Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What Do "Real" Readers Do?

"How can we prove we're reading?"
A common question from students when you are not giving marks in an ELA class and students have to give evidence for their grade at the end of each quarter...

I began my first version of Genius Hour in 2012 because I was upset with how little my students were reading. Come to think of it, this was probably my first attempt at classwork without a grade attached, too. Instead of requiring a book project for ONE book a quarter (and many being able to get that "A" without actually READING the book), students were now reading what they wanted one day every week, and sharing what they read somehow (their choice). This was the first way I included independent reading DURING class. (It was my 15th year teaching, but only my 2nd year in an ELA classroom - forgive me for not including independent reading prior to this!)

This School Year...
Fast-forward, and my classes have no grades until they provide evidence to me at the end of each quarter why they should have a certain grade. I currently ask students to keep track of what they're reading on the in-class log we pass around each time we read independently in class (15-20 min a day). I take these home at the end of each Thursday and decide who I will have a conference with that Friday. (All other times, I'm reading alongside them.) These conferences could be to ask what they're reading at home (since the log shows they are NOT reading at home), to ask if they could give more book talks (as the log shows they are finishing books and not sharing them), or to ask them to challenge themselves or even a simple, "Have you read ___ yet?" The in-class log has proved to be valuable, and they pass it around (on a clipboard with attached pen) without much distraction each time we read.

They are not fans (yet) of keeping track on their own of what they're reading. They don't see the reasons why. I have provided a log for each student in the past, but it seemed a chore for them to write down what they finished, and what they abandoned. I never had a log when I was a student, and I've read about the negative effects of reading logs, so I don't require them to have one at this point in their lives. These logs were great to help me have conversations with students about what genres they enjoy, or encouraging them to branch out of their comfort zone, but the fact that it was a "chore" and that some students would lie on it was detrimental to the entire independent reading experience. What are our goals? Read MORE. ENJOY reading. That log did not help us reach our goals.

Some students feel fine speaking in front of the class. I record their book talks, add them to our Weebly here, and we're currently practicing giving feedback (that only I used to give) using this form. This feedback gets copied and pasted into the online grade book, so they receive same-day feedback and something to focus on the next time they share.

I ask students to provide evidence to prove that they are reading at least 20 minutes each day outside of class. The in-class log is the only resource we have right now that is a constant for all students. Then there are the students who don't mind giving book talks. My other students want to know what else they can use to prove that they are reading outside of class.

The true question I need to address, however, is this:
     How can students share what they're reading?

If they are sharing the books they love, they'll be proving that they're reading. More importantly, their peers will soon be reading those books. (That is the hope! That is the goal!) It's the great circle that gets them reading more and more. I am excited for students to add more books to their "to read next" lists! (Ahem - like "real" readers do!) So maybe the even BETTER question is...

What do "real" readers do?
     1) Being a "real" reader myself, I keep the books I've read in two places - a Google doc for each year (so I can keep track of my "gaps" - I still don't read "enough" mysteries), and on Goodreads, so I can keep track of what I've read - organized by categories I establish. (I also love Goodreads to keep track of books I WANT to read. My "to read next" list is on Goodreads, accessible from my laptop, iPad, or phone. I ask my students to create "to read next" lists - most are currently on the last pages of student binders.) Goodreads is not an option for many of my students, as they are not all yet 13. I've heard good things about BiblioNasium, and I've just created an account...
     2) As a "real" reader, I also blog about books I love. Sometimes I give a book review, other times a brief synopsis, and still others I blog about what I did as a result of reading the book.
     3) As a teacher / reader, I give myriad book talks, and share book trailers with my students.

Because I want my students to be life-long readers, I'm suggesting these
Blog (or Paper to post in the room)
     -Book reviews
     -Thoughts or actions after reading a book (reading response options listed below)
     -A letter to the author
Book advertisements
     -Movie clip / book trailer / commercial
     -Book talk (in class, or for announcements)
     -Book blurb right IN the book or ON the book, and put on a "student recommendations" shelf
     -"What I'm reading" - tape a picture of the cover of the book on their locker or on a wall w/their name & picture
Big Idea Notebooks
     -Thanks to Penny Kittle's Book Love, we have these themed notebooks to share our reading.
Reading Response Options
     -These are such fun for me to read, too! Students post these on our bulletin board (unless there's a spoiler...)
BilioNasium (or Goodreads!)
     -I will see what I can do to include this resource into our days.

How can I tie these into gamification? More points for more authentic audience reach, of course! 1st time advertisements get the most XPs (experience points). Too many students sharing about the same book gets old for students. I dabbled in gamification last year, and am willing to try again. I just REALLY want reading to be its own motivation. I know there will be seventh graders who do not love reading, so I'm keeping the gamification route open...

Update 10/31/17 - Here are more ideas from Amy Rasmussen!

Thanks for the push from Sara Wilkie tonight, who shared with me Shaelynn Farnsworth's post on Alice Keeler's blog about "6 Alternatives to Reading Logs..." She's got more ideas here! Thanks to Sara, it was time for me to hit "publish" on this older draft! It doesn't have to be perfect to publish...!


  1. Love the depth to your reflection here, about a topic that I struggle with, year to year (and week to week). My students developed a reading bookmark (3 of them actually) where they track their reading and pace. Then they do two reading reflections on it as well. We do them 3-5 times a quarter. It has been am okay "go between". We are making a bulletin board right now and have a "student favorites" bookcase too. The most effective option is usually allowing a lot of talk about books!

  2. Thank you for adding to the ideas - we're on the same "page!" (Hehehe!) ;)