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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks   |   May 20, 2014

10 authentic ways to hold students accountable for home reading

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

10 authentic ways to hold students accountable for home reading

By Angela Watson

Let’s face it: reading logs are boring, and most kids hate writing down the titles and authors of books they’ve read in order to “prove” they’ve done their required 20 minutes of reading time at home. Here are some more authentic ways to hold students accountable for their reading time and foster a love of books. Please note that SnapLearning is a supporter of The Cornerstone and the link to that site is sponsored.

1) Replace reading logs with book journals.

One year, I let students pick out a beautiful notebook to record their reading (they could bring in something they’d bought or choose from an assortment I’d gotten at the dollar store.) Having a special notebook they loved and felt proud of was much more motivating than scrawling book titles on a piece of paper or in a homework agenda book.

2) Show kids your own book journal and talk about why it’s useful to keep a reading record.

I let kids see that I write down the titles of everything I read and that I also jot down favorite quotes and passages. Then I ask why they think I take time to do that, and help them discover that it’s enjoyable to look back on what I’ve read over the years and remind myself of important take-aways and new ideas I’ve discovered.

3) Allow students to keep digital book journals.

My own journal is now kept in Notes and stored on iCloud so I can access it anywhere, so why not permit kids to do the same if they have access to a device? You can use apps that are specifically designed to record books or an all-purpose app like Evernote. This is an especially good option for kids who hate to write but love using the computer.

4) Encourage kids to record more than just titles and authors.

A list of books is far less interesting to write down (and read later) than reflections, inspiring or funny quotes, and so on. Though I have never mandated that students record “aha moments” during home reading, I always shared examples from my own reading and encouraged students to share theirs, too, as a model for the other kids (“I have to show you guys what Bryan wrote about this hilarious scene he read in his book this week—listen to this!”)

5) Ask questions about what students are reading.

Instead of (or in addition to) reading logs, talk with kids about their choices. Why did you choose that book? What’s your favorite part so far? Have you had any questions as you read? What new words have you noticed? How will you choose the next book you read? You can talk about these things in individual reading conferences (5 minutes per child per week or every other week during reading group rotations, for example) or at the beginning of your small group reading time as you talk about how students have applied strategies you’ve taught.

6) Provide access to a digital program that automatically tracks and creates reports on what kids have read.

For example, Snap Learning provides hundreds of grade-appropriate books, both fiction and non-fiction, which you can assign to your students and send to their devices (you can request a free demo to see how it works.) The reports created by these types of programs can be fascinating for kids: they love to see graphs of how much they’ve read!

7) If students read eBooks, have them take and annotate screenshots to reflect on their reading.

They can capture any part of the book that spoke to them and type out why they liked it or want to remember it. Remind students that this is for their personal benefit, not yours! At the end of the year, students can compile these screenshot images into a slideshow (simply by dragging the folder into Picasa or another free tool) and look back on all the best parts of their book choices.

8) Provide time for students to share their reading journals with their friends.

Once a month, I used a few minutes of our reading block for students to pair up and talk about what they recently enjoyed reading. This helped students get recommendations for new books to read, and gave them them extra motivation to find

9) Teach kids that it’s okay not to finish a book they don’t like and how they should record that information.

Students are forced to read enough texts in class—self-selected reading should be based entirely on what kids enjoy! Tell them about books you’ve picked up and just couldn’t get into, and permit them to do the same. Help kids use their reading journals to reflect on why a particular book wasn’t right for them (Too hard? Too easy? Didn’t like the author’s voice?) and use that as a springboard to look at aspects of strong writing. Encourage kids to use those less than enjoyable experiences with books to help them choose better books in the future. Set the expectation that reading time is precious and no one should waste it on a book that doesn’t speak to them.

10) Have kids revisit their reading journals later in the year and reflect on their growth.

Talk about how some of the books they selected in September were difficult for them, but much easier to tackle now. Invite them to talk about how their subject matter and genre preferences have evolved, and think about how they’d like to spend their reading time in the coming weeks.

How do you hold students accountable for their reading at home? Have you found any ways to make reading logs more meaningful? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. These are amazing ideas. I’d love to hear from teachers how they have gotten their kids to read and respond to home (and in-class self-selected) reading. I hate the reading log and would like to replace it with something more authentic. However, they struggle so much with responding to reader’s response prompts (and they seem to hate those) that I have no idea how to scaffold that at home. Are reader’s responses useful? I’m not sure that they are, or I’m not using them effectively in class.

    Angela, do you suggest requiring a certain number of minutes? How do you hold them accountable for weekly homework reading if they are only recording titles and optional ahas? What do you do for kids who have no safe place to read, or books, or electricity?

    BTW, I use Shelfari for all my reading lists because I can write reviews and it is wonderfully visual, but I don’t think our district policy would allow that kind of web access for my kids.

    1. I, too, dislike reading logs, and I’m not a huge fan of reading response prompts for self-selected reading. To me, that takes some of the joy out of reading and makes reading inauthentic: when I finish reading a book as an adult, I don’t answer questions about it. I feel like kids are forced to answer questions about their reading so much in school that I’m really reticent to do it outside of school, too.

      In terms of requiring a certain number of minutes…I never had a choice in this. All the schools I taught in required 20-30 minutes of reading per night for homework. However, I don’t think that’s a bad system, and 20 minutes for elementary kids seems reasonable for me. I’ve encouraged kids to count any time they spend reading or being read to. I’ve also allowed them to be flexible with the time: the goal is 20 minutes per night, but sometimes you may get caught up in a good story and read for longer, and other nights you might be tired or too busy and only read for 5. That’s okay with me, because that’s how real readers read. As long as I can see evidence that students are spending time with books at home, I’m satisfied!

  2. I have been having a personal battle with reading logs and readers response. I stopped logging BC a)it takes a lot of time and b) I felt like they held no meaning. I’ve also struggled with readers response BC I feel like I’m just making them do something that they are never going to have to do again or that is pointless. I just so it because ita in the standards and its expected. I’ll often find myself.thinking, “when are they going to ever truly use this??” I’m trying to figure out the best ways to use both because a response and log are absolutely important, but its important to teach them why they need it. These are great suggestions! Readers Response has been my enemy this year! 😉

    1. I’m glad the suggestions were helpful, Ashley! I, too, have had a long personal battle with reading logs and readers response. Anytime I can give students an opportunity to just read for the sake of reading, I jump on it, and home reading is where I’ve felt like I had the most freedom and flexibility.

      1. Super excited to try this as well. I have been struggling with the reading logs and can tell me high readers do not benefit from it. Really excited to see how this works.

  3. I’m a parent with an 8yr old on the ASD. He is thrilled with books & will pile a stack of books next to him @ the dinner table & leaf through them. His issues make reading difficult, and nothing becomes a bigger drag than mandated reading. His skill is advancing, but he can become frustrated easily with difficult words, and then shuts down.

    I’ve always felt a bit like a bad example for ‘fudging’ his reading log. His weekly speech therapy includes reading tongue-twisters for nearly 45 mins ~ on those nights he gets a pass & I jot down some random book from our shelves; he has special reading books from his learning support teacher, so I count those. He’ll grab 4-5 books @ the library & read through one in the car – when not forced to recite out loud, he can usually tell a fair story of the content.

    I want my child to WANT to read, and I know he’ll never be me = I can remember getting scolded for reading ahead into the SRA box. So, just like ‘coloring’, I’ve decided it’s better that he have the skill of reading w/o turning it into a drudgery. I know it’s not ‘educational’, but the fact that he pauses the TV constantly to read the screen & ask what a certain word is counts for me — I just can’t figure out how to add that to a log!!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective as a parent. I love the priorities you’ve set for your child and the way you think carefully about what routines will foster a love of reading. 🙂

  4. I have always disliked reading logs since the students never seemed to take them seriously. So this year I sat down with my fifth grade students to have an honest discussion about them. The students actually told me that the book logs turned them off from reading. That they didn’t focus on what they were reading or enjoy it because they were thinking more about what they were going to write on their reading log homework. Together we came up with the idea of a reading blog. I would pose a question every night and they would not only respond to the question, but could interact with each other about the books that they were reading. The loved it!

    1. This is GENIUS, Sara! I’m not surprised your students came up with that–I’ve always felt that the best solutions to classroom problems come from the kids! Bravo to you for seeking their input.

    2. I’d love to know more about your reading blog! Would you mind sharing your web address with me? Thank you.

    3. Hi Sara!

      I love the idea of a reading blog also. Would it be appropriate for 3rd/4th grade students? I’d love to see your website if you’d be willing to share it. I’ll be a first year teacher for a combined 3rd/4th grade class next year and I have to use reading logs, but I am very wary and nervous about using them especially if they turn off reading. Thanks!

    4. yes! Sara, I have decided that is the route I’ve wanted to go this year! Any information to help would be great! What types of questions did you ask them?

  5. Thanks for this. I have a love/hate relationship with Reading Logs, and I’m looking for other options to keep kids accountable for their 15 minutes home reading but with some more authenticity to it. Really challenging with a mostly ESL student population and a large percentage of parents not even speaking English, let alone reading it. Printed this for future reference.

    1. Ah, yes, you’re right, reading logs pose a special challenge for ESL kids. How wonderful that you are being considerate of that and looking for solutions that work for them and their families.

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