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