Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reading Not Accounting

Reading in class last week during second period.
The best assessment I have of students' as readers is our conversations about books. Sometimes these conversations are of the casual, in-between-class sorts of talk on the steps and other times conversations are more formal.  Sometimes the conversations have me pulling out my phone to take a picture of the book a student is reading because I want to add it to my own "to be read" list. 

This cover reminded me of Koch's The Dinner which I loved last year.
After talking to the reader, I knew I need to snap and save it.
Readers in community do that. We share titles and tell stories. 

I talk with students each week about reading journal entries. I have time in my forty-seven minute class period to confer with about half the class a period. I alternate weeks, so I confer with every student in class once every two weeks . Others, who need or request it, confer with me more often as  time allows. While students are reading I am either conferring with readers in class, observing readers, taking anecdotal notes about books and readers or reflecting by writing about the reading my students are doing.  I look at the Reading Record each week, but with more than one-hundred students, I do a quick look.

Tracking students' weekly reading on our Google spreadsheet has gone awry. Our Reading Record is a digital mash up of Atwell's idea of a Status of the Class and  Kittle's differentiated page goals recorded weekly. Our first quarter ends this week, so I have been doubling back looking at  the books and weekly page totals students recorded on our Reading Record in order to give students a grade for independent reading this quarter.  I have noticed several inconsistencies in how students are recording what they are reading. I've been matching those inconsistences with what I know about independent reading and readers. 

I thought about accountable talk (Harvey) and how high school students fake or avoid reading (Tovani, Kittle).  I thought about how teachers use writing to assessing reading (Reif, Gallagher).  I even considered the behaviors readers exhibit in the wild (Miller). Sometimes an issue surfaces in a particular class that can only be solved in the community of that classroom. As Richard Allington has said, research shows: "kids are different." The fun in teaching is figuring out what works for the readers in your room. 

This quarter, on our Reading Record, some students:
  • note the page number they end on each day that they record reading their novel.
  • note the total pages they read that day whether in their novel or in a textbook.
  • are only reading their textbooks.
  • are not calculating their total pages correctly. 
This Reading Record feels too much like accounting and not enough like pleasure reading.  I am not an accountant nor do I want to spend the time I could use to read or imagine or or learn or plan, counting pages.  It is only October. Sometimes the reading magic does not fully form until January. I often forget how long it takes to truly pull together as readers.

The Reading Record frustrated me enough that I knew we needed to talk about it as a community.

I printed out a sample page of the Reading Record, names removed, some titles altered. I re-calculated some of the totals in the total column and had the math right there in the column for students to see.

I added the column of textbook reading and tried to see who was recording what in terms of textbooks; I also refigured much of the math or added the 0s to note where pages were not totaled. To be clear, students do no receive zeroes as grades. 

We examined the data. We talked about reading and why it is important. 

 Pleasure reading is homework in my class.  When students read only textbooks (homework from other classes) they are not doing the work they need to do to improve as readers. They are not doing the homework for our English class.  Reading two to two and half hours a week, a book of students' own choosing, is one of two weekly homework assignments in my English class.  When students say they "don't have time to read." What they may be saying is "I am not a reader." 

We talked about the inconsistencies in how students recorded their reading work. I asked students to propose solutions. Students offered a variety of solutions: re-teach a standard recording format, keep titles and pages in our reading journals (and not on the shared spread sheet), keep a log that parents sign (No way, I wanted to cry out!), take AR tests instead (Yes, a student suggested that. I listened when I wanted to mount a rebuttal). My idea is to discontinue tracking pages altogether.

I thought about triangulation, anecdotal records, eaves dropping and kid watching (Goodman). We did not come to consensus on a solution for next quarter yet. I am confident that we will.

If my end goal is to get students reading--reading widely and often, books of a variety of genres, books that increase in complexity--in order to build stamina and skill. Then does counting pages read each week get us there? 

Perhaps another question is does tracking pages students read each week help me assess the readers in the room in the most efficient and authentic way possible? Maybe. Maybe there are better ways I can keep my eyes on readers. 

The Reading Record, over time, provides a rich reading history. If it's accurate. I can say a lot about a reader who's habits I have traced over weeks and months. 

If it isn't accurate, then it's all smoke and mirrors. If students are  working to comply to get a grade-- instead of falling in for books and gobbling up stories--  then we have failed. 

Reading opens doors of opportunities. High achievement, high test scores (today's currency when it comes to college admissions these Pre-IB students crave) are a natural consequence of reading life. I tell students that 

What do you think? I'm sure my students would appreciate hearing how you would solve this problem with our Reading Record or how you and your students monitor and or track their reading. 
Slice of Life is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Head over to serve 
up a slice from your day or help yourself to seconds.


Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2007.

Gallagher, Kelly. Readicide. Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse, 2009.

Harvey, Stephanie and Anne Goudvis. Interview: "Read, Write, Talk." Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse.

Tovani, Cris. I Read It But I Don't Get It. Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse, 2005.

Kittle, Penny. Book Love.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley. Reading in the Wild.  Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Reif, Linda. Inside the Writer's- Reader's Notebook. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.


  1. Sorry to say I was much more casual that you probably have to be, Lee Ann. First, I only had less than 25 students. 2nd, I had them for everything except higher math. I could have silent reading times, etc. Choice at my school is so important, so we talked & shared & did searching for the right book. One of the teachers now is keeping track of his students' reading by having them blog each week. They are always required to read about 200 plus pages a week. These are 6th, 7th & 8th graders in a gifted school. They also read for topic research, read for writing assignments, and on. I've had a few who've faked, but we've worked to find what works for them as readers. If the record-keeping isn't working, I'd always say try something else. You don't want to drown in numbers. I relied so much on talk. Thanks for your great post-interesting to read!

    1. Thank you, Linda. I am going to share wih students this morning and I imagine they may be shocked by the numbers and habits you share. I am leaning much more toward talk and our weekly writing too.

  2. I struggle with reading in my classes. Sometimes I wonder if it is because we have to do AR and take those darn quizzes. Other times I think it is the fact that there just aren't that much interesting reading for beginner and low-intermediate ELLs in high school. Then if I find great books, there are no AR quizzes! Tomorrow when we are doing reading in class, I have to remember to do more conferring with my students and maybe a few more book commercials! Thank you for a great post to get me thinking.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thinking Jaana, Finding great books, especially for high school ELL students is challenging. You are likely familiar with the Bluford Series from Townsend Press or Orca Soundings titles.

  3. My experience is closer to Linda's than yours, Lee Ann, although I have 50 kids in all. I found that reading logs were very deceptive in my classes, and I certainly learned that from watching my own kids deal with this issue when they were in school. Reading conferences, and some of the reading records from Donalyn's book have been more effective for me. Ultimately, nothing beats having the opportunity to confer and get information that way. It's an imperfect system, but it works for me. I think each of us has to find what works for the kids we have and the teachers we are. Right?

    1. Exactly right, Tara, we do have to figure out what works with the students we have. Some days I do wish I could just use the same systems year to year, but that does not seem to work for the readers in the room. At least the tweaking and figuring out are interesting exercises. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thinking with my students and me.