I wrote several posts this summer about summer reading—the joys and the sorrows, the good and the bad, the important and the irritating. But, I think we can all agree that it is a good thing if kids read in the summer—whether for enjoyment or for skill improvement or for both. I think we can also agree that it would be great if kids did summer reading because they wanted to and not because they were required to.
With that in mind, let’s look at reading logs. If you have had a child in elementary school in the past three decades, you undoubtedly know what they are. Each week, your child’s teacher hands out a form on which your child is supposed to record the title of the book and how many pages or minutes per day he or she reads at home. Likely as not, you have to sign it before it is turned in.
As a parent, I hated my children’s reading logs. I spent many evenings looking for a book that would be quick to read (or, honestly, that my child had already read) so that she would have something to write down—because it was already well into the evening and we had just gotten home after three hours of ballet and character dance classes. My excuses were not nearly so good for my two sons—one who actually liked reading and one who never met a book he liked (except for Way Out West Lives a Coyote Named Frank—thank you, author Jillian Lund).
Reading logs turned whatever reading my children might have enjoyed into drudgery, and they turned me into a bit of a—I might as well say it—fibber. I would have been glad to see those reading logs spontaneously combust.
All these years later, I am relieved to know that researchers have found that reading logs can actually dampen a kid’s enthusiasm for reading—almost the exact opposite of what they are designed to do. In an excellent piece last June in The Atlantic, Erica Reischer explained it this way:
“As a psychologist (and a parent), I have long opposed reading logs because of abundant research on the negative effects of external controls (such as rewards, deadlines, and assigned goals) on intrinsic motivation. In other words, when motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake. This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance….
This research would suggest that reading logs have a similar effect on children’s reading habits, especially their desire to read for fun, making reading less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Imagine telling your child that she must draw pictures for at least 20 minutes daily—and also record how much time she spent drawing and how many different colors she used.
Until recently, however, there were no formal studies testing whether or not reading logs were actually promoting reading. A study published a few years ago, to surprisingly limited attention, in the Journal of Research in Education found that, indeed, reading logs can have a detrimental effect on students’ interest in and attitudes toward reading.”
You should read her article to find out more, if you have any lingering doubts.
If you are reading up on the subject, you will also find some intriguing takes on reading logs from teachers who have published their own ideas about how to know if kids are reading without having to resort to reading logs. Jessica Lifshitz, a fifth grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Northbrook, Illinois, posted several good ideas—including signs on each kid’s locker, showing the name of the book that kid is currently reading—in a guest post she wrote for the Reader Leader blog for Scholastic. You should also check out what she had to say.
Parents of elementary school students, do this now: If you feel the way I did and are persuaded by what experts are now saying, look for the right way to intervene if your child is bringing home reading logs as this new school year gets started:
- It might be a talk with your child’s teacher to voice your concerns.
- It might be a talk with your child’s principal, especially if reading logs are required throughout the grades and there are a number of parents who want to weigh in.
- It might be a talk with your PTA officers to see whether reading logs should be a topic of discussion at the next meeting so that parents and teachers could talk together as a larger group.
- It might even be a question to take to your school board.
Just do your homework first. Read what the researchers are saying. (And don’t forget to let your own children see you reading. That should do more good than those reading logs.)