Reading Logs That Actually Work

Many years ago, I looped to first grade with my kindergarten class.  Curriculum night that year was comfortable and casual, because 99% of my parents all knew me well.  One of the very few questions that one of my parents asked was, “Now that you’re teaching first grade, does that mean we have to do reading logs like all the other classes?”  The question alone spoke volumes.  But even more than that, the body language was even more telling. Clearly, this parent had not yet seen reading logs that actually work. And honestly, neither had I.

The parent who asked the question had an unmistakable look of dread on her face.  And the other parents quickly adopted either a worried or an expression of dread.  

My response? “No.  I didn’t need reading logs last year, so I see no reason to begin now.”

They were all very relieved to hear this, and as the session closed out, so many parents came to tell me how thankful they were about this, and told me stories of their older children who had to use reading logs that left a sour taste in their mouth for reading. In the book Passionate Readers, Pernille Ripp warns us of this unwanted outcome. She tells us that “if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it.”

When I asked the teachers around me what their purpose for reading logs was, I got answers like this:

  • It helps kids see what they’ve read
  • It helps teach them responsibility
  • It helps them have a balance of different reading material
  • It holds them accountable
  • It’s how I know they’ve read at home
  • It helps parents stay informed about their child’s reading
  • It ensures that they make time each night for reading

But here’s the thing…traditional reading logs don’t actually do any of those things.  For one, as a parent–and as a parent who is ALSO an educator–I never cared about logs.  I’ve always been of the belief that if it’s not something a real reader would do, why would we make our kids do it?  I’m an avid reader, and have been my entire life.  My favorite time to read, much like students, is right before I go to sleep.  But not once in my life have I put my book down after reading and jumped back out of bed to log how many pages I read or how much time I had spent reading.  I often have absolutely no idea the answer to either of those questions.  And I sure as heck never wrote down the author, title, and genre!

And let me tell you something–parents lie.

I will be the first to stand up and say I was one of those lying parents.  I hated that my daughters’ teachers would assign “20 minutes of reading” per night.  I get the reasoning…the more kids read, the more they grow.  But my own kids were avid readers themselves.  I didn’t want them to start watching the clock–something I had seen in all too many classrooms.  I just wanted them to read.  And many times, life was just too busy for 20 minutes a night.  On top of soccer practice for one and dance class for the other, dinner, bathing, and other homework, that 20 minutes was sometimes just not available. 

The last thing I wanted was for them to begrudge the time spent with books, and begin to view reading as a chore.  Usually, weekends were better, and my kids read for long periods of time–because they chose to.  But my girls dutifully filled out their logs, and I dutifully signed.  But we NEVER actually tracked the minutes, and I will fully admit that we lied about that every week, every year, for years on end.

It didn’t matter.  Their teachers never did anything with the logs, anyway.  Neither did my girls.  It was just a compliance thing, and we all knew it.  Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, says this about traditional reading logs:

“Keeping these logs–whose purpose is for students to document their independent reading as proof to their teachers that they are reading–is an ineffective practice because recorded time spent reading is no proof that students actually read much…logs do not accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish,” 

Miller, D. The Book Whisperer, New York, Scholastic, 2011.

She goes on to say that asking parents to sign logs is “a reward for students who have strong home support for reading, but a punishment for those who don’t.” 

Image shows busy parent on phone while boy waits for him to help with reading log.

So, for many, many years, I was dead-set against using reading logs.  Like I said, I had never seen any instance of reading logs that actually work. But as I learned more about literacy instruction, I came to learn that there are reasons you might use a reading log.  Using them definitely has its pros and cons to consider.  Before you decide to use one, think about your WHY.  If it’s just something that’s always been done and is just common practice in your school or on your grade level, rethink that.  If the logs are not used, then there is no point.

If you’re just assigning reading logs and not doing anything with them, then they’re nothing but a compliance thing…they’re for you, not for kids.  

Some things to keep in mind:

  1.  Respect parents’ busy lives.  Most families have several children, and this keeps them insanely busy every night.  Assigning homework to them isn’t fair, and does not serve any purpose for student learning.  Instead of requiring parent signatures, try what Regie Routman recommends in Reading Essentials:  have “students share their reading accomplishments with their families in a relaxed, enjoyable manner.”  It would be so much simpler to just invite your students’ parents to chat with their kids about their books, their reading growth, and what they’re discovering about themselves as readers versus assigning them meaningless homework to stress about.
  2. If you’re hoping to hold kids accountable for reading, then know that all you can control is your time with them in school.  Ensure that this is protected time, and then be sure to watch for their engagement periodically.  Check in with them on a regular basis through conferring.  This will help you know whether or not they are reading, it will also, more importantly, help you know whether or not they’re comprehending it.  
  3. Make sure the logs you use will help you gain understanding about your readers–which will in turn help you know where to take them next.  Just because the teacher next door uses them does not mean you need to use them.  Logs are meant to be a data-collection tool that we learn something from–either us, our students, or both.  If you don’t need them, don’t add them.  Who has time for adding unnecessary clutter to our day?  Now when I use logs, I use them very sparingly and only to gather information I need from a reader.  And it’s always a part of helping a child set goals.  Logs become a teaching tool to help students gain independence.  
  4. If you use them, they should change over time.  Kids are not the same readers in September that they are in February, and most certainly, May.  
  5. If you’re going to use logs, actually use them.  This means you might likely be better off just making one yourself–it takes no time at all to put a chart together.  In Understanding Texts & Readers, Jennifer Serravallo shares a very simple, 5 column log where students list the date, starting page, end page, start time, and end time.  This particular log is used to determine rate–and she cautions teachers to also combine the info with responses to reading as well.  She also says reading logs should not be used every day, and should only be for a short time.  I would add that you don’t need them for every student, either.   I’ve used versions of this one myself.  
  6.  Be leery of “skill based” reading logs, which are ubiquitous on TPT.  Are these the skills you need to collect data for?  Is the skill work exactly what every reader in your class is working on? Do the skills even match your standards?   I’ve seen things like “Wednesday’s Word,”  and “Theme Thursday.”  This assumes every child is going to be at a point in their books on that specific day that would lend itself to that specific skill work.  These types of logs beg the question–when will you have time to read all of their responses?  And further questions:  How will you know if their thinking is on track, given that none of us have read every single book in our classroom library or in kids’ possession? How will you track this data?  How will you provide feedback on it?  And the real question…is this data you even need?
  7. Consider how much time kids will spend on reading logs, if you do them in class.  It isn’t recommended that kids spend more than 10% of their independent reading time on writing tasks, and this falls into that category.  If your kids are spending more than a minute or so on this, how can you streamline it?  I believe that students should respond to reading, for sure.  But there are ways to do it that don’t eat into their independent reading time every day.  Again, think about your purpose.  Does your purpose justify the time it takes kids to fill these out?

Some Examples of Reading Logs that Actually Work

Here are a few simple, teacher-made reading logs. They took maybe 5 minutes to create, and didn’t cost a dime.

  • The first one was for a student who seemed to take forever to get through a book. It turned out that he was switching books too often, which I had seen from watching his engagement and from paying attention to his book selection habits. So, we set a goal for him to take a book in bite-sized chunks rather than give up right away. He wrote down his goal for how far he wanted to get at the start of each week, then at noted how far he actually got–which was always part of a 1:1 conference with him. He also wrote a quick reflection on how it went. This made a huge difference for him, and he was so proud!
  • The middle image is from a fabulous third grade teacher I worked with. She developed this very simple log to help kids see which genre they most heavily gravitate toward, and then helped kids find more of the other genre to expose them to different types of texts.
  • The third image is similar to the first, but this was for a 5th grader who couldn’t stay focused. After some strategy lessons around staying focused, he and I developed this tool. His reflection was to name what he did that helped him stay focused…or what got in the way. This again was a game-changer!
Examples of teacher made reading logs that actually work.

I’m curious to know if you use reading logs, how you use them, and which of these tips have given you something to consider. Leave a comment on this post, send me a DM on Instagram, or email me at [email protected]–I’d love to hear from you!

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