Category Archives: Reading

In the Classroom: The Problem with Reading Logs and What I Did About It

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.

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Filed under In the Classroom, Reading

Books EVERY Child SHOULD Read

I confess that anytime I see some sort of urgent recommendation that you MUST or HAVE TO or SHOULD read/view/see/do anything I get grumpy.  And so I was glad that the Independent’s The 50 Books Every Child Should Read, a response to the British Education Secretary recommending that all kids be required to read 50 books a year, stayed clear of that sort of language.  Rather they wrote:

We asked three of Britain’s leading children’s authors and two of our in-house book experts to each pick 10 books, suitable for Year 7 students.

The authors chose books that have brought them huge joy, while expressing their outrage at the “great big contradiction” of Mr Gove’s claim to wish to improve literacy while closing libraries across the country.

Among the recommendations are many I love and know kids still appreciate today too. Say Philip Pullman’s suggestions of the Alice books which he calls “Indispensable.”  He also recommends two childhood favorites of mine: Eric Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives and Paul Berna’s One Hundred Million Francs, but I have to admit I haven’t recommended them myself to any of my students fearing they’d not take.  He also recommended any Moomin book and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been able to turn some of my students on to this delightful series.  I wish I could also get them to read another recommendation of his, one of Joan Aiken, also a childhood favorite, but so far no.

Michael Morpurgo has some interesting choices including another favorite of mine, Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child.  But he also writes of the Just William books, “These are a must for every child.”  Hmm…there are many around the world who are doing just fine without reading them.  He also suggested another childhood favorite of mine, Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree, but do kids read her today?  Again I wonder.

Among others Katy Guest also recommends the Moomin (yay) as well as Diary of a Wimpy Kid (double yay for a douse of reality).  I was also tickled by John Walsh’s recommendation of Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle’s How to be Topp.  An old favorite which reminds me a bit of How to Train Your Dragon in tone and look and style.

The great range and minimum overlap (I believe the Moomins may be the only one) is fascinating and also telling — how can any one person possibly make a definitive list of what EVERY Child SHOULD read?

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Thalia Kids’ Book Club Camp

Today Betsy Bird reminded me of this amazing summer day camp just down the road from me.  One of my students went and from what she told me, what Betsy wrote, and their blog posts — well, it sounds phenomenal for kids who are obsessed readers and writers.  Looks like a nice balance of talking about books, writing, engaging with authors, cool field trips, and more conventional camp fun (e.g. Capture the Flag).  And for those in the NYC area, there appears to be one session starting today with slots left, a YA one for kids 13-15 years-old.  Libba Bray, Barry Lyga, and Kekla Magoon, and Krista Marino are slated to visit.

WNYC did a feature on Norton Juster’s visit; here’s their video (with my student in it!):

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Filed under Children's Literature, Reading, Writing, YA

Author’s Intent vs Reader’s Take

There is a fascinating discussion over at The Book Smugglers about Jackson Pearce’s YA fairytale reworking of Red Ridinghood, Sisters Red. The bloggers present clearly and compellingly why they were dismayed by the text while the author in the comments indicates that her intent was just the opposite.

(via Finding Wonderland)

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Filed under fairy tales, Fantasy, Reading

Whose Favorite Books?

David Elzey wonders about the suggestions Susan Orlean has been getting after tweeting a request for #booksthatchangekidsworlds.  They do have more to do with adults remembering beloved books than what Orlean’s five-and-a-half-year-old son will necessarily go for (and remind me of similar suggestions made in response to a Nicholas Krisof op-ed piece of last year).  Coincidently, J. Bell has a post on the art of recommending a book to a kid that could serve as a cautionary tale to all those nostalgic adults.

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Filed under Reading, summer reading

Live! On Point! All About Summer Reading! For Kids! Of Course!

Today I was on the NPR program, On Point, along with Esme Raji Codell and Pete Cowdin, talking about summer reading for kids.  It was a blast! If you missed us live you can still listen to the show here.

Coming up with the requested “seven or eight” recently published titles was torture and so I ended up with nine.  (Our lists are on the website — just scroll down to see them.) Figuring the radio audience wouldn’t be as familiar with kids’ books as many of us and wanting to suggest books I know for sure are kid hits ( as I’ve read them aloud and/or given them to my students to read) my list is a mix of new, well-known, some less-so, some for slightly older kids, some for younger ones, a few quirky titles perhaps, and so on.  There’s a graphic novel (volcanoes!); one nonfiction (having just seen Philip Hoose and Claudette Colvin* at ALA accepting various awards it was on my mind); one picture book (fictionalized, but based on a real story); and the rest are novels for middle grade kids and up.  I enjoyed putting it together and had a great time doing the broadcast.  I’ve done a few radio shows, but always over the phone. Pretty neat, I have to say, to do it in an actual NPR studio.

* I first saw Phil and Claudette speak about the book last fall at the Schomburg Center here in Harlem.  Claudette had a lot to say to the teens that comprised the bulk of the audience.  Very, very moving indeed.

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Filed under Children's Literature, Reading, summer reading

Hunger Mountain Online

The latest issue of the VCFA’s journal of the arts is full of superb stuff including:

Check it out!

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Filed under Reading, Writing