Reading: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Reading is a big deal in our house.

Before returning to school for a Bachelor of Education, I worked in-house as a web editor in the publishing industry. I currently edit books and write back cover copy on a freelance basis. Since I graduated, I’ve taken additional qualifications in teaching Intermediate English and Reading. My undergrad is in English and Mass Communication (as is my husband’s), and I also have a diploma in Print Journalism. We have a LOT of books in the house (here’s to boxes of hand-me-downs from big sisters with older children!) My husband and I both love to read. So creating and nurturing a love of books in our boys was a no-brainer.

We’ve read to the boys since they were infants. At eight, BB#1 is an avid reader who reads everything from chess instructions to the Wimpy Kid series, kids’ magazines to novels like The Hobbit. Thanks to French Immersion, he can and does read in two languages. We have a deal when the Scholastic flyers come home: I will buy him French books, and he can choose to purchase English books with his own money.

Just turned five, BB#2 is not quite reading independently yet (at least, he’s pretending he isn’t), but loves being read to. He is excited when his Chirp magazine arrives in the mail, has his own library card, and will bring us book after book to read to him.

So, filling out the reading logs their teachers send home should be no problem, right?

Wrong. Something strange happens when my boys are asked to log their reading or read for homework. They are no longer interested. I have to nag them, either to read, or to write the titles down in the log. I’ve struggled to articulate exactly why that is, but this tweet from a teacher I came across a few weeks back puts it pretty plainly:

“Reading logs make liars of bad readers, annoy good readers, & tells us nothing about their literacy.” @jenmarten

You are probably saying, not all kids are like mine. Not all kids actually want to read or be read to, or have the culture of reading that we have at home. I know this. So how do we encourage those kids to read if we don’t offer rewards, and how do we know they are doing it if we don’t ask them to log their books or minutes? I don’t have the answers, but I do know this: if we offer stickers or pizza or a points system for reading, we’re telling kids that it’s something unpleasant with no value of it’s own. If we tell them they must quantify their reading by logging pages or minutes, we’re saying we don’t trust them, and that we know they wouldn’t actually choose to read if they didn’t have to.

These programs may get kids to pick up books, write them in a log (and maybe even read them), but they are not creating readers. And as @jenmarten suggests, what does a list of book titles a student may or may not have read even tell the teacher about that student’s ability to read, and understand what she’s read, anyway? Likely nothing the teacher doesn’t already know.

Since the boys are already reading on a regular basis, I suppose I could just fill in their logs without telling them. But that feels wrong—like pretending something is working when it’s really not. And in BB#1’s case, though he reads in English every day, he’s more likely to spend an hour reading in French by choice one day, and then not the next, rather than the prescribed twenty minutes a day. While this to me is more authentic and therefore more valuable, it doesn’t look as impressive on a daily log.

BB#2’s log can be of books he’s read, or that are read to him—and there is a small prize for every twenty-five books read. But at the rate we read, we’d be getting a prize every couple of days. And since we clearly don’t need that motivation to read together, well, it just feels silly.

I’m not alone in this thinking. I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts by educators outlining the downside to reading logs. But here’s my question: if we know that reading logs and programs can cause more harm than good, then why are so many teachers still using them? And even more confusing: if what I’m most concerned with is nurturing my children’s passion for reading and interest in learning—if I know that they ARE reading, and that whether or not they fill out their reading logs in senior kindergarten and third grade is going to be meaningless in the grand scheme of their educational lives—why am I so conflicted about this? Why can’t I bring myself to write a polite note saying, in this house we don’t log reading, we just read.

I think I know why. It’s two-fold. And sort of embarrassing. As a teacher, one without a classroom at that, I’m worried about appearing judgmental of other, experienced teachers’ practices. As a parent, I’m concerned those blank log pages will reflect on me—that their teachers will view me as one of “those” parents: uninvolved, unsupportive, ignorant of the value of regular reading.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

For further reading. You know, if you like that sort of thing:

You Don’t Have to Read Every Day

My Son is Afraid to Read

Daddy I Want a Book Buck

This post by an administrator suggests how we can get all kids reading, without rewards:

Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

I also recently led a discussion on the following article as part of an assignment in my Reading course:

How to Create Nonreaders


Filed under education, parenting, publishing, random, reading, schools, teaching, the beautiful boys, Uncategorized, work

31 responses to “Reading: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

  1. Very interesting! I agree that our education system needs some changing. Check out my thoughts.

  2. Jenny Bullough

    I couldn’t agree more. My 8yo is a devoted reader, but has to be nagged to fill out her reading log. I actually sent the last one home blank, with a polite note to her teacher that she’s too busy reading to log what she’s reading. I just don’t see the value in requiring her to quantify an activity that is as integral to her day as drawing or playing.

  3. Thank you for sharing! One of the things I’ve had to learn to balance is the whole parent/teacher relationship. I have come to the decision that I have to be a parent first. Granted my parenting is influenced by my teaching, but I have to advocate for my kids.

  4. We are avid readers here too Andrea. The boys also have reading logs and we don’t really bother filling them out. I completely agree with you. I would rather my boys dive into a book they are interested in for 30 minutes, than skim through a book assigned to them for 15 minutes. I don’t see the value in the logs.

  5. I am a Gr 2/3 teacher and a Mom of two avid readers. Like you, our house is full of books and our evenings full of reading. Thankfully, my children are not asked to complete reading logs or track minutes. They read because they love certain authors, books and stories. Yes, our home environment contributes to that – books are everywhere, we model reading, I have a blog where I celebrate books, run a student book club, etc. I teach in an inner city school. My students do not come from homes full of books and reading but the last thing I would do is send home reading logs to be assured that reading is happening. Instead, I provide lots of class time for reading, I book talk new books, we celebrate library visits, I make books available for home reading, I share my reading life, I try to make sure that books make it into the homes. If I want to create lifelong readers (and shouldn’t that be the goal), I can’t police reading, I have to make a love of reading contagious.

    Thank you for this post – it is a great reminder to teachers to reflect on their practices and an inspiration to parents to provide feedback to the schools when things might not be working in homes and why.

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  7. I am a 5th grade teacher. I refuse to use Reading logs. Anyone can write a title. Anyone can sign or initial that their child read. It doesn’t prove anything, but yet, most teachers in my school still use it.
    Your post goes along with my post about Accelerated Reading in the classroom, and why I have a problem with the program. “AR, I Have a Bone to Pick With You!”

  8. momof3beautifulgirls

    I can understand the boys reluctance to fill in reading logs. Takes the fun out of reading. To me,it’s somewhat like reading a beautiful poem or wonderful play for an English class and then having to rip it apart to determine what it means. Totally ruined them for me.

  9. Kim

    I agree with what everyone is saying, although, in my district, the facts that a kid would read on their own is not the case. At open house I sit with parents and ask about reading at home and in 8 years I could count on one hand how many have said that their kids will choose to read at home. My use of a reading log is that MAYBE in the long run, I can attempt to create readers at home if I at first force them to do so. Just so you now, that hasn’t worked out well either…maybe half of the kiddos turn them in…

    • I can understand that, and it’s a definite challenge that has to be addressed. I guess I just question how children will ever see reading as something enjoyable and worthwhile if they must be forced to do it. It is also possible that some of those students that turn in the log haven’t really read the books, and those that don’t turn the logs in are actually reading, like my kids and some of the other posters here 😉

  10. Good post! I homeschool my two boys, and I keep a list of what books they’ve read for my own sake (and the grandparent’s sake), but they don’t know about it. (Well, one time the 6yo looked over my shoulder while I was at the computer typing in the books we just looked at, and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was keeping track of the books because I keep track of what we do in our homeschool. It didn’t seem to bother him.) I’m sure if I told him he had to read so many books in such and such time, he would lose his love of books. We have many books in the house, and we visit the library on occasion, and we have a separate shelf for the library books. But we don’t read everyday. We read a lot….usually when we’re doing less structured stuff. The boys like picking out books for me to read to them. We’ve gone through spells when we haven’t looked at books in a long time, and I don’t worry about it. Our home life is a culture of learning, playing, exploring, and creating. When I stop worrying that we have to do XYZ, I realize we do a variety of things. I don’t worry about their T.V. viewing/computer time for the same reason. It all balances out, although there may be periods of time when we’re more heavily involved in using the computer or reading books or even watching nature documentaries. The most important thing for me is that the boys are learning while having fun….they don’t even realize they’re doing “school” stuff.

    • My husband is good at reminding me that if I’m worried the boys are playing too many video games one week, they didn’t play any the week before. It does seem to balance out!

  11. Those in power want to control and to control you have to measure. But measurement in education is like quantum particle measurement – it seriously affects what is measured. But those in power are too thick skinned to see that. And too many teachers are too worried about losing their jobs to feed this back up the line.

    What to do about this almost insurmountable problem? A start would be to make sure that those in power at least understand education. Here in the UK, the secretary of education can make nationwide decisions with no experience or training or research in education. It would be laughable if it were not so criminally wrong.

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