Love Your Reading Logs

My Reading Log Journey

Whether you are a teacher or not, you've probably used reading logs in some form or another at some point in your life. I used them in elementary school and I've been using them my entire teaching career. I've certainly had a love/hate relationship with them at times.

When I first began teaching, I used the "write a summary sentence" logs. You know, the ones that have room for a sentence and a parent signature each night and that's about it. About three years into my career, I realized that I wasn't getting anything out of these reading logs. As I read them over each week, I couldn't get over how monotonous they were. I felt like I was punishing my students AND myself. I've always had trouble assigning work just to assign it and reading logs were definitely falling in to that category for me. They weren't informing me of anything besides the fact that my students clearly disliked them as much as I did. I wanted to just get rid of reading logs all together. However, at-home reading was required at my school, so I knew I needed to make a change. I sat down and made a list of the skills and strategies that my fifth graders would need to practice and I set out to create new logs for my students. I focused on one strategy or skill at a time, creating logs as I covered different skills and strategies. I wanted to make sure that I created something that I felt would be a true indicator of a student's ability to apply the skills and strategies to their own independent reading. I didn't have a lot of graphic know-how back then, so the first one looked like this:

Maybe it wasn't the cutest, but I'm still incredibly proud of this creation not because of how it looks, but because it does exactly what I need it to do. I still remember when I switched over to these reading logs and my first batch were handed in that Friday. What a difference! I was finally able to read responses and assess each student's ability with that specific skill or strategy. It was easy to see which students had mastered an area of focus and which ones needed more practice, which was great for planning for reading groups as well. 

That was seven years ago. Today, these logs are more aesthetically pleasing, and I'm pleased to say that they've grown to be a set of 20 logs. 

Teaching and Assigning Logs

So, how do I use these with my students? First, I introduce one log at a time. For example, we start with narrative elements, so I start with a narrative elements log. I model, model, model using each log so that I am 100% sure that students understand my expectations. The best time to do this is after our read-aloud. I might introduce and model on Monday, model again on Tuesday, then give students a chance to do one themselves after our read-aloud on Wednesday and Thursday. For the logs that they do themselves, I copy Wednesday and Thursday back to back. At the end of Thursday's practice, I collect their logs and look them over. I select those that are closest to what I modeled, and then I share them on Friday - with student permission, of course. 

The following week I begin to assign that log with their independent reading. This can be independent reading in the classroom or at home, or both. In fact, I created two sets of logs, one with parent signature spaces and one without, so that I can do either. I teach fifth grade and when we start the year, I assign two per week, and then, as we add more skills and strategies and students become more comfortable with them, usually around mid-October, I add another, and when we come back from winter break in January, students start to complete 4 logs per week. 

Reading Logs as Assessment

I look at reading logs as an informal assessment. As I mentioned above, student responses alert me to what I need to do next. Did the log indicate mastery with all skills and strategies that were addressed? Does the student struggle with the narrative elements log and not the predicting one? As a teacher, it's my job to use these logs to assist me in making decisions for remediation. I find them to be a valuable assessment tool when planning my reading instruction, especially when it comes to guided reading. I do take the time to sit down and read them all, because if I'm not, why on Earth am I assigning it? I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it doesn't take time, but I will say that it's worth it, especially when you get that one in front of you that blows you away, the one that you can't wait to show the entire class on Monday, because it is THAT awesome! It's important to highlight those amazing logs weekly to keep reminding students of your expectations, and equally important to highlight many different students so that it is clear that everyone is equally capable of meeting those expectations.


Look at your reading logs. Ask yourself, "What information can I gather from this assignment?" If the answer is nothing, or you find it's so minimal an amount that you are cringing, rid yourself of them and create something new. I'm including a link to mine below, but I'm not very good at promotion, so I'll say that as a teacher, you know what you need. Don't be afraid to create something yourself. You'll be much happier when you can look at your logs and know that you have a valuable resource in front of you. 

Click on the image above to preview my independent reading logs.



Popsicle Sticks for Engagement

Popsicle sticks. Such a simple little item, yet one that can perform miracles in the classroom.

Ok, they won't perform miracles, put they will help you in your quest to have a classroom of engaged learners, and that's kind of a miracle, right? 

When I was sitting in a workshop several years ago, the presenter was talking about the "raise your hand" method of engagement and asked how many of us used it. Naturally, I raised my hand! She then asked us to ask ourselves, "If I had a checklist out for each student that I called on, would I have called on every student in the class the same amount of times in one day?" The answer was so obvious that it caught me a little off guard. Of course, I was mostly calling on the students who were raising their hands. I was certainly calling on other students, but not as consistently, and as a result, some students were definitely getting missed. I vowed to change that up right away. The next day, I went to Michael's, bought a huge box of craft sticks, and began my new mission of popsicle stick engagement. 

As you can see in my picture above, I use the big popsicle sticks in my classroom. I also take masking tape (of the cute color variety) and wrap a different color around each end. Then, when I get my class list in the fall, I write each student's name on both sides in the middle. You're probably wondering why my picture has two sets. That's because I teach two sessions of science (my homeroom and my teammate's), so I have a set for my second science class as well. 

So how do I use them? I stick each set in a cup, like one of those cute cups from Target's Dollar Spot (because who can resist that section), and keep it on my desk. I pull a stick any time that we are going over homework, reviewing for a test, practicing a newly learned skill or strategy, or I need a student to help me model a concept. I basically reach for a stick at the exact moment when I used to say, "Please raise your hand…" 

Now, you may be wondering what I do with the stick after I have called on a student. This is why I have two colors on the sticks. Once I have pulled a stick and a student has shared to my satisfaction, I flip the stick to the opposite color. Then I know not to pull that stick again until all of the others have been flipped as well. This eliminates the need for an additional cup for your "used" sticks. Notice that I said that their answers had to be to my satisfaction. If I pull a stick and a student isn't ready, their stick goes back in without being flipped. That's only if they aren't ready and aren't trying, though. I do not punish them if they give their best effort and get it wrong, I simply flip it and ask them to call on a helper (and hands can be raised for this, though it does not get the helper's stick flipped). Once all students have been flipped, I start the process again. 

How does this help?
1. Students are far more apt to be listening when they know that they are going to be called on. They will be engaged because they know that you are holding EVERYONE responsible. 
2. You are guaranteed 100% participation. 
3. You will be distributing your selections evenly. 

Additionally, these sticks are AWESOME when it comes time for groupings. Simply decide how many students in each group and pull that many at a time. Three in a group? Pull sticks and announce names as you pull them. "Stacy, Steve, and Max, you are in group #1," and so on. Popsicle sticks make life just a little bit easier in the classroom and we could all use some of that! 



Introducing Attention Grabbers to Your Classroom

Last night I shared some attention grabbers on my Facebook page. A follower left me a comment that got me thinking and led to this post. She wanted to know how to actually introduce students to attention grabbers. I thought that was a great question, and I'm sure that she's not the only one wondering this, so here's a post to answer that question!

First and foremost, choose one attention grabber that you'd like to use. It is my suggestion that you start with just one so that students can get used to your expectations with that one before you introduce any others. You can select more later if you'd like. I usually use just one all year, but I've done two. I personally wouldn't do more than that, but you'll know what works best for you. As you select the one that you will use, consider your grade level and their interests. I honestly love some of the attention grabbers out there that use old song lyrics or phrases, but I'm not sure my students would get it. Also, "Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom" would not work with my fifth graders, but it works fabulously in a primary classroom. In addition, I have a preference for attention grabbers that are short on words because you know, less equals more. I like to keep it short and sweet so that the attention grabber gets their attention and doesn't get them silly. Here's a list of the ones that I love most:

Click on the image above to grab a printable version of this list. 

Once you've selected your attention grabber, consider your first week activities. Your attention grabber should become a part of all of the activities that will involve student interaction (which will be the majority of your activities). Remember that no matter the age, your students will need your expectation explained and modeled, modeled, modeled! Before your very first activity that will involve interaction, introduce your attention grabber. Here's an example:

Teacher: Class, this year we are going to do a lot of group work. This will mean that you will be working with your classmates, and yes, you will be able to talk at a voice level ____. Each time you work together, I will need to be able to give you a signal that gets your attention and let's you know when it is time to stop. I am going to call out a phrase, and you will respond back with that phrase. Then, as soon as you have responded, your talking should stop and your eyes should be on me. I will say, Hocus Pocus and you will say Everybody Focus. Let's try it. Hocus Pocus!

Students: Everybody focus.

(Don't expect everyone to get it the first time.)

Teacher: Good job! Now, let's test it out. I want you to turn and talk to the person next to you. Tell them three places that you went this summer. Don't worry if you didn't travel somewhere new, you can say 7-11, my friend's house, and my grandmother's house. Any three will do! Ready? Go!

Students should be talking at this point, though it's the first day so they may need some encouragement. If the first round doesn't spark a lot of conversation, don't worry. I'll give you an extra tip in a moment. After about two minutes of discussion, use your attention grabber to stop conversation.

Teacher: Hocus Pocus!

Students: Everybody Focus!

Teacher: Hooray! That was so awesome! We'll keep practicing and get even better each time. Now, let's move on to activity that will give you an opportunity to chat again.

Here's my extra tip: If your students are incredibly uncomfortable with chatting at first, give them a silly nonsense phrase to repeat to their partner over and over for a minute (and don't forget to include your voice level expectation). It can be ice cream, just ask them to turn and say it to each other, taking turns, over and over, and stop them after a shorter time with your attention grabber. This will work and maybe break the ice a bit too!

From there, you should begin to use your attention grabber each time you have the opportunity. Praise will be important, especially during that first week, so keep complimenting them on how well they are doing with stopping and listening. Don't be afraid, however, to say something along the lines of, "That was even better. The next time, I'd like to see all eyes on me/voices off even faster." Again, be clear in your expectations, practice, practice, practice and the attention grabber will be a great success!



Synthesizing in the Elementary Classroom

Synthesizing…if you're like me, the first time that you heard about this strategy was when you started teaching. For whatever reason, not one of my teachers throughout my many years of education asked me to synthesize my reading, so this one took me awhile to get my head around. However, I've finally come to understand what synthesizing is all about and am now much better equipped to teach this important strategy. I do find this to be one of the more challenging strategies that I teach, so I do wait until I'm sure that my students are really secure in their understandings of the other strategies before we do any synthesizing. This actually makes it really easy to teach, because students are naturally synthesizing all the time, and when you make them aware of it, you'll probably get a lot of "oh yeahs" from your students.

So how do I introduce synthesizing? I start by telling students what synthesizing is, using this poster. Click on the images to print your own copy for free.

Then I take out my Nesting Dolls (I found mine at World Market) to help me model synthesizing. They are the perfect way to model since synthesizing is about peeling back the layers to dig deeper in your understanding. You could use an onion, but that just wouldn't provide a very nice aroma! 

My favorite book to use for synthesizing is Zen Shorts. As you can see from our chart, most students think "shorts" is referring to the shorts that the panda is wearing on the cover. Then as we begin to read, the students realize that the book is actually about a panda who share tales of Zen with three children, each with a different lesson to be learned. The chart that we created really enabled students to see and understand the process of synthesizing. 

You'll notice that I have adorable nesting dolls along the sides of my chart. I found this wonderful resource from One Extra Degree. You can click on the picture below to see this resource in her store. I laminated a number of sets so that students can use them with their reading during independent practice as well. The set also includes think cards (as seen on the right hand side of my chart) and graphic organizers. I use this resource ALL the time! 
One Extra Degree

After I've modeled synthesizing with Zen Shorts, we then do a guided practice with the wonderful story  Emma Kate by Patricia Polacco. If you do not have this book in your collection, add it to your shopping list because it lends itself beautifully to a number of different skills and strategies and students LOVE it! For notes and a graphic organizer, I use The First Grade Parade's Synthesis Superhero charts, which are free on her blog. We take a long time to discuss the story, page by page, and when we finish, we talk about how are thinking changed. Many students think that Emma Kate is a little girl with an imaginary elephant friend, but there's a twist at the end of the story! It's a great way to discuss how their thinking changed. 

Click the picture below to be taken to the link that includes the free Synthesis Superhero resources from 
The First Grade Parade

Now, of course, I teach fifth so these are simply introductory lessons. Students learn about synthesizing in these first few days, and then we carry it in to guided reading rotations for a week with an on-level chapter book. After a week or two of practice in guided reading, it becomes a part of their independent reading rotation. Students complete independent reading logs that are focused on synthesizing. These logs are a part of my Independent Reading Logs. To see them in my store, you can click on the picture below. 

I hope this post helped to make teaching synthesizing a little less overwhelming!


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