I have always assigned nightly reading. Why? I don’t assign nightly reading because I want to give students “reading homework.” I don’t assign nightly reading because we’re trying to win a pizza party if we meet a school-wide goal of four billion minutes. I assign nightly reading because I wish to instill a habit and a love of literacy in my students. I assign nightly reading because it’s good for kids.
- Research shows us that students who read frequently are not only stronger readers, but they have stronger math skills, too. (See this article from Edudemic.com)
- Reading twenty minutes a day exposes students to roughly 1.8 million vocabulary words a year. (readdbq.org)
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading regularly positively affects the brain’s cognitive abilities.
So yes, I assign nightly reading because I know that it benefits my students in more ways than I could ever list in a blog post.
…but I need to admit something. (Cue dramatic music.)
In my early days of teaching, I failed my students when it came to nightly reading. Today, I want to share what I didn’t know at the time, the mistakes I made, and the changes I’ve implemented. These positive changes have led to a smooth nightly reading “system” that my students (and families) nurture and love.
Mistake #1: I Assigned Specific Book Titles
When I first started teaching, I used to have a parent volunteer fill each child’s book baggie with a book from their independent guided reading basket every morning. The parent would fill the bag and send it home with the child. When I look back on this instructional decision, I want to cringe! EEK! Encouraging a love of reading is never going to happen if students don’t have a choice during independent reading.
It’s important that I explain to you that now, my students choose the book they read each night. I do guide them to choosing a book within their independent reading level, but I never assign a specific book title that they have to read. I give them a range of baskets to choose from- including baskets below their independent reading level. (It’s also important to note that the picture above makes up only a small part of my library. The bulk of my books are sorted by genre and topics.) If a child wants to read a book that is beyond his or her independent level, I’m never going to say no. This is especially important at the beginning of the year when our students are still learning how to find books that are just right them. In these situations, I may ask the child to take home TWO books that night- their book of choice and a book that he or she chooses that is within the independent reading level. In this way, the child can read whatever book he or she wants to that night, but if the child chooses to abandon the harder book, he has another book that that is a good fit, too. If the child asks me if he or she can read their library book for their nightly reading, or a book at home, or a book that’s on my read-aloud bookshelf- Yes! Yes! Yes! My goal is for my students to choose a book they want to read and are excited to learn about. Having the ability to choose which book they want to read is critical to the success I’ve had in fostering a learning habit that I pray becomes one of the best parts of their day.
Mistake #2: I Used Traditional Reading Logs
When I first started teaching, my students would read their assigned book and write the title and date of the book on their reading log. The end. That’s it. Did they ever look at that reading log again at the end of the month? Probably not. Did getting a sticker at the end of the month stir up their hearts and make them avid readers after they left my classroom in June? Not at all. So why did I continue to use them? Since I’m not a big believer in dishing out consequences to six-year-olds when homework isn’t completed, I can’t really make an argument that I used them for accountability purposes. Also, since we already agreed that these logs were probably not framed and put on the mantel at home at the end of each month, I can’t really say that I used them so that they could go down memory lane and “revisit” all of the books they read. Since I am being completely open and honest, I think I used them because that’s what I had always seen other teachers use.
However, I can now look back and see that traditional reading logs were not making an impact on my students’ reading skills.
Mistake #3: I Required a Parent Signature
Oops! I almost forgot to share an important detail about our traditional reading logs. After my students filled out the title and date column, a family member or guardian had to sign the log. Every morning, I would then have a conversation with at least a few of my kids that went like this:
Me: “Why isn’t your reading log signed?” Child: “I don’t know.” or “My mom forgot.” or “I read, but Dad didn’t sign it.”
It also never failed that these students’ faces fell when they once again didn’t have their log signed. You see, I learned a lot during that first year of teaching (as we all do). I learned that the parent signature wasn’t helping my students become better readers. Now, some may argue that without requiring a parent signature, we aren’t “teaching” our families the importance of reading with their child. Some may argue that without requiring a parent signature, we aren’t holding parents “accountable” for their responsibility for literacy in the home.
Here’s what I know.
I know that for a lot of my students, they get home and find an older brother or sister to care for them instead of an adult. I know these moms and dads often work the third shift. I know for that some of my students, it is a struggle to get dinner together, much less find their folder and track down a family member to sign it. I know that giving a consequence, or not giving a child a reward because an adult at home did not sign a reading log is unfair to that child. Period.
How I Revamped Our Nightly Reading Routine
Instead of judging a child’s home reading habits by whether or not a parent signed a reading log or not, let’s just focus on the child and the meaning he or she is constructing from the book. Even better, let’s give a purpose to the reading log so parents who ARE reading with their child can just ENJOY the book together and know what reading strategy the child is working on at school.
Let me show you how I revamped our nightly reading system and the changes I made:
Change #1: Our Reading Logs Have a Purpose
With a traditional reading log, recording the title and the date didn’t even require my students to open the book. I wanted to create intentional reading logs that would:
- Help my students reflect on a specific strategy or skill that we were working on within the classroom
- Provide an easy way for parents and guardians to see what their children are working on at school
- NOT take more than a minute or two to complete, therefore keeping the focus on reading for enjoyment
- Work for ALL levels of readers and writers due to differentiated formats
- Teach responsibility by creating something my students could complete independently
I created a HUGE pack of “renovated” reading logs that focus on one comprehension area, skill, or strategy at a time. Each log asks the child to read, write the title of the book, and then either write, draw, reflect, or record something related to the week’s focus. My students get their logs on Mondays and they turn them in on Fridays. They complete one box each night. For example, on the “My Interesting Words Reading Log”, the student simply jots down some interesting words he or she found in the book. In the “Main Idea Reading Log”, the child jots down the main idea or topic of what he or she read. There are also versions that allow the students to draw or illustrate their understanding. The logs contain a huge variety of options! Each week, I simply pick out the log that works on a skill we have been practicing. We also revisit the logs frequently throughout the year. Here are just a few of the logs that are included:
- My Favorite Part
- Setting and Character
- Nonfiction Text Features
- Main Idea and Details
- Cause and Effect
- Compare and Contrast
- My Mental Image
- My Questioning Log
- My Genre Log
- My Fiction or Nonfiction Log
- Author’s Purpose
- …and SO MANY MORE!
Below are some example pictures of the Reading Logs I created:
I don’t penalize students for not completing their reading logs. If they complete all four boxes at the end of the week, they get extra Class Dojo points, which they can “spend” on various rewards they get to choose from. If they come to school without having completed their reading log, they are allowed to fill it out in the morning, if they choose. (Extra Information: I always get asked, “Why don’t you have a fifth box for Fridays?” I encourage weekend reading and they are of course encouraged to take books home over the week, but we just don’t take home a log. I really don’t believe in requiring anything over the weekend because I believe it’s a time for family, so I will not be adding a fifth box to this resource. However, you could print it double-sided if you needed to.)
Some teachers use these reading logs for small groups, independent reading, or partner reading. You certainly do not need to use them as a take-home resource! There are tons of possibilities for these intentional reading logs!
Change #2: We Focused On Meaning- Not Signatures
Requiring a parent signature as part of the way a reading log is deemed “completed” did nothing but separate my students into two groups: those whose parents and guardians remembered to diligently sign the reading log and those whose parents and guardians didn’t sign the reading log. What was I teaching my students? I was teaching them that a parent signature = nightly reading success. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in teaching responsibility to my students with my entire being- but I think there are other ways to do that at school that doesn’t put a child who comes from a chaotic home situation at an unfair advantage. Remember, I am not working with freshmen in high school. I’m working with six and seven-year-olds. (Psst! They are still babies in the grand scheme of life!)
So, instead of “evaluating” a reading log by the number of parent signatures it contained, we VALUE our reading logs by the DISCUSSIONS we can have from them and the MEANING we acquired from the books we read. These logs make nightly reading about the child- not the parents.
Change #3: Keep It Quick and Simple
It was important to me that these new reading logs were kept simple, quick, and easy. We want our students’ time to be invested in the book and the enjoyment of reading. We don’t want their nightly reading time to be spent laboring over writing a summary that takes them so long to write that it cuts into the time they spend reading.
I love when I can look at these quick and simple reading logs each morning and be able to say to a student, “Wow! I can see that the book you read last night took place on a farm. Did you love learning about the farm?” when I glance at the child’s “My Setting and Character Reading Log”. With just a quick illustration or a simple but intentional sentence, I can get students to remember what they read the night before and be able to start TALKING about it with me!
I start using these reading logs right away with my first graders! For the first few weeks of our nightly reading program, I use the “My Favorite Part Reading Log”. It allows students to simply draw a picture of their favorite part of the story each night. I then move on to the “Setting and Character Reading Log”, and then the “Retelling Reading Log”. As we work our way through other comprehension skills, the log they take home every Monday changes. There are even weeks when I throw out a few different reading logs and the students can choose which log they want to work on that week! These simple and quick logs have made a BIG difference in my primary nightly reading system.
Where Can I Find These Reading Logs?
I want you to be able to try these Skill-Based Reading Logs out with your students! If you click on my reading logs link found HERE, or on the picture below, you can find these in my shop. I have even better news, too! If you click on the Preview Download button for this resource in my shop, you can get one of the reading log templates for FREE!
If you’re still reading this blog post, it’s obvious that you, like me, understand the value in nightly reading. You also understand that constructing meaning from what we read is more important than the number of books we list on a log. I’m going to also bet that you agree with me that we should focus on developing great independent reading habits instead of worrying about things that are truly beyond our control (such as a reading log that isn’t signed). I’m grateful that you have taken the time to allow me to share how my nightly reading “system” has changed over the years. I love watching my students grow as readers over the school year, and I hope this post helps you as you reflect on your own classroom procedures and the vivacious readers that you are nurturing!
Please feel free to pin the photographs below to your Pinterest boards in order to save this post for future reference or to share it with your colleagues and friends. Happy Reading! -Miss DeCarbo