Monday, November 29, 2010

Upgrading the Reading Log

I love Shelfari, a social networking site for readers. I am an avid reader, but not a big collector of physical books. I don't have an ereader; I do read books. However, I get a lot of my reads from the public library or borrowed from friends. If I do buy a book and love it, the first thing I usually do is pass it on to someone else I think will enjoy it. Therefore, my bookshelves do not represent my life as a reader. Enter Shelfari. Now, I can have the pleasure of a beautiful bookshelf to display my books. It helps me remember what I have read and when, what I liked, what I loved.... If anyone else is interested in my reading, they can "friend" me and peruse my shelves. I have recently started including on my shelfari shelves the books I read aloud to my children, as well. I'm happy to have a way to remember those precious moments spent each night at bedtime, even after the physical books have made their way back to the library or shared with others.

I am a big believer in using authentic tools and processes to develop habits of literacy with students. One of my least favorite of all "schooly" inventions is the reading log. Real readers catalog and share their reading in a variety of ways, but I have yet to meet the adult reader who keeps a reading log showing how many pages read of a particular book at each reading session. I've even seen reading logs that require children to count how many words they've read and how many minutes they've engaged in reading. What real reader counts pages or minutes? It is ironic that an activity designed to help ignite a love of reading can be exactly what sucks the very life from it. Teachers looking for accountability have devised this tool with best intentions in mind, I am sure. However, as a parent I can tell you that the reading log, besides being inauthentic, is also difficult to maintain and provides no motivation or impetus for engagement. I know I could be fairly accused of being opinionated, however, it's not just me who has thoughts about reading logs. This post from a mom, titled "I Hate Reading Logs" garnered 692 comments!

Upgrading the Reading Log-
As an adult who loves to read, I also love Shelfari. This is the litmus test I use. If I find something motivating and engaging, if it is a genuine part of who I am as a reader, than I believe it is potentially useful for students who are developing their reading-selves and teachers who are helping them to do this. There are many possibilities for using Shelfari with students as a way to monitor what your students are reading outside of class. As an added bonus, Shelfari promotes the social aspects of reading, gives students a place to share with and learn from others, and helps students begin to understand that what they read is part of their identity.

In order to create a shelfari account, students must have an email address.
Shelfari How To

Once your students have created their accounts, they can create and upload avatars, add friends and start exploring the site. In order to add friends, students should use the "advanced search" and type in the friend's email address. This is easy to do if you use school email addresses with a predictable format. Teachers can also experiment with creating groups and having students add certain books to the group shelf. Students and/or classes who blog have the very cool option to create a widget to post their Shelfari shelf on their blog. Creative teachers will find that there are many ways to adapt the tool for your students. Try things out, explore and have fun. Please share in the comments if you have good strategies, things to watch out for or any other thoughts about using Shelfari with students.


Steve Brim said...

This looks like a great tool that I would looove to use with my 2nd graders. But, they don't have email accounts--is there a way around this?

Andrea said...

Hmmm...I don't know of a work around, but I have a few ideas. If I was going to use this in a 2nd grade class, I would create one class account and have one or two students be responsible for updating each week, like a class job. You could share the log-in info for the class account with parents who could help their children add books they read at home.
If your students have computers at home, and you want to use it as a reading log, you could assign it to the parents to oversee with their own children. But my recommendation would be to create one class shelf.
I hope you will explore using this with your class and please share back how it goes.

Jenny said...

First off, the class shelf idea is brilliant! I'm going to get working on that tonight.

I was chatting with some of our PTA parents last night at our book fair and one was mentioning how long her kids are required to read each evening (30 minutes as fifth graders). She said she is flexible on that time and often doesn't let her girls know that the 30 minutes is up. I couldn't figure out how to ask if they enjoyed all that reading. If so, then the time requirement doesn't matter. If not, then she's probably making the situation worse. Ugh.

I have to admit that I used reading logs in the upper grades for years. By the end of my time in 5th grade I was only requiring students to log title and author (I wanted to keep track of the genres and levels of books they were choosing).

Andrea said...

hi Jenny,
I can't wait to hear about how it goes with the class shelf!
I have done all of these things, too, over the years. I used to work in a school where all of the students in the school were required to log the number of pages read at each session, whether in or out of school. It was, in my opinion, a complete mess and the antithesis of an activity that would actually encourage reading. Kids would just make up numbers, some kids would purposely read very easy books just to log a lot of became more about the number of pages than the reading. Who reads to count pages?

Now, as a parent, I have found that it is hard to transcribe the reading we do onto the piece of paper. Maybe (probably) I am not as organized as your average mom, but I would forget to keep up with the reading log on a daily basis (even though I do read to my kids almost every day) and would be basically making up what and how much was read on which days just for the log.

Shelfari is something that my kids enjoy, I enjoy, and we have fun doing together. It is very low pressure because it is based on the books, not how much of the book is read each day. When someone recommends a book that sounds interesting, I immediately add it to my "plan to read" shelf so that I remember it.

I started a Shelfari account for my daughter at the beginning of the summer. When she went back to school this fall, she was "required" to keep a reading log. Her teacher was open to trying something new, and we have now "upgraded"all of the 4th grade students to Shelfari and ditched the reading logs.

Unknown said...

Hi Andrea
I have been following your blog as an assignment for Dr. John Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Shelfari. I plan to check this out on a personal level, but I can definitely see the benefits of using this in a classroom as well.

Anonymous said...

If you enjoy giving away books you have enjoyed, have a look at is another fun place to to build your digital bookshelves and interact with other readers.

Unknown said...

I have a problem in my district with the student emails and "social networking" and monitoring. I have been using Skratch Track Sort of the same thing without the social part for conservative districts. Also teachers can set up account and then create accounts for kids without email. Report cards, and little reports for kids to fill out after they finish a book. The kids like it.