Throwing Out Reading Logs (and Homework)

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Originally published on December 13, 2015, this is by far the most read and shared post of Ethical ELA in its first year. How has it impacted your practice? How will it impact your practice for the 2016-17 school year?


By Lisa Nassar

Ethical ELA, guest blogger
Ethical ELA Guest Blogger, Lisa Nassar

I do not normally write official post regarding my classroom and teaching practices. I will, however, tell you that my decision to throw out reading logs is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my 3rd grade students. I also threw out homework, with the exception of 20 minutes of reading each night. By throwing out homework, reading logs went with it. As a teacher, I have found several factors impeded homework from being beneficial to elementary students.

To begin with, there are several reputable studies showing homework has no direct correlation to higher classroom or assessment scores in elementary students. As I was researching this, I realized that current and past students were either not completing their homework, due to lack of parent support/extra-curricular activities/laziness, etc., or parents were completing the homework for their student. I tested this by re-administering the same exact homework piece and the student failed it, but scored 100% on the piece he turned in. This also led me to look at reading logs students were completing at home.

Reading Logs

During individual meetings with students, I questioned them on what they had read the night before, based on their entries. Simple questions, such as, “what happened in that part of the story/page?” or “tell me what you read about”. The students were not able to tell me or some even admitted they did not read and had their parents sign off that they did.father yelling

After this, I started inquiring how the parents and students felt about homework and reading logs. The majority of the parents felt homework was important, but not always necessary or feasible with their schedules. They did, however, feel that the reading logs were not beneficial and made reading more of a chore, rather than pleasure. The same applied to reading in the classroom. My students love to grab a book and crawl into a bean bag or lay on the floor to read, but when asked to pull out their reading textbook, they grumble! Reading for enjoyment is quickly disappearing from school. It saddens me, especially when reading is one of my favorite things to do.

Homework

Where has this all led? Well, it took some time to persuade my colleagues and parents that neither one was necessary. For the parents, there were many dropped jaws, along with celebratory arms in the air, but they have finally come around to loving it. I do send home monthly ideas of ways to work with their child on the concepts we are learning, but nothing is required. I want the parents to spend time learning with their child by taking a walk, reading a book together, going on a virtual field trip, etc. Make it fun, which will carry over into the classroom.

Embed from Getty Images

For my colleagues, well, that is another story. They have added homework back into their classrooms, but frequently mention/complain that it was not completed or completed accurately. They have not, however, put reading logs back into their homework plans. I am proud of them for this. They compromised and it seems that all third grade students are learning to read for enjoyment, again, rather than as a chore.

As a teacher, removing homework and reading logs did not make my life easier, because our school system purchased a curriculum that had an online component, so my students were completing all math and reading homework online. The program scored it and provided immediate feedback to the student and parent. All I had to do was assign the items I wanted completed and the program did the rest. So, the decision to remove homework and reading logs was never about me (i.e. grading papers all weekend long, running copies, etc.).

My homework assigning days were already easy. The decision was made based on research and my personal experience as a teacher. It does not help a student to learn if the parent is completing the homework for the child or giving them all the answers. It does not help a student when they falsify a reading log. It does not help a student when homework and reading becomes a family struggle and everyone becomes upset. It does not help a student when they have to look me in the eye and admit they did not return the work, do the work, or spent 3 hours struggling through 10 problems.

It helps a student when they can go home, after a long, fun day of learning, and tell their parents what they learned that day. It helps a student when they have the time to unwind and reflect on their learning. It helps a student when they realize questions they had and can simply jump on the internet to further research that topic or have a conversation with the parents regarding that topic. It helps a student to spend quality time with their family, creating rich learning memories that will last a lifetime.

Joy in the Absence of Reading Logs and Homework

I have learned so much, this year, from my students and their experiences with no homework and reading logs. They are telling me exciting parts of stories they are reading. They are sharing their books with other students in the class and providing rich details as to why that student should read that particular book. Do I think my students will score higher on classroom activities or assessments? No, I do not. I think that they will score the same, whether they had homework and reading logs or not. The difference is that I am no longer making it a tedious struggle each night. My students are enjoying school and enjoying their time each evening. To me, that is all that matters!

Lisa Nassar is currently a 3rd grade teacher in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  As a 15 year educator, she has used her experience as a military spouse to work with children of active duty U.S. service members.  She has taught 3rd and 5th grade, with two years serving as her school’s Educational Technologist.  Earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Masters of Education degree in Educational Technology from Northern Arizona University, Lisa has taught overseas in Okinawa, Japan before moving back to North Carolina.  As a native Texan, Lisa is a second generation educator, who considers herself fortunate to spend her days working with students whose parents serve our country.  As a military spouse, who raised a daughter, Ashley, in the military lifestyle, Lisa is able to take those experiences to support the emotional and learning needs of each student.  She considers herself the luckiest teacher in the world to get up each day to spend the day with amazing children who bring unique experiences to the classroom.   

6 Replies to “Throwing Out Reading Logs (and Homework)”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I needed to have this in print! I completely agree.
    2nd grade teacher
    Washington State

  2. As a recently-retired teacher who worked only in high poverty, high English-Ianguage-learner schools, I completely agree. I would go further: teachers who emphasize homework are unintentionally discriminating against students who live in poverty. These students typically live in more crowded homes, often in larger families (with relatives sharing the home), and they have more challenge in finding a quiet place where they can concentrate. They have more trouble keeping track of materials brought home from school. They have fewer reading materials in the home. They often have less parental supervision, because of work hours, work shifts, and the exhaustion that comes from manual labor and difficult commutes.

    For years I tried to require reading homework with reading logs while still being fair to my students in poverty, by letting them borrow nearly any book in my huge classroom library so they’d always have something to read that interested them and was at an appropriate reading level. Still, I found myself (like my colleagues) complaining about the my class’s uneven homework completion rate. After reading the research on the lack of correlation between homework and achievement, I quit.

    My policy became: “You need to read at home every day of your life, because that’s part of being an educated person. Read something you’re interested in, that you can understand. If what you want to read is too hard, ask someone at home to help you or read it aloud to you. Talk to someone about what you learned from the reading, or what you liked, or what you wonder. That is your only homework for my class.”

    I would urge parents to read in front of their kids, or read while their kids were reading. I’d suggest including their child when they read a magazine about their own interests — maybe fashion, or sports, or motorcycles — or a local newspaper. Over and over I had to remind parents that the benefit would be the same if the reading was in the home language, not in English. All the research says literacy skills transfer from one language to another.

    Teachers keep assigning homework because doing so is part of their mental image of a good teacher. They keep measuring themselves and their classes against that mental image of compliant students who do their work every night and hand it in on time… without honestly assessing WHO in their class is complying and who is not, and WHAT parents of their students are doing (or not doing) to ensure that homework meets the standard.

  3. Thank you for bucking the trend. My wonderful, bright, over achieving son has been turned off to reading by his teacher. For “independent reading” she ASSIGNS books 2 grade levels ahead that are between 250-350 pages long. They have one week to read them, then they have to take an Accelerated Reader Test. If they fail the AR test they lose their recess for a week. The only way they can keep their recess is if they write a ten sentence summary of the what they read every night–that may not sound like a lot–but he’s NINE and after 40 minutes of math homework it is ridiculous. Also, it doesn’t work–he gets the gist, but the AR tests aren’t on the gist they are on details. The only way he can pass the tests if *I* read the book, download study guides, and drill him. I don’t want to home school my child, but his school is so unresponsive that I’m getting to the point where I feel like there is no other option–I can’t afford the private schools in our area. He can’t do extracurricular activities right now and I worry about his health.

    40% of the classroom failed the last AR test, so it isn’t just him.

    The only good thing is if I took him out of school before the standardized tests his loss would bring down his classroom score. The standardized tests put primacy on non-fiction–where he reads at nearly a high school level–he just has trouble with fiction. His math scores are nearly four grade levels ahead.

    1. Sorry I’m a little late to the party and I don’t know if you’re still reading, but in case you are I just wanted to comment. I think you perhaps realize this consciously or unconsciously but I wanted to name what your school is doing to your son: abusing him. Punishing someone (taking away recess is a punishment) for struggling with unreasonable expectations (being expected to read books that are too long or too hard and having to remember details) is abusive. Punishment in general is abusive (it is the intentional infliction of something unpleasant, after all), but it’s even worse when what a person is getting punished for is something beyond their control.

      Like you I struggle with what is the answer. At this point we can afford private progressive school for our kids, but that might not last much longer and I shudder thinking about putting my kids in the type of environment you’re talking about. It’s so frustrating when the school is so unresponsive. But somehow we as parents have to find a way to protect our kids. Best wishes to you.

  4. Lisa Nassar,

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. Thank you for bucking the crowd and doing what you know is best for your students. I bet many of your colleagues wish they had the courage to do the same.

    Here is a great parent perspective in one of my favorite blogposts. It’s written by Sarah Blaine, a parent and former teacher, who resigned from teaching to become a lawyer, because “it was easier.”

    http://parentingthecore.com/2014/09/20/reading-log-revolt/

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