Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reading Logs? Reading Logs...

When I have time to tempt my written voice, I open the email telling me about a new entry in Scott McLeod's blog, Dangerously Irrelevant.  Thus, I often do not open it, but today I did just that. Why? Well, it is Saturday, my son has no soccer games this weekend, and I had my coffee before breakfast!  

Today's blog entry was actually a snippet from another blog. I have got to remember that technique to get my own blog entries rolling!  The blog title I opened was, "Reading Logs Aren't Learning, They're Obedience." The blog being highlighted was, Hometown Homework Chronicles by, Lisa Morguess.  Here is the excerpt from Morguess used by McLeod:

What is the point of reading logs, anyway?  Teachers want kids to read – I get that.  But a reading log says, “I don’t trust you to read, so you must prove to me that you actually read for the prescribed number of minutes by writing down what you read and for how long you read.  And even then, I won’t take your word for it, so have your mom or dad sign the reading log as a witness that you actually did said reading, because you cannot be trusted.”

Here’s what reading logs actually do: they turn reading into a chore.  They teach kids that time spent matters more than content or understanding of content.  Reading logs tell kids that they are untrustworthy and must continually prove themselves.  They send the message that kids cannot be independent learners – they must rely on Mom and Dad to back them up.
This is not learning – it’s obedience.

I read this and the coffee and lack of distinct obligations took over.  

I understand the points that Lisa Morguess and even agree with them in many circumstances, maybe even most, but I find the level of absoluteness being communicated disquieting.  I was struck by the sheer single-sided nature of the blog entry, yet I respect that that is sometimes what it takes to get communication moving.  The use of words like, "stupid" in a written argument always make me want to take an opposition stance. Nonetheless, written rants have a powerful place in motivating thought. My thinking that this post is offered a rant not as thoughtful debate, helps me forgive the author's lack of an attempt to reasonably explore the positions of those who created or use Reading Logs, those who somehow feel there is a educative purpose for them.

So, why do I bother with a comment on this blog? There are already 13 comments that generally support Morguess's frustrated personal experience and stance and 7 comments on McLoed's re-post that explore the subject with a bit more diversity of perspective, yet still with the majority offering validation.   My response is based on validation of the criticism as well.  And yet, I am adding my thoughts because, one,  I have some insight on why reading logs are used, even poorly; and also because this year, for the first time, I have used them with some educational validity and evidence of effectiveness.  Indeed, this the first year that I have found some value in a reading log. I wanted to explore the thinking around the Reading Log tool.

As a Student
Would I like to keep a reading log? No!  Would I like my employer to check in on my reading?  No. Would I find a reading log, whose purpose was primarily to verify my compliance with an expectation, inspiring? Nope. However, in the role of a student with a curriculum was focused on my reading skills, keeping a log, (here is the critical part) that is reflected upon and used as a dynamic tool, makes sense.  That does not change the fact that I might still find it a humbug to track my reading data and even harbor some resentment about its use as a form of tracking by others.  

As a Parent
As a parent, do I like having to worry about remembering to sign my child's reading log? No.  Do I often find that I have not paid close enough attention to their reading to feel like I am signing with integrity (like when I just checked that I read and agreed with the new Apple iOS7 user agreement)? Yes. On the other hand, do I wish that I was not being asked by my school to show that I am aware of my child's reading life? No. Am I glad for a signature trigger to check in on my child's reading? Yes, it gives me a chance to remember to, at least once in a while, ask my child about his reading. Could I do that without the parent signature on the reading log? Sure, but this check in point really helps me remember to take the time to do it. Now, that is not to say that other parents are more organized or disciplined and thus would not need this check point, but as a teacher I see that those parents are rare in this very busy age.

As a Teacher (My dominant point of view for this post)
Initially, Reading Logs were an attempt to ask the parents to be involved in a child's reading, at least by being aware of it.  Did I love checking them and following up with unsigned logs? No.  Do I feel that Reading Logs fulfilled a desire for power and obedience? No, I found them frustrating as well.  Did I feel like they were used with any great value much of the time? No.  Did I feel like they were a waste of everyone's time and energy?  A lot of the time.  Did I see a correlation of strong readers and consistent "compliance" with complete reading log? No.  Did I see any sign that reading logs cause dips in reading skill and motivation? No.   Did I see any sign that reading logs had a positive impact on readers? No and Yes. I did not see strong readers getting stronger because of reading logs, they would read no matter what.  I did see that reluctant readers, whose parents saw reading logs as a way to support regular reading, increased skill simply because they had more time reading than they would on their own.  That said, it was still not enough to justify the hassle of dealing with Reading Logs for all. As I agree that too often the Reading Log is generally a farce, all best intentions aside. 

So why bother?

As with any educational tool, thoughtful purpose and active relevance are key to their effectiveness.  I completly agree with some of the sentiments expressed by Morguess, regarding reading logs as they are most regularly used and experienced, but this year, I had a positive experience with Reading Logs. 

We are really focusing on reading skills at the upper elementary, where in that past it has been assumed that children already know how to read (period), so reading instruction is generally about elements of a story and writers' craft all done through class novels.  However, moving into a primarily "class novel" scenario seems to me actually to grind independent reading to a halt for all but the avid readers. That is a whole other post subject!  Anyhow, there are many components of the process and curriculum that we are working with but one of them involves a reading log.  

The first time I saw the proposed reading log, I groaned.  I have never like Reading Logs for all the reasons articulated by Morguess and the comments to her blog post, but, ironically, the pressure I found to use them is from parents.  There are parents who want teachers to manage homework, from the classroom. One commenter mentioned a teacher using recess to complete a reading log, another practice surprisingly encouraged by parents. Loss of recess is one area where I have drawn a line on my managing of homework and I politely refuse when parents ask me to keep their child in for recess to do homework.  That of course begs the whole question of homework at all. Again the biggest pressure I have had for regular homework is from parents who see intensive homework expectations as "rigor" and thus quality.  Ah, yet another subject!

In the past, I had wheedled my reading log down to date, book, author and a comment about the reading.  The new reading log proposed for this year asked for not only  the date, title of the book, author, but pages read, parent signature and time read.  My groan was in response to the idea of readers having to include even MORE data on their reading... what a pain in the... pencil grip!  

However, my experience so far has been positive,  here is the key piece: I do not tell students how long to read.  Therefore, the time data has actual individual relevance.  The Reading Log is treated as a data sheet that we use to for students and the teacher (and hopefully the parents, they are signing it after all:-). The data is to reflect on progress and provide information for awareness and goals around developing reading skills. Already I have had a parent of a struggling reader ask me to please give her son a required reading time for homework.  I had to explain that my goal is for students to begin to notice their level of reading stamina and purposely work to increase it.  To that end, we work on noticing this in class, noticing how much time passes before a student needs to look out the window or move locations, how easily a reader is distracted by sounds or sights in the environment.  I communicate regularly that it is not for anyone to make judgements about the amount of time someone reads or their reading skills, that the focus is on increasing stamina, engagement, and comprehension starting at wherever a student really is.  

Keeping the data relevant is also key.  Students find meaning in the Reading Logs because we regularly take them out and reflect on them as data.  We calculate pace and time on text in general and then implications of reading location (car, bedroom, yard, school), reading genre, time of day/night, etc. We use this data to build an understanding of the individual reader, how they can experience reading most successfully (the best place, time, and text for them), while also challenge themselves to grow and strengthen their skill by expanding genre selections, finding new great places to read, and staying focused on reading just a couple of minutes longer than before, etc.

We also use enter Reading Logs after reading in class, making it a consistent data collection tool, not a homework validation tool.  The homework reading entries are actually more authentic because students control their reading time, while in school the time is set and tends to be a compromise for those who could read for hours and those who can read with engagement for only minutes.  Within that time we work to address those differences in how we use reading time for different readers.

I have watched kids become more facile and interested in their Reading Logs as a live artifact of learning and less resentful of the hassle involved. I have also seen reader's, reluctant readers, make changes in their reading lives based  on what they learn from analyzing the data on their Reading Logs.  I am extremely proud of my students for creating a class community in which some students can share their struggles with reading, volunteer to say that they went from reading 10 minutes before being distracted to 12 minutes, while others share that they were forced to sleep after reading for 188 minutes! I am seeing actual progress in students and we are only two months into the school year! Better yet, they are seeing progress and it gets them pumped up about building their reading skills and stamina!

I still have parents sign Reading Logs, which I could do without, but I do find that some parents appreciate the initialing process as an opportunity to take a look at their children's reading.  Thus, I won't take the parent initial column off, but I will not require parents to initial after the first month of school. 

To keep the thread and thinking going, here is a comment and link from Robert on McLeod's posting:

I think that parents, and sometimes teachers, misunderstand the purpose behind reading logs. They are used for more than forced reading. I am not saying that some teachers do not utilize it for that reason, but there is so much more insight that a teacher can gain by having parents track their child’s reading.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures Artifact

My Artifact for E-Learning and Digital Cultures

I found it fascinating when a colleague analyzed this. She came up with meanings that I did not intend consciously, but were accurate representations of my thinking.  She also came up with interpretations that pulled me deeper into my own thinking.  Visuals are enormously generative, thus enormously educational? 

A respected reference on visuals in education is Visible Thinking,

I wondered whether the text takes away from the images (like stepping on a baby toy during a romantic interlude), or added to the clarity of interpretation.

Here is an abbreviated version of the MOOC's guidelines on how to interpret an image (
  • Is there a reason why a particular visual medium has been chosen?
  • Who or what is depicted?  What is the significance of that depicted?
  • Who or what is in focus and what is in the periphery? Why are certain elements emphasised over others? What is not in the image?
  • What is symbolised by the objects, places, technologies or people in the image?
  • What aspects of digital culture, education, technology or science fiction might be represented here? What concepts might the image be drawing upon?
  • From what perspective are we viewing what is happening in the image? Who is the audience for the image?
  • What do you think is the intended message conveyed by the image? 

Friday, February 15, 2013


 Through the window of a MOOC I am reliving the anxieties of academia, for no good reason. This idea of being among, yet wholly invisible, or worse, marginally visible, is unsettling. Of course, especially in a MOOC, it seems to all be in my head. After all, being visible is a matter of stabbing chaos and being invisible is one of the gifts of technology. Invisible meaning being present but not identifiable. in a class of 42,874, what are the chances of interaction with a teacher? And is that important in education? Hamish MacLeod made a comment on the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC Google Hangout today, that there was a conscious decision to run the class without recorded lectures or "talking heads" and that he felt that this was because they "didn't want to privilege the position of the teacher." ... I wrote that one down.

This comment caused an explosion of inquiry for me:
-What does that mean to the idea of the role of teacher?
-What does that mean to me as a face-to-face teacher, elementary teacher?
-What does that mean for face-to-face professors, often in large university classes?
-What does that mean to me as a student in a MOOC?
-What does that mean to the idea of the role of a student?

The Role of the Teacher 
Watching the vision of education in Corning's "A Day Made of Glass" commercial, the role of the teacher strikes me as lacking innovation. Is that just because it looks like the typical role that teachers currently play and I am assuming that such a role should be improved upon? The video contains technology, lovely technology and visions of impressive learning, but those only in scenes outside of the classroom. Where is "the teacher" while the students experience a virtual dinosaur as the explore the redwoods face-to-tree? I wondered how Corning could have envisioned the role of the teacher with a greater sense of innovation. How would I? Is the teacher only a designer of opportunities, does the teacher need to be in relationship with the student, or is the relationship with the learning materials and experiences everything the learner needs?

Face-to-Face in Fifth Grade 
If I stand in front of my class and students are in a culture to respond to such positioning, does our physical proximity still make this a privileged position? Certainly I do feel privileged to stand there! Does a face-to-face environment offer a flexibility of learning stances that is not available online? As a face-to-face teacher of young students, in a fairly small class setting, I can facilitate the learning as direct instruction, group exploration, as well as independent reflection and practice. We can focus in multiple dimensions with multi-sensory experiences. Even so, does my role as a teacher who will consistently have moments of talking head, mean that I have usurped a privileged position over the others in the room, the students? Does my ability to know personalities and create relationships validate my role?

The Professor 
If an instructor is in an auditorium with hundreds of students, is there any other option but to be a talking head? Somehow Michael Wesch has created some sense of community out of an auditorium, but did he create relationships? Does it matter?
From my leaky memory: Garrison Keillor once commented with some resentment on a writing professor. It seemed that the professor did not interact with him positively when he was a student, which Keillor seemed to take as a comment upon his perceived worth as a student. When Keillor become successful he had an interchange with this professor who simply stated something to the effect that he was there to be Keillor's professor not his buddy. Keillor seems to acknowledge this with a forced acceptance. Yes, Garrison Keillor became a successful writer anyway. Did that professor meet his responsibilities as a teacher? Are adults "cheated" as learners? Does an expectation of mature agency make relationship unnecessary or unimportant to learning?

In a virtual group of enormous proportions, would messages from a "talking head" take away or add to my experience as a learner? Is a Google Hangout with a backchat more valuable? What is the ideal the role of the teacher in a MOOC? I enjoyed watching the interactions between our MOOC professors, the candid inflections of the conversation, and the influence, if a necessarily minute reflection of the "class". If I had to choose, I would take the Google Hangout. I would also enjoy some talking head opportunities, as to some degree, I felt that some depth of thought may have been compromised through the dynamic nature of conversation versus what could be considered story telling. Learning from my classmates is clearly a desired goal, but I can't get away from a sense that I want a relationship of teacher and student. I found myself wishing that I had been more active in the course conversations just to win the lottery of being mentioned by a professor in the Google Hangout. I ashamedly asked myself why I felt this way. Among admitted interest in intellectual validation, was the larger desire to have a sense of relationship, a palpable context for learning.

Who's on Second? Is it the Student?
The role of the student becomes more complex when one is actually a student. As a student I long for both the active and the passive simultaneously. As a motorist I often feel frustrated by pedestrians, as a pedestrian I am indignant of motorists. Perhaps it is my Gemini nature to have split personalities, but I think that perspective is a powerful and slippery reality. I can know intellectually that all students have a desire to learn and are capable of agency, but there are times when my devilish teacher brain counteracts that paradigm with concrete the evidence of a student not performing. If this is the case in face-to-face learning environments, what does it mean for online education? In this E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, there are Massive numbers of faders and lurkers. On one hand, as a teacher, what it is the responsibility of the teacher to bring these groups into participation? On the other hand, I have found the acceptability of lurking and even fading comforting. Is the role of the student primarily the responsiblity of the student? Where education is concerned, is the role of the student lacking "privilege" and if so what would privilege look like, or of more interest what would the results be? Of course (or perhaps not "of course"), that varies with the age, subject, and goal of the learning. What do our K-12 practices say about the role of the student? Was Dewey on to something?  Hee, hee, ya think?!  And here I place the intellectual ellipses, as it is all downhill from here...

For, if I had more time, I would make this shorter -but then perhaps I would wait another two years to blog. If I participate in this MOOC in no other way, I hope that I will participate by being willing to have these discussions with myself or any others who care to join me!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rig- or... NOT!

After reading Jeff Delp's recent Molehills Out of Mountains blog entry, Five Skills for 21st Century Learners, I found myself sharing it on Facebook with the following comment about the word "rigor".

"I was so pleased to not see the word "rigor" in this post. After hearing Alfie Kohn tell a story about a parent's desire for rigor, I too looked up the word. Semantics can be temporarily forgiven but not perpetuated with a clear conscience!"

In the classroom, I use a great tool, Visual Thesaurus, that webs words in a fascinating way. Each day I receive emails from them that highlight a word and we take a look at some of the words in our class morning meeting. One day the word was "rigor" and I felt that I had to look out for the misguided adults who might use it around the students. To protect those adults, I explained to students that what I think that teachers, parents, and school leaders usually mean when they say "rigor" is learning that is inspirational, challenging, and stimulating. And yet, I suspect that students continue to have a sense that when we say "rigor" we really mean "RIGOR". Considering many components of school, I am sympathetic to their perception.

Also consider this connection that popped up as I input "rigor" in


Images are screen shots captured 3/20/11 of, which I like so much I have subscribed to it for the year.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I am at the stage in my online networking of reading blogs more regularly and commenting on them here and there, as I did with Steve Hargadon's recent blog post "Ugh. Classic Politics Now Extends to Social Networking in Education." This post addressed the Dept of Ed's sponsorship of program called Connected Online Communities of Practice. And so, I began to consider the accessibility of thinkers like Steve Hargadon.

I used to have only a handful of education heroes who usually took their place through books; for instance, David Perkins, author of Smart Schools,and co-author of many amazing texts including The Thinking Classroom, and one of my other favorites is Ron Ritchhart, author of Intellectual Character, and then there is Heidi Hayes Jacobs, author of Curriculum 21. These folks are at the top of my Hero "shelf" and I have been blessed to hear from them all in person.

In addition to these are my new educational heroes who do not hang out on the shelf, they walk in my mind's door regularly and authentically through blogs, podcasts, mini-blog posts, connections to other inspirational educators. These are educational thinkers such as Bob Sprankle, Richard Byrne, Rodd Lucier, Maria Knee, Alice Barr, Cheryl Oakes, Dave Cormier, Jeff Lebow, Jennifer Maddrell, John Schinker, David Warlick, Lorna Costantini, Ben Hazzard, Peggy George, Kim Cofino, Lucy Gray, Wesley Fryer, and many others. I am so grateful that these folks share their thinking actively, candidly, and in real time!

In the classroom, we have started an idea I grabbed from... somewhere... A Technology Slapdown (sharing, geek of the week, etc.) Not only is this an opportunity to redefine a phrase in a positive light, it is a great way for students to share their tech discoveries. Here are few of my own from today's online browsing:

•A resource for discussing events in Japan

•Supporting Students after school:

•Origin of Building Learning Communities:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

So Many Opportunities, So Little Time...

Recently, while complaining that I need more time with my students, a colleague and friend suggested that perhaps I am getting too excited with all my ed tech exposure and need to be less innovative in the classroom. She, of course, meant this as an advocate for my sanity and, I suspect, with a thought for the sanity of my students as well!

And yet, should I not have given students the opportunity to be part of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) through which many students discovered they were writers, where they were invited to write, write, write, and keep writing?

Should we have not been part of Rock Our World, where we learned how to make songs with others, talk to students around the world; where we built relationships and skills that continue to enable us to make specific and relevant connections at least once a week?

Should we not do The Stock Market Game which takes a real system that allows them to apply math skills and concepts, that is exciting, and also gives them a way to talk to their parents about issues of economy?

Do I not take the time to stumble around with new (new to me and/or to students) ways to learn and reflect, like Google Apps for Education for digital portfolios, collaborative documents, surveys, blogs, and more; or web-based screen captures like Screen-Cast-O-Matic that are a way for students to voice over geographical journeys on Google Earth?

I want to do it all and more! It is greedy I know, but I will never have these very students in Fifth Grade again and I can't stand the thought of not giving them these opportunities!

Yet, there is great deal of set curriculum that is very important to schooling goals and for which I am responsible. I do not want students to feel stressed by unrealistic goals. What to do? What to do?

-Set priorities for depth
-Be more thoughtful about integration
-I need to remember that I may be their only Fifth Grade teacher,
but I am not their last teacher by many, many years! :-)

Meanwhile, I will keep being inspired and insane!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Second Life - Life Support Needed!

This summer I made an attempt to get into Second Life to enjoy some networking in Ed Tech. I am not savvy in this area of technology and became frustrated just trying to figure how to find a place to go and move my avatar. I gave up...

So last week I decided to give it another go and I spent my allotted time tracking down my account information. Today, I actually got in, fixed my face a bit and managed to transport to ISTE and another Ed Tech location that I did not recognized. But I can't figure out how to sit or really be active...

I looked up "how do I sit?" in the help area but couldn't find it.

I am afraid I may not be up to this technology adventure!