Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Literacy, A Print-Rich Environment, and No Reading Logs Allowed

By on September 10, 2009

I think that so much about encouraging literacy is about making it sexy. Make reading attractive and make it unavoidable to enjoy.

I’ve written about my classroom library in the past, but I also wanted to let you know about the start-of-the-year activities that I’m doing to not only encourage reading, but to build community.

1.Reading Genre Posters – Taking a tip from those dramatic iPod ads, I’ve got my 7th graders reviewing the reading genres by creating Reading Genre Posters. We began by brainstorming genres and their characteristics. Then small groups picked which ones they wanted to produce. We discussed ways in which groups can reach consensus, and the kids each had to design a poster possibility, select it as a group, and execute it. Some cut, some were the models, some drew, some recorded how the group functioned. IMG_1796

2. Book Spines – To record the books they read, the students grab a paper book spine. They fill out the TAG (Title, Author, Genre). Then they stapled the book spine on the wall in a line, leaned against each other, stacked, etc…just like a shelf of books. If you want, each book spine can be a raffle entry and you can pull names out of a hat or something at the end of the quarter for a reading reward. Your call!

3. Celebrate Banned Books Week – (longer post to come) but needless to say, the bigger deal you make of what books in your classroom library have appeared on a banned books list at some point, the more kids you will have scrambling to read them!

IMG_1792Nowhere, I must point out, do I mention a Reading Log. Why? Because it doesn’t work, it’s unreliable, and it shackles kids to monotone production instead of encouraging them. You know why I think so many teachers do Reading Logs…Parents. I think it’s one of those vestiges from a by-gone educational era that so many of us were brought up with, and it’s one of those long-term assignments that parents relate to because they had to do it too.

For example, last year at my Back-to-School night, I had parents asking me for information on my Reading Log when I hadn’t even mentioned I had one.

Later in the year, another parent, complaining that her child never read at home (he did, however, read a lot of comics and she didn’t count those as reading), insisted that he keep a journal with paragraph summaries written every night that she insisted I signed off on in the morning. Her son continued to fail in his grades and he continued to avoid reading genres he wasn’t interested in or wasn’t ready for. Somehow, however, he always had these low-level sketchy paragraphs that I was supposed to sign reflecting some mythical book he had read.

First off, this parent decided to use writing as punishment. Major growl.

Second, it did nothing to improve his achievement.

Third, it never even acknowledged the reading that gave him satisfaction or pleasure.

And, Fourth: Why did I even need to be involved in this parent’s discipline? She clearly forced him into his room. She clearly insisted he produce some semblance of a paragraph that she found to be acceptable because she eventually let him out of his room. She clearly didn’t care about the actual quality of the writing because what I saw could never be described as evidence of reading any known book out there. Which means he’s BS-ing the whole thing. Which is why I don’t like Reading Logs in the first place!

Here’s what I do instead (mind you, it’s a work in progress, but I find it at least works better for me then the log.  I still work to reach some students – see above anecdote – but it’s much better then when I was using Logs!):

1. The Bibliography Log – The kids keep a bibliography log which I check and date every month. It must show growth. Students add a correct bibliographic entry when they finish reading a book, magazine, comic, graphic novel, or website. They are assessed are their ability to write a proper bibliography and their growing list of books.

2. Golden Line Assignments – These are periodic assignments due at the beginning of the period that assesses their ability to recognize certain skills we’re studying in their independent reading books. For instance, when we studied Hooks, the students needed to write their Hooks from their Independent Reading books onto an index card. They lined up at the door (so nobody could invisibly scramble to fill theirs in while I was collecting the cards) and as they entered, they folded and dropped their cards into a “Golden Line Jar.”

I told them that some authors get inspired by a Character, some by a theme or message that they need to convey, some by a setting, some by personal experience. But today we are going to be inspired by a Hook from a professional writer. I then opened the jar and with great flourish, pulled out a Hook.

The kids wrote the narratives while I pulled the best Hooks and put them on sentence strips for our Greatest Hooks Wall. This way I can use them to start Quickwrites, refer students to them for grammatical patterns, and be inspired.

As soon as I cover a new writing skill, we will again be hunting in our Independent Reading books for examples from the best!

Fix what doesn’t work in your classroom, and experiment. You just might find a better alternative.

Surround them in literacy, acknowledge their own passions, and they may be more likely to explore the library beyond the boundaries of their own interests.

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