I have to agree with Donalyn Miller in her latest blog, No More Language Arts and Crafts. I feel terrible requiring parent signatures for so many reasons.
First, many of my students don’t have parents that read with their children or follow what their children are reading. They either do or don’t sign the reading log, and (like a fly on the wall) I can hear them say, “Do your homework or you’ll fail,” but with no real interest or love toward either their child or reading or both. It’s just something that has to be done, just like it is something I have to assign. I feel like a traitor every time I hold some child out of recess on Friday for “study hall” (even though, to my credit, I provide time in class for them to read and I will sign their logs myself).
Secondly, many of my students don’t read at home, even the ones that fill out their reading log. They play sports or dance or play video games. They probably have parents that will sign their reading logs, but they don’t even really do them, just go through the motions. This is the majority. The reading log is just another year of mindless accountability that they actually read 30 minutes on their slow trot to AR points assigned by STAR testing. Some of these kids will do their reading logs all quin long, but come up with no passed or taken AR tests at the end of the quin (parents are always so surprised) and a few of these will actually read a big point book, like Eragon or Harry Potter or Divergent and get all there points in the nick of time (which I actually admire, as that was me as a child when it came to turning in assignments–not actually in the reading–but always the procrastinator).
And, lastly, there are students that do all their reading and more every night, accumulating hundreds of points, writing beautiful reading logs. They have supportive parents. These children and their parents do the right thing every time, never questioning the assignment, rarely making excuses for their children or themselves. They are the quintessential students and families. I dream of having all them in all my classes (but, alas, it is not so). The problem? The reading log is not stretching them as readers, pushing them, supporting them as they grow. They already have the strategies to pick and choose reading log books, as well as discipline and organization to get them done and turned in on time. There parents are well-versed in the reading log routine (sometimes even saying it is the bane of their evening existence on Thursday nights), but nonetheless supportive.
I justify reading logs for two reasons: 1) my team and school has required them to be standard across grade and they are mandatory across the school; and 2) the middle school (I’m at a K-8) always has a weekly reading log involving lots and lots of writing and summarizing (same format pretty much for all three years). I have felt it would be somewhat unjust not to prepare my 5th graders for that and I also ardently want my students to read outside of school, even if they have sports or math homework or even play video games. Realistically, I know many of my students live in home environments that are not conducive to reading or studying or homework, much less living free from stress. I justify again thinking that reading might be an escape.
Wouldn’t it be great to have Donalyn Miller’s granddaughter in my reading class? Oh, yes! One of my students recently told me her grandmother showed her a trick for her spelling words. After she showed me her trick, I asked if her grandmother was a teacher.
“Oh, yes!” my student says, “And she wrote a book about it. She was a teacher on the circus train.”
Wow! Yes! Bring on Donalyn’s granddaughter and her wordless, award-winning story books. How ridiculous that a child’s stress is from writing down such a title on her reading log. Reading logs have become factory-driven products of learning. What do they actually teach? You can’t send home something students can’t do independently, so how do they help them grow? Summarize, characterize, list a vocabulary word you didn’t know, draw a thinking map…blah blah blah blah blah. And, I grade them! I take them very seriously.
The dilemma exists in teacher evaluations. I have to show that I have done everything and anything for each of my students to ensure they are on grade level, differentiating and tracking and accumulating data, just in case they don’t pass this new Florida test, and then documenting that they were below all year long, showed some growth. Reading logs could show their growth. Could, but at what cost? Stress? Apathy? Avoidance? Boredom?
Donalyn Miller’s blog reminded me that all of school (including homework) should be irresistible. Especially reading! Not every aspect can be stress-free, but how will we know what a student can do if we limit them to a prescribed reading log. How can we put a number on how many minimum minutes they have to read? Reading should be like dinner with family and breath and play, and all those essential daily must-do’s. Reading should be, as it is in my house, late into the night under the covers with a flashlight (and now the Kindle) because the reading is too irresistible to stop. Reading should not be a reading log.