Long ago I was delighted when there was a strong movement to have students select and read their own books rather than teachers using those tomes known as basal readers. I happily jumped onto this band wagon. Wanting to be sure that all appreciated that reading at home was as important as the other homework my 4th grade students were expected to do, I had them, yes, log their nightly reading. I tried to keep it as simple as possible — they were to write down the title in their plan book once and then just write in the pages read (eg. pg 44-95) each night. Then I checked every morning, giving stickers to those who had done this.
However, over the years I discovered that doing this was most challenging for the strongest readers, the ones who read until they fell asleep. I suggested they leave the planbook open on their backpack and then log the pages in in the morning. But the whole thing, I have to admit, made me feel less and less comfortable. Other than accountability (a big buzz word in education), I didn’t see what this did for them. I had plenty of other ways to check in the weaker readers and this seemed a total pain for the strong ones.
Over the last few years I began reading more and more articles and blog posts decrying this practice, often from parents who were understandably disturbed that this practice was turning their enthusiastic young readers into kids who had to be pushed to read the designated time, to do the logging. (Here’s the latest of many.) Parents conspired with their children to lie — to write in fake numbers and then sign off. (I did not ask parents to sign off, but I gather other teachers often do.) The result was I became much more relaxed about the assignment. I stopped checking every morning. I stopped giving out stickers. I had always been involved with the kids’ book selections, had been talking to them individually and as a class about their current reading, so the downgrading of the reading logging didn’t change what I knew about them as readers. The main reason I kept doing it at all was my colleagues all did and I didn’t want to rock the boat. And I wanted to be sure reading at home was valued — that student, parents, and teachers did not see it as a side activity — something to do if there was time after the other homework.
However, this year I finally decided it truly didn’t make any sense. For me to require this only because my colleagues did just didn’t feel right. So, at a team meeting, I told them that I was not going to do it any more (after getting the okay from my supervisor). I sent articles to them so they would understand why I wasn’t. They saw my point, but several of them still felt that requiring it was a way of being sure the children read. I should also say they were fine my not doing it — they saw it as an individual choice just as we did other things differently from one another.
What I did instead was have each child create and maintain a Book of Books (aka BoB), based on Pamela Paul’s, a journal of every book she read starting in high school. I thought it such a cool idea I wanted my kids to do that too. Not for accountability to ME, but for themselves. Additionally, I created a weekly BoB period where the children read, updated their BoBs, and met with me. At these meetings we chatted about what they had been reading and what they might read next. It was lovely. It was relaxing. It gave the information I needed about their independent reading. It gave me a space to check in with all my students. It did not single out the weaker readers. They all loved it as did I.
This past week I discussed with my class the summer reading requirement their 5th grade teachers are asking of them. They have one assigned book (A Wrinkle in Time because they will be reading When You Reach Me in the fall), are to read at least two choice books, and to record those titles. I suggested they do so in their BoBs with the hope that some may elect to maintain them beyond this year. One 5th grade colleague, seeing my post about this on Facebook, said she wanted to talk to me about it. Wouldn’t it be cool if she picked up the Book of Books for another year?
This coming week will be our final BoB period of the year. I’m going to ask the children to look through their BoBs and chose some titles to recommend to each other for summer reading. I’m also going to talk about Gene Luan Yang’s Reading Without Walls challenge as a way to select books to read over the summer.
The problem I have seen with progressive ideas in education is they start out being creative and flexible, but then are turned into orthodoxy. That seems to have happened with reading at home. What was initially such a great improvement over assigning specific books and pages has become as great a chore and not doing much for the intended outcome— turning children into life-long readers.
My students and I have loved our BoB experience and I can’t wait to do it again next year.