Monday, September 10, 2018

Reading Logs

How can I monitor and keep track of what learners are reading in authentic ways?

I struggled with this question in my own high school English classroom. I struggled with my teacher-need to monitor and assess while at the same time honoring students' process and voice. What's the balance? I wondered how I could keep an eye on readers while staying out their way.

When I think about my reading life, I realize my own reading ebbs and flows with the demands of work and family. There are weeks when I read a book a day and weeks when I dip into many books, finishing none. There are weeks when I have a "consumable" fun read going and I'm reading professional texts for work and I'm dipping into poetry and a bit of the Bible. While my reading rates or books read may vary from week to week, I am always reading something.

But I'm a reader, right? Some of our learners are not. In my high school English classes, many learners were "I'd rather" readers. They could read but they often chose not to. They were, as Donna Alvermann describes,  aliterate. Learners who would rather do just about anything except read.

Perhaps the question is not only what is authentic when it comes to reading, but also how do we engage all of the kinds of readers we have in our rooms?

The kids that are readers already likely do not need to keep track of their reading for the entire year. Of course, I want to assess their reading habits, their interests, the connections they make, the ways they level up when it comes to self-selecting challenging texts. Do I need them to fill out a reading log in order to do that?


More than a decade ago I asked every learner in my class to complete a weekly reading log (*gasp*). I asked students to record the date, the times they'd read, the book title, and the page number they left off on.  As a proud content-creator, I thought kids could use their handy reading log as a bookmark, so I printed three to a page and thought kids could cut them apart or fold them into their books.

One thing I liked about the log was that I could get a picture of what learners were reading across a few months at a time. I got a lot out of the conversations, the conferring, I did with them when I checked-in and graded their reading log.
What was I evaluating with the reading log? Time read? A learner's ability to record? A parents ability to sign off on whatever their child presented to them?

Just a few years later I became that parent. My son is an avid reader. He has had to keep all sorts of reading logs in his twelve years in school. I  have signed (or forged) many a log.  My experience with him and my own professional learning shifted my practice around reading logs (So many mentors) .

Gone was the timekeeping. Gone was the page tracking. Gone was the parent signature. Gone was the daily tracking. Gone was the lock-step weekly due date. Gone was the grade in the gradebook.

Lately the reading records I keep vary.  I learn more about readers during conferences than I usually learn from a log, still I do like to have a record of books learners are reading. The record helps me make recommendations or create book displays that will connect to and extend learners' choices.  I have not totally abandoned all record keeping. I have allowed for more variety though.

We kept records last year on a shared Google Sheet. I asked learners to jot down the titles they were reading each week. Why each week though?

A month into a school year usually shows me which learners in my class are independent readers, which are on the cusp of independence and which need more support. Still, I kept the reading record all year. The reading record gave us a place to gather around titles and talk. It gave us a place to check in with one another about books.

Is it authentic? No, it's record keeping for school. Still... not everything we do in a classroom will be authentic. Practice is not always authentic, but learners need a whole lot of it.

Authenticity around independent reading happens at the bookstore or in the library or in front of the bookcase when I'm recommending a title to a friend. Authenticity happens when one reader talks books with another reader-- in conversation, in book clubs, online, over snacks or dinner.

I must say that authentic conversations about books did bubble up in our classroom when we noticed titles on our reading record that others were reading that interested us, but still... I've got some thinking to do about the why and where and to what extent learners need to be documenting their reading lives.

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge each
Tuesday during the year and daily during the month of March. 


Alvermann, Donna (2005). "Literacy on the Edge: How Close Are We to Closing the Literacy
Achievement Gap?"Voices in the Middle, 13(1), 8-14.


  1. I loved the depth of thought you are bringing to this topic. And how much we learn about our own teaching practices when we live through our own child's schooling! I wonder if it's possible to authentically assess students' reading lives without their input about what might be valuable for *them* in the process. Without their input, you are bearing the responsibility, not to help them develop, but to get them to fill out the chart.

    Which leads me to wonder if there is value to a student to develop an awareness of her reading life? I never thought of that until I read this post, but my instinct is to say "yes." What do you think the value is? I use Goodreads to keep loose track of my reading. I like being able to share my reading with others and to learn what they are reading. It helps me to remember I like to read; it nudges me to do it. I look forward to hearing how your thinking about this develops.

    1. My first thought was to think about the value there is in building awareness around what we eat or how often we exercise. There is value in bringing our choices into consciousness and to considering how they impact our health when it comes to food and exercise and perhaps our being when it comes to books or media. But does that mean we should write down everything? Or even write about everything we consume? And at what age is it appropriate to be so self-reflective? Is there an age when it may not be the best use of time? Just thinking here, Karen--thanks for surfacing more ideas.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I have been struggling with how to authentically track independent reading. I have been asking students to do Flipgrid video reviews when they finish a book. I think creating something like your shared document and then having the kids link their flipgrid videos might work for us. I love that the students could see what their peers have read and then hear them talk about the book and have a chance to respond. Thank you for sharing!