“Read for 20 minutes.” The very words strike fear and loathing in the hearts of every parent. The battle looming… the timer slowly ticking away the seconds… the eyes flickering from page to clock constantly wondering, “Are we done yet?”… the panic that arises Friday morning when, as they’re rushing out the door, someone realizes that the almighty log did not get signed.
Does it really have to be like that? How have we, as reading teachers, completely lost our perspective on the point of reading at home? When did it become this torturous routine students simply must endure? How did this process become so ingrained in our society as “necessary” that bookstores and publishers have created bookmark timers to make the process “easier” for both reader and parent?
It’s sad to me, honestly. Reading should be an enjoyable experience and with this type of routine homework assignment, it’s easy to see why so many students enter third grade already “hating” reading. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that students shouldn’t read at home. Research clearly shows otherwise. But what I am saying is - it should be an experience full of joy, choice, and flexibility. This strategy lesson explains how I created and use my homework reading log.
I typically teach students about their homework reading log after I teach them how to choose STAR books. I want them to understand that practice is essential to building strong reading skills. And not just a little practice, but a lot!
- Choice! Students can read whatever they want for their homework. You want to read Captain Underpants? Grand. You want to read a cook book? Go for it! I want students to look forward to their nightly reading and I think the first way to do that is to give them absolute choice. Now, if my highest reader consistently is reading kindergarten books, then we’re going to have a talk. And if my lowest reader is listing Harry Potter night after night, then I’m going to make sure he’s reading that with someone. But once students understand their abilities as readers and really buy into wanting to improve their skills, I typically don’t have a problem with students’ choices.
- Responding. To be honest, I don’t care how many pages you read each night. Truly, I don’t. I’m more interested in what you’re reading and if you get what you read. So for me, it’s important that students respond to what they’ve read each night. They choose from a list of questions that are appropriate for their books, which means they must first understand their book’s genre. This skill is incredibly telling in and of itself! Again, they choose how they respond, which helps make this feel a little less like work.
- Differentiation. The levels of questioning allow for differentiation among students and their work.
What’s not there:
- No more timers. This one hurt a little. I want students to read at least 20 minutes a night. How can I ensure they’re doing that if they don’t write down the number of minutes they read every day?
Seriously? Did I really think that just writing a number on a page was a guaranteed way to ensure students were doing what I wanted them to? And did I really want students to develop habits of reading for just 20 minutes or any other set amount of time? Because that’s what was happening. Families were sitting down next to timers and when that thing goes off, they shut their books and walk away. How sad! Shouldn’t we be teaching kids to read until they finish a chapter, section, or even an entire book? Shouldn’t I be satisfied if a child reads for ten minutes one night, but for an hour the next? Wouldn’t we rather have kids read until their eyes just won’t stay open anymore or until their parents threaten to take their books away? Yes! This is what I want. Throw that stupid timer away and have an authentic reading experience with your kid! Let’s learn to love the reading experience - not learn to countdown until you can get away from it.
- No more parents. Honestly, it was a little scary taking off the parent signature line on the bottom of the log. But, here’s the truth of the matter:
- Kids who really are reading will do so whether their parents sign off on their work or not.
- Parents sign whether they see the work or not. This isn’t mean to be critical, it’s just the honest truth. Families are busy. And there are times when logs - and other assignments - get signed as kids are running out the door to catch the bus even though parents never saw their student crack a book once that week. It happened in my house when I was a kid and every year I have parents who admit to it. I don’t think that having a parent signature at the bottom of a log really verifies or gives any credence to the fact that the work was done. So why make them do it?
If the point is to make this an enjoyable experience, then we should remove as many unnecessary and stress-inducing parts as possible.
So - in addition to the timer, the parent signature line is gone.