It altogether makes me feel like I am wanting in bravery, that I am letting my child be sacrificed to the gods of all that is not great. This, I probably don't need to say, is not a good feeling.

23 thoughts on “That Cursed Reading Log

  1. For some reason, I keep thinking about book reports lately and how much I loathed them. I was a great reader, but often had to pick a book out of a certain list of (boring) books and then could never come up with a conclusion. How much was there really to say about most of these books? They were twaddle. I read them and enjoyed them enough as I read them, but not enough to rehash in 3 pages. Not looking forward to those days. My daughter will be doing it in French too. argh.

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  2. Oh, God, am I with you on this one! I, too, have a third grader and a fifth grader. Only the 3rd grader has a reading log, but it’s just agony filling it out. He’s also the one who really doesn’t like to read. I’m so glad you wrote about this topic —

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  3. Oh, yes! I cannot stand the reading logs. My 3rd grader has had them since K and this is the first year he doesn’t have them. I just ignore them. They float around in his backpack and never get filled out. The rest of the homework I will monitor, but not the logs. It turns a joyful enterprise into yet another task to complete and I can watch it drain the love of reading from my child.

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  4. Same boat! My 3rd grader does not write down everything she reads. She comes home from school, grabs an apple and a book, then writes down whatever she reads that lasted the duration of the apple.
    For my kindergartner, I write down the book we read together the previous evening.
    It IS a chore, and a shame. At least we have discovered a system that works for us…

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  5. Hi, I came over from the sidebar on someone else’s blog, forgive me for not remembering whose. I just skimmed quite a few posts and will be adding you to my reader.
    I have kept a log of my own reading for years so always assumed that the kid version wouldn’t be a hassle. It sounds like it will be, regardless of what kind of reader my boys turn out to be (they aren’t in school yet). Do you think it would help to start early? From the time they learn to read? Not so much a formal log, but maybe a list? I’d hate to see something they love turn into something they hate.

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  6. All of this is making me grateful for Reading Counts, where kids have to take a computer-monitored multiple choice test on the books they’ve read, and earn points thereby. Picture books are 1-2 points, Magic Treehouse are 3 points, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 49 or something.
    I hate it, too, but for other reasons than you’re citing (I have reservations about the effectiveness of multiple choice questions for something like this — makes the novel seem pointlessly quantifiable). But at least it allows students to read with joy in the moment.
    FWIW, my ten-year-old daughter still resists the Reading Counts mandate, much as your Diana does — she reads one set of books for RC and another for herself, she “forgets” to take the quizzes until she has a pile of 20 books in her desk, and she deliberately chooses books to read that aren’t on the (fairly comprehensive) RC list.
    Your post helps me to understand better why she does these things — out of a sense of self-preservation as an independent reader, and not to drive her mother and teachers insane, that is.

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  7. thank you! It’s so nice to see other parents who sympathize with me. I hate the reading logs. Luckily our district only does them for two years (4th and 5th grades) but they still are headache. My oldest, who read at a 11-12 grade reading level at the time, regularly flunked reading because of those stupid reading logs. It was obvious she was reading; she never stops actually. She just couldn’t remember to get the log filled out and it was so inadequate to describe what reading is for her.
    BTW, our district does Accelerated Reading, a comprehension test system like the Reading Counts described above, and they still have to do reading logs. Crazy, huh?

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  8. Oh, I so sympathize with Diana and how what she reads feels private. In fact, my fifth grade teacher made fun of a couple of books I read (and loved). But even if he hadn’t, it’s just… my own, separate life. Also, both reading logs and book reports usually don’t allow rereads, which has always bothered me considerably. If there was ever a sign that these programs don’t believe in reading for pleasure–that a lot of teachers don’t do it themselves-it’s that.

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  9. I have to pop in with a comment: as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist and so on… I don’t see the point in Reading Logs. I can see the value in an occasional sampling (say… one week every six or eight in rotations to track how much they’re reading?) but to make children laboriously record every title?
    When I had second graders, they were encouraged to keeping a reading journal where they could write down words they liked, draw pictures of the characters they were reading about, remember authors their friends were reading, write me little notes (which I would answer) about what they were reading… but that always seemed much more like what adults who loved reading did. And I kept one too, of books I was reading at home and at school which they could look at for ideas.
    Maybe it’s worth questioning the value of the Reading Log. Perhaps parent initials saying “they read for 20 minutes today” is sufficient.

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  10. I’m a teacher (4th grade), and I did reading logs last year. I discovered that I didn’t like them at all.
    So, this year I’m handing the kids a monthly calendar and asking them to record how long they read each day.
    It’s not ideal, but I’m supposed to be monitoring how much reading they do, so there we go.
    I’m loving the idea of reading journals, though. Maybe I’ll switch the kids over to that later in the year.

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  11. Good Heavens, that Reading Counts thing sounds horrific. So they give more points for reading Harry Potter than they do for reading Where the Wild Things Are? And quality counts for nothing? Yikes. I’m really leaning toward the parents’ initials, which seems minimally invasive.

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  12. The thing I hate about our reading logs (well, one of the things) is that they only give credit for completed titles. So if my daughter sits down for an hour and reads a chunk of the encyclopedia, how is she supposed to write that down? What if she starts a book but doesn’t finish it?
    And I also hate that it is teacher prying into personal busines. So what if she wants to spend a week reading nothing but Archie comics? Don’t we all have weeks like that where we just need to read crap for a while?
    Reading logs only work for kids who are being forced to read, in my opinion. Real kids who really love to read just don’t read in reading log fashion.

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  13. I hate to deviate from the crowd here, but my son (an active, enthusiastic reader but one who worked hard to master the skill) always enjoyed the reading log. He felt a sense of accomplishment noting what he had done and looking back. It helped that the rules weren’t hard & fast; missed days were understood. Private reading was tolerated and no judgment was passed on what he read.
    So that’s my two cents.

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  14. I’m right there with ya! We have neen struggling with reading logs for years! I hate the form that the teachers use & would love to use a different one, but the teachers dont really like it when you substitute one of your own. My 5th grader still struggles to fill it out and turn it in!

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  15. My daughter is in high school and the teachers still require a reading log. Howeverm, they gave up in 10th grade when she had 198 books listed for one semester(and many of them rereads, or picture books for young children because she was working on a project). They decided if she was reading that much, across all genres, then tracking was suprfluous (thank god!)

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  16. I’m on the side of hating reading logs as making a job out of what we hope to make a joy. They are a way of saying to students “We know that you don’t like reading enough to do it on your own, so here’s a way to make it into an assignment.” For a really great exposition about why this is the wrong approach, have a look at “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller, a sixth grade reading teacher who has had stunning success of making readers out of non-readers.(Her blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/) Her outlook and advice to teachers? If you want to get them to read, and you want to know that they ARE reading, then MAKE TIME FOR THEM TO READ. In class. Every day.
    I have a reading prodigy, and a reluctant reader, and the book log was a nuisance and counterproductive for both.

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  17. What interests me most is that it was counterproductive for both sorts of
    readers. It seems to me that reading logs are perfect for a certain type of
    very organized and outwardly facing sort of child. But this is a rare type
    of child, and it’s hard to be subjected to something that you feel is
    negatively affecting your child’s attitude toward schoolwork and/or reading,
    sort of no matter how nice it is for someone else. It’s so hard to function
    as part of a group, isn’t it?
    On Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 5:29 PM, wrote:

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  18. It was counterproductive for both my reading prodigy and my reluctant reader because it shifted the focus from reading, to the making of a list. The prodigy couldn’t fit all the books he actually read on the form given, he couldn’t figure out how to list a book that he read and then immediately read again for the pleasure of it, he couldn’t figure out how to list books he was reading simultaneously, and finally, he began to use the list as a way to show off how much he read, rushing through books he would have otherwise savored just to make his list longer. The reluctant reader hates the extra work involved in writing down every book he’s read, avoids reading “extra” books so he won’t have to write them down, hates that other people’s lists are longer than his, so resists participating in the making of the list, and resents the adult control over his reading life it all implies. Assigned reading lists: I loathe them.

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  19. I’ve discussed this with the teachers (Prep and Grade 3) and both agreed that my children didn’t need to fill them out as clearly they were reading daily and very fluent. A great relief. I really sympathise with parents of, and children who are, reluctant readers. It would be agony to have to do this!

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  20. As a teacher (2nd grade), the first thing I’d encourage you all to do is to discuss the particular struggles the reading log is creating for your child with his/her teacher. I know I’d be pretty flexible about the system with a child who is already a voracious reader.
    Philosophically, I totally agree that reading logs can send entirely the wrong message about reading (“We know that you don’t like reading enough to do it on your own, so here’s a way to make it into an assignment.”– indeed!). What has surprised me is how many kids DO get pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from these logs… both strugglng and proficient readers… How kids feel about them seems to be more a function of personality than of the kid’s relationship to reading.
    I love the reading journal idea. Another idea for making logs more like what adult readers do is to use a social networking site to track reading. Even though I hated recording my reading for school when I was a kid, I love tracking my own reading life on librarything.com. So last year I signed all of my kids up for goodreads.com. They could enter the books they read, write reviews, and comment on their friends reading. This was an option, instead of filling in a reading log. Only about a third of the class used it (limited internet access b/c it is a high-poverty community), but those who did loved it!

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  21. What an interesting conversation! My only one in school is in first grade this year, and we haven’t had a reading log come up at all. Over the summer, he did get a “Be Creative” chart from the library, where he was able to fill in little clocks indicating how much time he had spent reading. (And for someone who was just beginning to actually read, that was a big deal, getting to indicate how much time he had spent actually sounding out the words on his own.) I think there were rewards that could be earned after a certain number of hours had been reached, but we never researched it. For him, the reward was all in filling in those circles, seeing those hours build up in time that he had spent reading. I don’t know if the experience would have been different if he’d also had to record what he’d been reading, rather than simply the time, or if it had been required rather than a discovery of his own. But we liked it enough that the chart is still on his wall, and he still likes to add to it sometimes, as he becomes more and more proud of his ability to read alone.

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  22. As a new 3/4 teacher I too have left this a wee bit late. Obviously, suppressing some horrific reading log experience myself. The reading journal sounds refreshing and perhaps a double entry journal at that. Divide a page of a small notebook by folding it in half. Ask students to write their favourite part/character etc. on the left then reflect or relate to it on the right side of the page. Im also going to check out the possibility of a blog. Thanks for the insights!

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