Should reading logs be assigned?

This article originally was published on the legendary Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Week Teacher blog.

The question is not about whether we should or should not assign reading logs.  The real question is: Why do we want students to read?  Do we want them to develop a love of reading or just get a piece of paper signed showing that they’ve read?  Do reading logs spur students to read, or are they just an accountability tool?  

Where Reading Logs Fail

How did JK Rowling get millions of people to read the Harry Potter series?  She certainly didn’t do so by having students complete reading logs. Rather, she wrote a story that invited engagement, opinion, imagination, and wonder. But something funny happens when you ask a child to log and summarize these engaging stores at home: reading becomes a task to check off, rather than an experience to relish.

When I assigned reading logs that required students to write about what they read at home, I noticed students using creative ways to write summaries without actually reading the book.  So I moved to having parents sign the reading logs, but I quickly learned that parents often sign them just to move onto other errands. 

In short, the reading log was a failed system. In our attempt to introduce students to a life-enriching skill, we enforce systems that kill the joy of reading to keep them accountable.  

How In-class Reading Time Can Work

I’ve since moved on to providing 15 minutes of in-class reading time.  Students pick a book, grab a cushion, and curl in a corner to read. I float around the room having mini-reading conversations about their books to gauge their understanding, interest, and how well the book fits with their reading level (Gallagher & Kittle, 2018).  For English learners, I ask them to read aloud, and I help them develop their decoding skills. 

Where Informal Book Reviews Come In

I have students do nothing besides reading during this sacred 15 minutes. No summaries, no tracking, no book talk – just reading.  When students have finished a book, I just want them to do what many readers do: write a review. Amazon, Goodreads, and dozens of other websites thrive off of the reviews provided by their engaged, adult readers. Having students write a book review naturally matches what adult readers do outside of school.  After all, as adults, who actually creates a book report when they’ve finished reading a book?  

Because technology makes learning even more engaging, I have students record their book reviews on Flipgrid.  They simply have to describe the main event and explain how they liked the book. If reading is a life-long skill, then having students provide a book review is a life-long activity worth instilling. 

We can never guarantee that a student has read at home, so getting a sheet of paper signed by parents is a rickety accountability system. If we value students developing a love of reading, then I suggest carving out the time to allow students to read for enjoyment in class itself without extraneous tasks, such as poster making, book reports, and reading logs, that have little translation to the adult world.

Gallagher, K., & Kittle, P. (2018). 180 days: Two teachers and the quest to engage and empower adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.