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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Principal as a Coach

Last year I wrote a post titled “Getting Started with Student-Centered Coaching”. It was a reflection after sitting down with each one of my teachers for 1/2 hour twice during the year. The interventionists and principals in my district had recently received training from Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching. Me being the go-getter, I had to dive right in and try it out. During these sessions, I focused on asking predetermined questions to a) get to know my teachers better (I was new to the building), and b) provide some reflective guidance for staff to help them consider their own practices.

I remember feeling exhausted after two full days of concurrent coaching sessions. Don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy listening to each teacher’s plan for the year with their students. I think I felt this way because I may have been doing a bit more of the mental work, in terms of preparing for the sessions and directing the conversations.

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(Image retrieved from langwitches.org)

This year, I made a few changes. First, I finished reading Student-Centered Coaching. There was some good information about how coaches can vary the way they work with staff based on a variety of factors, such as gender or what generation they came from. For example, females prefer to face who they are talking to, while males prefer to sit side-by-side. Having an almost all female staff, I made the switch. Also, I attempted to differentiate the way I listened and complemented the baby boomers, who prefer recognition, and the millennials, who seek meaning in their work. Just making a few environmental shifts in my approach seemed to improve our conversations.

Another noted change is the way the coaching sessions were facilitated. I still had my list of four to five questions to use. The difference was I only used them to keep conversation going as needed. Last year, I read the list as a script, which was helpful as I was new to coaching. This year, I still had the questions to the side but gave the teacher more control over the conversation. In fact, my first question I asked most of my staff was, “Is there anything in particular you would like to focus on?”. The majority of the time, the teacher eagerly accepted this invitation. And before we knew it, our 1/2 hour was up.

One additional change from last year to this year is approaching my role as a coach as more of a learner. My questions were not rhetorical or prescribed; very often I asked teachers to tell me more about what they were sharing because I truly did not have the answer and wanted to learn more. One of the sessions ended with the teacher showing me how to use a behavior management tool on the iPad. Who’s coaching who?

With this year’s coaching sessions completed and time to reflect, I am impressed with how independent my staff is with regard to their instructional focus and how they are innovating in the classroom. They are willing to set the bar high for the expected student outcomes. If their students don’t hit the mark, it won’t be for lack of effort or not implementing best practices. That we developed these goals and plans together puts us on the same team: a group focused on helping students achieve their learning goals and experience success.

How My Checkbook Helped Me Bring Meaning to Data

As a newly appointed elementary principal, I feel like I am learning a whole new job (I previously served as a middle school assistant principal/athletic director and as an elementary school teacher). As I have tried to balance home and work, my checkbook has taken a back seat to parent meetings, family obligations and everything else that is involved in the principalship and parenthood. The result has been a checking balance that has been unchecked, offset by moving savings over to prevent overdraft charges.

At first glance, I assumed I was just too busy to deal with the day-to-day mundaneness of logging expenses and deposits on my ledger. That would make sense considering my current learning curve. However, what was different? Nothing, besides a new job and the fact that I just didn’t want to take care of the finances. This realization led me to think about what I expect of my teachers and the data they blindly input into spreadsheets about their students’ achievement. What was their purpose for collecting guided reading and math facts data, other than to do what their principal asked?

To use the same writing format as Margaret Wise Brown does in The Important Book, “The important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction. It involves numbers. It takes time to collect. Sometimes the results aren’t reliable. But the important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction”. A recent tweet I made proclaimed that the best universal screener is the classroom teacher. How can data help them make informed decisions, when they don’t see the end results or the purpose? Is this why I wasn’t keeping my check book up to date?

I started to make changes at home and at school. At home, I downloaded a few apps on my iPad to help me track expenses and pay down debt such as car loans more quickly. What these apps do is give me a visual representation of how I spend my money along with what changes I can make to better balance my household budget. The same holds true for student data. I took the spreadsheets my teachers entered student data into and linked them to graphs on other pages in the spreadsheet. These graphs showed student progress by month in reading and math, growth rate needed to meet end-of-year benchmarks and classroom progress.

My teachers are more motivated to get the data entered in a timely manner, because we see a purpose in our practices. Conversations about student data between teachers are much more productive now because the focus is on student learning and teacher practices, not on what we assume to be effective or ineffective. Relevancy and meaning are vital, whatever the focus may be.