Assessing independent reading without using the dreaded reading log

I read every single day. During the school year, I typically read from a novel before going to sleep each night. In the morning, I usually ingest news articles between bites of Cheerios and gulps of coffee before heading off to school. Once summer hits, I find multiple times throughout the day to leisurely read news, blogs and books. I’m an English Language Arts teacher; I enjoy reading.

You know what would make reading unenjoyable? If I had to write down the date, the title and the number of pages that I read along with a short summary. I would hate to be forced to complete a reading log. In theory, reading logs are intended to be used to hold students accountable for independent reading; they are meant to assure teachers and parents that their kids are in fact reading for 20 minutes a night in order to promote independent reading. In reality, though, these logs are actually having the opposite affect on students. Instead of encouraging an intrinsic love of reading in young people, reading logs inevitably make reading feel more like a chore, another thing that must be done, like making the bed.

Want to remove the joy from reading? Give your students one of these.

Reading logs take all the fun out of reading. So why do we still use them in the classroom? A big reason is the need for assessment, which typically comes with pressure from administrators. Principals want to see proof that learning is occurring in the classroom. When students are all reading different books, the task of assessing that learning becomes trickier for the teacher. But notice I said “trickier”, not impossible. Reading logs are not the answer. With a little creativity, we can get written responses from students in regards to what they are reading without the mundane request of “What happened in your book today?” (a staple question of any reading log).

I use a number of engaging closing strategies that illicit authentic responses from my students. A lot of times, they don’t even realize they are being assessed; when it comes to talking about the characters and conflicts from their books, they want to respond. Below are closers that I regularly use in my classroom to wrap up independent reading time:

  1. Give one piece of advice to a character in your book about a choice or decision that he or she made today. Make sure that you explain to them why you are giving them this advice and how it is going to benefit him or her.
  2. Change something about a character in your book — it could be how he or she looks, feels or acts. Explain why you are making this change to this character.
  3. Make a change to the plot of your book. This change could be major or just something small. Be sure to explain why you are changing this part of the story.
  4. Write about a scene that happened in your book today, but do it from the perspective of another character (in other words, not the narrator or protagonist). How did he or she feel about what happened? Why did he or she feel this way?
  5. Compare a character from your book to someone that you know in real life. How are they similar? How are they different? Why did you choose to compare these two people?
  6. Compare a character from your book to a character from a novel that we have read together in class. How are they similar? How are they different?
  7. Convince someone that he or she should read your book. Why would he or she enjoy it? Provide details from the story that help to support your claim. (This is a great one to use to reinforce those argumentative writing skills!)
  8. Pretend that you are a news reporter covering a scene from your book today. Write a report explaining what occurred. Where was it? What happened? Why? (This website allows students to create a realistic looking newspaper pdf file)
  9. Write a six-word summary about what you read today. (I love using six-word summaries in class! Here is a great video to introduce this concept to students)
  10. Write a six to eight line rap that summarizes what you read today. Make sure that the rhymes occur at the ends of each line. (I like making songs and rapping for my students, apologies in advance for the singing)
  11. Write a sentence using the following format: “Somebody wanted to…, but…, so…” (This is a super quick way to get students to write a response to what they have read, and it hits on key ELA skills like writing a succinct summary, using conjunctions, identifying conflicts and resolutions)
  12. Create a 3 to 5 question quiz over what you read today. Each question must begin with either “How” or “Why”.

The aforementioned strategies can all be used to assess independent reading in the classroom. And what’s more, I love reading the students’ responses to these questions, and they usually offer me chances to ask follow up questions that deepen our book discussions. I don’t need a reading log to tell me that my kids are reading; I can tell by how earnestly a student provides genuine advice to a character from his or her book that that student is highly engaged in the novel.