Rethinking Reading Logs

In another lively #educoach Twitter chat, we discussed the first chapter of Donalyn Miller’s book Reading in the Wild. This excellent resource provides educators with many ideas on how to raise readers for a lifetime, and not just for that next test or quiz.

A topic that came up near the end of the discussion was reading logs.

There were multiple responses. Most of them were not favorable toward this practice. I realize why educators use reading logs: We want students to become habitual readers. But why do we develop habits? A habit is a behavior that we repeat over and over because we experience something positive from it.

Reading logs do not develop lifelong readers. It is the act of reading itself – the entertainment to be had, the information gained, and the subsequent socialization we experience – that keeps us coming back for more.

So how can we rethink this assessment tool, so that the accountability we place on students to become more regular readers augments instead of detracts from the experience?

Reading Graffiti Boards

Our 4th and 5th grade teachers all attended a one day workshop with Donalyn Miller last fall. Reading graffiti boards is an idea suggested by her. The teacher puts up black butcher paper. He or she then models how to write favorite lines from their book they are reading on the board. Metallic markers make the writing pop out.


During my regular walkthroughs, I enjoyed watching this graffiti board expand with student contributions. This tool for sharing led to students having more authentic peer conversations with each other about what they were reading. It also served well as a natural way to recommend titles.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

Blog Instead of Log

My son hated filling out his reading log as a first grader this past school year. It was like pulling teeth, as they say. Because he liked technology (just like his dad:), we tried blogging about his reading instead.

We used KidBlog as our writing tool. Initially, it was still the same process of forcing him to respond to his reading. But once he started getting comments from family members, such as his grandmother, he became more motivated to share his reading life.

We hit pay dirt when one of his favorite authors, Johnathan Rand, posted a comment on his blog post about his book series Freddy Fernortner: Fearless First Grader. (I had emailed the author my son’s post about his books, in hopes of him responding.) After a discussion in the comments, including many questions from my son, I suggested hosting a Skype chat between the author and his classmates.

Before the Skype chat, the classroom teacher had the students suggest several questions for Mr. Rand. When they finally did connect with him, students had the opportunity to come up and speak with the author, each with a question in hand.


After this experience, I was told that many of my son’s 1st grade classmates were much more motivated to read, especially the Freddy Fernortner chapter book series. This included one student who last semester was in Reading Recovery.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

Create Book Trailers

In another one of our 4th grade classrooms, a teacher had discovered Educreations. This is a simple web-based screencasting tool that can be used on iPads and other mobile devices. Students in this classroom still had reading expectations, but they were to create a book trailer for a title they had recently read.


Book trailers are visual and audio summaries of titles, with the purpose of convincing someone else to read that book. The students in this classroom regularly shared their creations with their peers by mirroring the content onto the whiteboard. I was told that one of the more challenging students in this classroom, who refused to do much of any other work, was highly motivated to create these book trailers.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

I realize my repeated question is rhetorical. The reactions, products, and feelings toward reading that I listed would not have occurred with the outdated practice of paper-based reading logs. There needs to be an authentic audience for the responses students are asked to produce about their reading. This audience creates a more profound purpose for these types of assessments and accountability tasks.

What is your opinion on reading logs? In what ways have you augmented how students respond to their independent reading? How do you know it is working, in that your students are becoming lifelong readers? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

35 thoughts on “Rethinking Reading Logs”

  1. I think it’s important that we think about our purpose in asking students to keep reading logs. I want my students to be able to see what kind of reading they are doing and I use the information from reading logs for my own formative assessment. Are they reading in the same genre or a variety of books, (which either is ok, but it’s good information), are they abandoning a majority of their books, are they choosing books that are appropriate for them? Can they do that without completing reading logs? Yes, they can. My goal is that there be some kind of record of what students are reading so that they can reflect.

    I like the ideas you’ve presented here. I’ve given my students the option to write blogs instead of writing in their reading journals. They’ve also used Educreations. Thanks for opening this up for conversation.


    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Julie. Giving kids choice is important, as you noted, in both what they read and how they respond.


      1. Hello,

        I am a 9th grade English teacher in CA. I do Reading-Logs T-Friday (outside reading for 20 minutes) where my students have to choose 3 reading strategies and then write 3 complete sentences under each strategy. Some do it and some hate me for making them do it. It turns them off from wanting to read. I have seen your strategies and I will be incorporating them, however, do you have any that work with high schoolers? Any help is appreciated.


      2. Hi Francisco. I appreciate your honest question. I’m not experienced with high school, but I have some thoughts. My initial suggestion is to get your students on Goodreads ( If you are not familiar with Goodreads, it is a social media tool for readers. They can use their Facebook accounts to create an account within Goodreads. Readers can rate and review books, read what others are reading, and have suggestions sent to them based on their past interests ( Students can also make “to-read” lists, selecting what books they want to read next, which all readers should have anyway.

        Maybe have them take the Goodreads Book Challenge (, where they select a number of books they plan to read for the calendar year. They can then see their progress as time goes on. They can also recommend books to peers through Goodreads as long as they are “friends”. In addition, the students can download the books they’ve read so far into a spreadsheet to share with you periodically. They could also use this list as a way to reflect about their reading lives, such as what genres they prefer and who has been influential in their reading lives.

        I also like the “groups” function of Goodreads, which is an online community around a topic, favorite author, or a genre. Discussion boards can be created within a group. Goodreads is very mobile friendly, so they can use their smartphones and tablets for this purpose at school. One more idea: As students build a substantial list of books they’ve read, they can start creating libraries around the categories of books they have been reading.

        If there are privacy/sharing concerns from families or administration, you could also have students use Google Docs to keep track of their reading and thinking, but it is not as authentic. As for strategy work with high schoolers, if they are engaged in what they are reading because they could pick the texts and talk about them with friends, older students have shown that they can teach themselves strategies because they are motivated to read. Our jobs as teachers at this age level is to educate our students about the strategies they are using, which can then lead into future instruction using more complex texts they will need to read closely today and in the future.

        As I stated, I do not have a lot of background in adolescent literacy, but reading enough of the research tells me that older students’ reading instruction should be as authentic and relevant as we can make possible. Your students may continue to use Goodreads as they get older, which also helps them leave a positive digital footprint in their future. Using a social media tool would allow your students to continue their conversations with peers beyond the school day. They will be doing exactly what you ask of them with less of the griping, because they won’t see it as school work.

        Good luck!


  2. I use my own log to keep track of what my third graders are reading at school during independent reading, which makes it generally easy to figure out how much reading is being done at home (at least in those books).

    I usually have my kids fill out a monthly reading calendar about mid-way through the year, logging daily minutes. What I appreciate it about it is that most of my students are surprised to realize how much reading they do, and parents appreciate the increased accountability to remind kids to read. It’s more of a reminder that reading is important and valued and helps parents buy in too. (I think it could scale it back to maybe two weeks and serve a similar purpose.)

    My most recent post gets into my thoughts about Ch. 3-4 of Reading in the Wild as part of #cyberPD . Really looking forward to starting a graffiti wall!


    1. When you shared that your students are surprised when they figure out how much reading they do, I can visualize the looks of pride on their faces as they do the math. As a former classroom teacher, this was also one of my favorite aspects of the position – seeing their eyes light up when they realize how much growth they are making. Great stuff!


      1. Thanks, Matt! That is definitely on of my favorite things about the end of the year. I also have students draw a mental map of the world at both the beginning and end of the year, and the sheer hilarity on their faces as they laugh at how little they knew then compared to now is just priceless.


  3. If the logs are not helping students as a tool for their reading logs and it is not informing our instruction then we say –stop!! We see many teachers use them in purposeful meaningful ways and include students in the process of deciding how logs will help them. Then we are all for it! It is about purpose for us. Love this post!
    Clare and Tammy


    1. Tammy and Clare, you hit the nail on the head: “If the logs are not helping students as a tool for their reading logs and it is not informing our instruction then we say –stop!!” The fact that a student is not using a reading log is also formative assessment, in that it is not what he or she needs to hold themselves accountable for reading on a regular basis. Purpose trumps practice.


  4. Matt, I love the ideas that you presented and definitely see the benefit to your suggestions. However, I also feel that there is merit in book logs as well. To me, book logs shouldn’t be primarily an assessment tool, but should be a way for readers to develop a sense of who they are as a reader. I think book logs encourage this “awareness” in several ways. First of all it offers young readers an opportunity to be reflective of the kinds of book choices they have made, second of all it provides a sense of history (which develops self-confidence and self-efficacy). Lastly, book logs provide an excellent chance to share reading with others. It is difficult sometimes to remember book titles or authors that we want to recommend to others, but if they are listed in our logs, they are easy to share. I do think that we (as teachers) need to help our students find the kind of log that best suits them (whether a digital source such as Shelfari or Goodreads) or a notebook or journal. Keeping a log (like joining book clubs, reading book reviews, and visiting book stores and libraries) is one of many activities that readers enjoy and is an activity that I don’t want my students to miss.


    1. Beth, you noted that giving students choice and enlisting technology can be ways to help them be more reflective in their reading habits. I myself use Goodreads to track what I read. What separates Goodreads from a piece of paper with my list of books that I have read is audience. I can share my reviews and ratings online, connect with other readers and authors, and organize my titles by whatever category I deem. Thank you for pointing out the different ways students can share their reading lives.

      When you said

      book logs shouldn’t be primarily an assessment tool, but should be a way for readers to develop a sense of who they are as a reader

      do you see assessment and self-awareness as two different things? Or might there be some connection between the two?

      Thanks for commenting, Beth!


      1. In that vein think about signing your class up on A “goodreads” type site where students and teachers can keep track of student reading and students can recommend books to each other and review books.


  5. I love these ideas. We’re working on building a habit of independent reading with our M3s (7th grade) next year. We had a list of interactive activities (blogging, book trailers with Animoto or Vine, asking kids to post “shelfies”), but I hadn’t heard of the reading graffiti before. I love the idea. We’ll have to try it out.


  6. Matt, love this post. I’ve been thinking the same thing about reading logs. I used to be a big advocate for reading logs but the more I read, the more I realize that I don’t jot down my books in a table or log. I don’t see the purpose to that which might be why getting our kids to log feels like pulling teeth. I keep records of the books I read by adding them to Pinterest, writing about them, or adding them to a quick list. For my students, we have been using digital boards to stop and jot about our reading. Honestly, those give me all the information I would’ve received from a reading log and then some. We have iPads and what I’ve tried instead is use the calendar app and the kids simply add their reading each day as an “event”. I like how I can see the whole month and it’s something slightly more authentic than a table form reading log. As I’m thinking too – you know how twitter world is doing the #bookaday challenge? As teachers, tweeting what you’re reading keeps us accountable. I wonder if something like that would do the same for kids. You’re kind of inspiring me to write a post on my blog about this…Thanks again for the great ideas!


  7. Matt,
    Thanks for sharing this. Love the Reading Graffiti idea! Motivating kids to read – the perennial issue in building literacy. Having discussions is something that I do frequently with students to find out about what they are reading. I can’ think of a better way to promote student discussion than using something like Reading Graffiti. That could be scaffolded in literacy groups, table groups, whole class, or one on one. What a resource! Thanks.


  8. I have been using the 40 book challenge for 4 years now. This year, as I face an unexpected looping class I am at the precipice of making a radical overhaul of reading journals. Had a terrible time last year trying to get students to tell me thoughts, feelings and ideas about their reading. They would only write summaries. I would write back to students with some questions to elicit more thoughtful written reflection, and students would just ignore the questions. It all seemed so punitive , for them and for me.
    Thinking of keeping the response journals but not requiring written responses. Journal will act as a log for my questions that I will expect students to be prepared to discuss at a weekly meeting with me.
    I am a bit anxious just writing down this intention. It seems quite odd to not require my students to write their thoughts. I am very lucky to have a great deal of autonomy over my day. Now to share that with my students. Yikes!


    1. Thank you Lisa for sharing your thinking. Mandating anything often ends in opposition and/or learners doing the bare minimum. That is one of the big knocks on homework in the first place.

      With the student journals, what are you looking for? What question(s) are you looking to answer about your own practices?


    1. That is certainly an issue that a student’s teacher would want to be aware of, Leah. In those circumstances, schools should do everything they can to provide access for that child, including extended school hours, locating available public wireless, and allowing students to check out technology when necessary.


  9. Interesting article! Although I agree that teachers and parents want to instill a lifelong love of learning I disagree with the idea that that is the premise of reading logs. It’s important to remember that not every child has an innate love and desire to read. That’s where reading logs come in…they become an avenue of daily practice.

    I was an elementary school teacher for 14 years and recently decided to make a change. My desire was to do something different yet stay within the profession that brings me joy. My love of teaching combined with my love of technology inspired me to create an app. I created the Reading Log Cabin, a mobile reading log, and I am thrilled to be able to share my creation with you!

    I find great value in reading logs, however, they have always been such a challenge. Logs were often completely lost, misplaced, difficult to fill out (especially for young students and ESE students) and just plain boring. In 2015 I had the idea that I could create an educational tool that would benefit students, teachers and parents. Being a teacher and a parent with two kids has given me great perspective on what features to include to make the app engaging, worthwhile, accessible to all students in both ability and age, and fun. These special features are also what bring the reading log to life! We all know the research that says learning and reading comprehension are about making connections. You see evidence of that in your classes and at home with your children every day. The Reading Log Cabin mobile app gives kids opportunities to demonstrate their connections using photos, videos and audio attachments. What kids don’t enjoy using technology? In addition, reading logs can be emailed, texted and even uploaded when they are due.

    Right now the Reading Log Cabin is available in the App Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store for $2.99. It will also be available on Chromebooks in the near future.

    Because reading logs should be fun!


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