Education

Want Your Kids To Hate Reading? Have Them Keep a Reading Log 

Reading logs rarely instill a love of reading in children. We ought to just drop the act.

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Readers, please read this magazine for 20 minutes every night until you have finished the issue. You may read longer, of course, but 20 minutes is the minimum.

Use a timer. Record the date and number of pages you read each day and the author of each article. Please also indicate the topic of the article and what genre it is: opinion, news, feature story, etc.

If keeping that kind of log sounds like a way to turn a pleasure into a chore, why are we making our kids do it? When I asked parents on Facebook for their feelings about schools requiring reading logs, it was like asking the National Rifle Association about Michael Bloomberg.

A typical response: "hate hate hate reading logs! I had an avid reader (but also extremely literally minded child) who went to school and was required to read 20 mins/night. He started reading exactly 20 mins/night and would quit in the middle of a sentence if the timer went off."

Another parent: "My son hates them. They only pressure him to read books he can read quickly, instead of books that challenge him. He wants lots of pages, so he picks simpler titles. That certainly seems counterproductive."

And from a homeschooling mom who assigned the log solely to comply with state regulations: "My son told me last week that I ruined his love of reading."

For the record, moms of daughters also responded. I got in touch with one, Jennifer Carpenter, a former teacher and school board member in Commack, Long Island, who put her 11-year-old, Caitlin, on the phone. So, I asked Caitlin, how do you feel about reading logs? "It's annoying to fill them out," she said. "You feel like you can't just read. And last year I kept losing the logs. I'd find it at the last minute and it's all crumpled so I have to uncrumple it, and then I'd have to find all the books I'd read, and the authors, and the number of pages, and what genre it is and who the illustrator is."

This kind of torment might make sense if it had the effect educators hope for: instilling the habit and love of reading. But does it? This is a question studied by Sarah A. Pak, a student and research assistant at Princeton, a few years back. She randomly assigned half of a group of 112 suburban second- and third-grade students to a mandatory reading log group and the other half to a "voluntary log" group. Then she surveyed their motivation to read before the experiment and two months in. The result?

"Students with mandatory logs expressed declines in both interest and attitudes toward recreational reading in comparison to peers with voluntary logs." Got that, ed policy people? Declines. Reading logs turned a fun, self-directed activity into a top-down chore that chafed at the soul.

As Pak noted, the issue is intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. When you're intrinsically motivated to do something, you are going to work hard at it and enjoy it more. When someone else is making you do something—even something you used to enjoy on your own—it becomes a drag. Extrinsic motivation often results in less creativity, more negativity, and lower-quality work, which is exactly what the parents saw when their kids watched the clock and read the easiest books.

To free their children from this pointless yoke, some parents (perhaps including the author of this article) resort to subterfuge. "I would use multiple pens and pencils," Erin Lee, a stay-at-home mom in Worcester, Massachusetts, confessed, "to create the appearance of not having completed the entire thing in one sitting."

Tanya Phillips, a mom of three in suburban Washington, D.C., went a step further. "It got cumbersome to constantly sign the logs every night," she says, "so I stopped signing them when my oldest son was in second grade." Her kids were a little worried about repercussions, so they came up with their own solution. "They said, 'Hey, can we just sign it so we don't get in trouble at school?' And I said yes, and that was literally the last time I ever signed them again."

Pennsylvania Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr didn't want to go that route, because she didn't want her kids to see her fib. So she told their teachers she would not be signing any logs, she says. Surprisingly, she did not get significant pushback.

Maybe it's time for a national "Fall Off the Log" campaign. After all: Reading is fundamental. But reading logs are not.

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  1. Can’t believe this is coming up again. In the 70’s when I was in school we were told to read and then write about it a summary, analysis of the characters and plot. This was to encourage reading. Years later the study showed that it made reading a chore and discouraged it. It did for me, while a read a lot for information/education, not much else.

    1. Same here. I loved reading until I had to do it for school. It was years after I graduated before I refound that love.

    2. Wait, book reports were designed to encourage reading? I just assumed the bitter old hags we had as teachers saw us doing something we enjoyed doing and assigned the book reports as punishment.

      My mom was crazy as a shithouse rat and wouldn’t allow a TV in the house when we were little – had this crazy idea it rots your brain – so we read a lot. Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Three Investigators, Perry Mason, Zane Grey, Agatha Christie, Alistair MacLean, the classic adventures – but we read to read, not to write those stupid book reports. We hated book reports.

  2. Force the teachers to fill out a log as well.
    Problem will solve itself.

    1. Uh, the teachers would get paid to do that.
      It is no more of a discouragement for them than all the other meaningless reports they file on the numbers of students by race, sex, gender, assumed gender, assigned gender for the week, discipline problems, hair color etc.

      1. “by race, sex, gender, assumed gender, assigned gender for the week, discipline problems, hair color etc.”

        Yesterday’s gender vs today’s gender.

  3. I just have mine read 30 min a day. The log only works if there are prizes attached, but that just teaches kids how to fudge paperwork.
    The point is to keep them reading and help them enjoy it. Nobody likes paperwork added to a task

  4. If you don’t quantify it, how the hell can the educrats make the charts and graphs and data tables they need to show they’re doing their jobs? If you don’t have the paperwork to show the job’s been done, you might as well not even bother doing the job. They have a system of round holes and the square pegs have to be whittled to fit. (See also the medical profession.)

  5. One of the main purposes of early schooling is to brainwash the little independent humans into proper socialists accepting of any and all nonsense from their betters. What better introduction to constantly filling out forms designed to assist the masters in controlling their little lives? I am surprised that the logs do not include breaking down the characters, and even the authors by race, sex, gender, assumed gender, assigned gender, hair color etc. and then criticizing based on the current weeks preferred victims.

  6. Thanks for sharing such kind of very important knowledge.

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  7. Sounds like the reading log is a piece of crap.

  8. The thing is, how do you instill an intrinsic motivation to perform to do something?

    1. Read them real books as children and then let them read more real books as they get older. Forget the whole picture book and Goose Bumps crap. Real books are incredibly reinforcing because they tell exciting stories in language that creates emotion and a sense of being there. Even my 4 year old loved Treasure Island.

      1. I should have been more precise. How do the school system instill a motivation to read if the parents had not. Because, from what I gathered from the article, the reading logs are being mandated by the education establishment on public, private, and homeschoolers.

        1. They can’t.

          Exhibit 1: The ineffectiveness of the reading logs / book reports.

          Public school officials couldn’t motivate a mouse to eat cheese if their lives depended on it. If they tried, they would probably end up creating the world’s first vegan mouse.

        2. The whole purpose of a government school system in demotivation. If you want your kids to love reading, that’s your responsibility and I gave you the instructions already.

      2. Incorrect.

        Long-form reading, especially fictional, is becoming increasingly like cursive. Reading is an exceedingly poor and low bandwitdth communication medium, especially in an era of 4K digital recording. Not saying we should abandon all reading entirely, but sitting and reading for hours is between luxury and leisure that not everyone does, or should, enjoy. Especially considering that lots of such material is just talking to hear ourselves talk or because people are listening.

        1. is becoming increasingly like cursive

          And, being clear, I don’t think we should ever lose the ability to read the founding documents in the pen they’re written in.

  9. Also, let them read what they want to read. Stop making them read really shitty old books. They won’t remember whats in those shitty old books anyway.

    1. I disagree. The shitty old books should be on the shelf to be forgotten right next to the shitty new books.

      1. I don’t care what you waste your shelf space on, just stop demanding that other people’s kids waste time reading them.

        1. The “shitty old books” are necessary to be read in order to understand a lot of other things. Without a basic background knowledge, there is no way to learn anything new. That, and for the most part, the shitty old books are much better than the shitty new books.

          1. What your describing is cultural knowledge and it is good but not essential. I watched “Son of Anarchy” and immediately associated it with “Hamlet”. Was that essential, no. Want kids to read here are a few thoughts.
            Read yourself, model reading for your kids.
            Let kids read things that interest them. I read a lot of Mad Magazines in my youth. Still like good satire.
            Find things that are interesting for them. Shakespeare is not interesting. However you might read parts of Macbeth at Halloween and find it interesting.
            Turn off the TV.

            1. Bingo. If a kid expresses interest in the origins of common narrative arcs and influences for modern works, that’s when you should instruct them to go read classics. Don’t kill their love for the art by making them read shitty old books that were great at the time, but are boring as hell for pretty much any kid reading them today.

            2. I read a lot of Mad Magazines in my youth. Still like good satire.

              What has Mad Magazine got to do with good satire?

              1. Potrzebie!

              2. We will have to agree to disagree here.

                1. We will have to agree to disagree here.

                  If you took offense to my comment I severely question how much Mad Magazine you actually read.

          2. That’s how the old, tired argument goes. Everyone has caught on to the fact that you’re just blowing smoke up your own ass. Reading Homer is not a prerequisite for being able to learn.

            Stop killing kid’s enthusiasm with reading just so you can stroke your own ego or because you prefer to read outdated (although historically significant) books. That’s your problem, don’t force it on other kids.

            1. Stop killing kid’s enthusiasm with reading just so you can stroke your own ego or because you prefer to read outdated (although historically significant) books. That’s your problem, don’t force it on other kids.

              I’m not insisting that they read old books but am actually kinda indicating that reading itself has been overemphasized. Shakespeare was a playwright, not an author. Well interpreted, acted, and directed Shakespeare can and does more to inform and enlighten than reading dead letter Shakespeare, or whatever modern hack fancies him/herself as Shakespeare.

              Not everybody can read 50 Shades in 128 min. and 128 min. of screen time, probably less, is more than enough time to effectively consume the material.

            2. Homer wrote a good adventure novel. Not a chore at all.

  10. Use a timer. Record the date and number of pages you read each day and the author of each article. Please also indicate the topic of the article and what genre it is: opinion, news, feature story, etc.

    Outrageous! This should be done *automatically* by the software already monitoring the kids!

    1. yeah, where’s the state approved reading app you have to log in and advance the pages on?

  11. “This kind of torment might make sense if it had the effect educators hope for: instilling the habit and love of reading.”

    What makes you think that’s the effect they’re hoping for? Mistakes of that size are not made innocently. The effect is exactly what government educators want: instilling a contempt for learning and ideas in another generation. Thinking men can’t be ruled.

  12. Yes, school is a joyless and mindnumbing exercise. Reading logs are just one small example. Apply the premise of this article to all of it. Tear it all down.

  13. It’s rather common knowledge in higher ed. that ed. school types are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.

    1. It’s rather common knowledge too amongst anyone who’s had a kid in a government school.

  14. I never had a problem telling the kids to lie when they were asked to do something they shouldn’t have been asked to do. Every time they were uncomfortable writing about their personal life, and then sharing it with the class, I told them to just make it up. I brought it up with a teacher once, that they were forcing kids to confide things they wanted to keep secret, and she had never thought about that before. I didn’t feel the kids were under any obligation to divulge their secrets.

    As for reading logs, our kids school added a layer that made it even worse: they required students to pick books from a range of different genres. In 5th, they had to choose books set in each populated continent. If a kids was in the middle of a series when the school year started, they had to drop it so they could read from the correct genres. A voracious scifi reader would have to spend most of the year away from the books they love. They could no longer read what they wanted, but what complied with the reading list instructions. It was painful and pointless.

  15. You’ve completely missing the point. The purpose of compulsory ed laws is to turn off the love of reading and learning. If we encouraged those things, pretty soon the kids will be thinking and asking questions. We can’t have that stuff going on! That’s why the reading logs for the crappy, simply-written stupid books, the new math that not even teachers understand and text books written for idiots.

  16. The need to do homework just for homeworks sake is counterproductive, almost all the research supports that. But we continue to do it. Forcing kids to read, and read what the teacher approves rather than what they like -‘it’s to advanced he’ll just get frustrated, have him read from my list’ one of my oldest son’s teacher told me because he kept checking out non-fiction books I’m the 3rd grade. I looked at her list, and there wasn’t a single title that would have interested boys. Many other parents complained of the same thing. She actually punished my son for checking out books above his ‘reading level’ which actually tests how quickly he reads not how well.
    Is it any surprise that as we force kids to read more and more, overfocus on reading, so few young adults read for fun?

    1. “it’s too advanced he’ll just get frustrated”

      Or it will stimulate his ambition and his desire to understand the material?

      Or he’ll decide to read something else?

      What exactly is the problem the teacher was trying to manufacture here?

      1. The kids weren’t reading what she thought they should be reading.

  17. As a kind (centuries ago) I had to do weekly “book reports” on what I read. They were only one pages on that fat ruled elementary school paper, but still it was a major pain. So I just made up stream of consciousness shit peripherally related to what I read.

    “Tom Sawyer” thus ended up being about Tom and Becky and Injun Jim having an orgy in a cave with fancy hats. I had no idea what orgy meant at the time, but the word was in the novel so I used it. Just get that page filled.

    The teacher was not amused.

    1. I would have been amused, even if I had to pretend not to be.

  18. I found something like a daily reading log to be beneficial for learning a second language. Confine yourself to a small amount of material and take notes of any difficulties encountered for review the next day. I used the small essay on the front page of the Asahi Shinbun.

    1. I don’t mean to give the impression that only the Asahi was suitable for this exercise. I also used the essays on Nihon Keizai, Nishi Nihon and of course, Akahata.

      1. Not to mention Tentacle High School, issues 1-54

        Ha ha, just messing with you.

  19. “a homeschooling mom who assigned the log solely to comply with state regulations”

    Screw those “state regulations,” where’s the Institute for Justice to sue these regulations to death?

    1. There’s a similar organization for homeschoolers called the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. (They’re nominally a Xtian organization, but very few of their cases have a religious basis.)

      A quick perusal of their legal action page should give you an idea of the insanity of both states’ homechool regulations and of the dimwits selected to administer them:

      https://hslda.org/content/legal/default.asp

      1. Thank you, I’d forgotten about those guys.

  20. There’s an online book review site that, among other things, asks us what we’re reading now and what fraction of the way we’re thru it. I can’t be bothered with keeping up with that, although I did make entries for a couple of books. They also have from time to time a project that involves, I don’t know, something that’s like self-assigning reading, and it makes me wonder what the point is? Why would we voluntarily come to a book review site if we had to be encouraged to read?

  21. “Hey, babe, I just read 50 Shades of Grey, wanna see my reading log?”

    1. Put “The Road to Serfdom” on a kid’s reading log. Watch mayhem and panic ensue.

      1. Meh.
        In the sixth grade my oldest daughter’s teacher instituted a contest on how many books each student read during the school year. There were prizes.
        My daughter was into reading romance novels at the time. The kind of paperbacks with alpha males (sans shirts) on the cover. To avoid parental concern, she had to keep them in a bookcover.
        Luckily, the teacher was okay with it, except that my daughter won by such a margin that the teacher wouldn’t announce how many books were in her log.

  22. I liked reading just not what I was required to read these kids just need to learn how to fake it since these logs go back at least to the 60’s

  23. Now imagine it isn’t just reading.

  24. The Statist wants every type of human activity to be institutionalized.
    The Manager wants every minute to be directed.
    The Progressive wants all of life to be a chore.
    The Scold wants everything devoid of fun.

    Others?

    1. The foot fetishist wants everyone to wear sandals or nothing.

    2. The Educator wants everything to be Educational.

  25. One of my kids’ “teachers” (before we started homeschooling) punishments for antsy kids would be to make the kid skip recess and instead force them to sit inside and read a book.

    F-ing idiots.

  26. It must be harder today to switch off the 24/7 Disney, video games or the iPad. Devices are fine but why not turn the other stuff off and get a kindle loaded up with age appropriate children’s books in addition to regular books.

    I can understand how frustrated educators are turning to this kind of thing. Too many parents don’t care. Easier to just ignore the whole thing. If you had raised your children to enjoy reading in the first place there would be no need for silly reading logs. The logs are not there to teach the children. They are there to teach the parents.

    1. “and get a kindle loaded up with age appropriate children’s books in addition to regular books.”

      A Kindle should be able to surveil the user’s daily reading and submit a report. It could be helpful in some cases, but otherwise amounts to an enormous amount of busy work for everyone involved.

      1. I use kindle now just because it is easier to buy books and carry around. Some kids might like it better and encourage them to read more.

        1. My kindle was fine until I lost it. I use my smart phone now to read epub books downloaded from libgen.is It’s very convenient but I prefer the experience of reading a paper book.

      2. Was just thinking of it as an option for parents. Not something the school would supply. Some of them do use iPads now but I think those have to stay at school.

        1. Some of them do use iPads now but I think those have to stay at school.

          Nope or, at least, not everywhere. Our kindergartner got his iPad in class last year and, just like his older brothers, gets to bring it home beginning in second grade.

    2. “I can understand how frustrated educators are turning to this kind of thing. ”

      Really? You can understand them making reading a mandatory chore — complete with faux sticker chart — in an attempt to make kids like reading?

      Because to me that sounds like something only an idiot would try.

      1. Hence understandable on their part?

        1. Ah. I defer to your superior insight.

      2. It is ridiculous to have book reports and logs. Perhaps an assignment like you choose a book and prepare a brief report would be OK. Assigned reading only if it relates to something else, like you are teaching about WW2 and the Holocaust at an older age and assign Diary of Anne Frank or Night.

        Quizzes are even worse. In general I think testing and grades are counter productive. There are other ways for teachers to monitor progress and see who is keeping up or needs more support in a given area.

        1. Testing is as much about monitoring the teacher as it is about monitoring student progress. As long as the government is running it, it must be quantifiable, measurable so it can be put into easy summary reports for the next layer up the bureaucratic chain.

    3. As an adult that was raised in this education system, it took around 15 years of being out of the school system for me to discover my love of reading. Or, I should say, it took 15 years for me to discover that I didn’t hate reading. I always thought I hated it. Now I understand that I just hate being told what to read, how fast to read it and what my interpretation of the reading should be. Now that I don’t have idiots trying to teach me, I look forward to reading and enjoy it so much more than video games.

      Video games are limiting, they limit what you can do and see and imagine. They’re extremely fun moment-to-moment, but their stories are usually an afterthought. If you want a good story, you simply cannot beat books. They’re so. damn. good.

      1. If you want a good story, you simply cannot beat books. They’re so. damn. good.

        Disagree. So much of the universe and culture is nigh impossible to capture in words (or even symbols), let alone compile into books. I have yet to find a book of an event that I lived through that I felt thoroughly captured the events and experience. Competently conveyed is about the best they get.

        1. I must have missed the part where you stated which medium is better than books at conveying a story.

          I’ve read your comment a few times and, as far as I can tell, you’re saying that good stories simply cannot be told. That’s silly and pointless. You might not like a good story telling but the vast majority of people do.

          1. I’ve read your comment a few times and, as far as I can tell, you’re saying that good stories simply cannot be told.

            You keep saying ‘telling’ or ‘told’ when we’re talking about *reading*. I’m saying that not all stories are meant to be or even capable of being told. No amount of reading about the climbing of Everest is going to prepare you for actually climbing Everest.

            Moreover, not every story (written or otherwise) is a good story and, as such, presumably bad stories, if they are to be consumed, should be consumed as efficiently as possible.

    4. I remain unconvinced that book reading is and should be, now and forever, the primary and/or best means of communication or of conveying culture.

      1. “the primary and/or best means of communication or of conveying culture.”

        If you want to understand the culture of Russia in 1812, you’ve got a book, War and Peace, and a piece of music, the 1812 Overture, There’s probably more than a few paintings done on the subject as well. I’d say the book was probably best at covering all the bases. For all our technical progress, those Sumerian cuneiforms (baked clay tablets) take the cake for longevity. I’m not sure the files I trouble myself to backup and preserve will be any more use to me in the future than 8 track music tapes.

        1. For all our technical progress, those Sumerian cuneiforms (baked clay tablets) take the cake for longevity.

          Cave paintings, sculptures, and beads and other jewelry predate the tablets by eons and there are plenty of game pieces that date to the same era.

          For a guy who was all uppity about the communication and learning ability of ants, you’re being pretty fundamentally retarded about the ability to communicate without the written word.

      2. Still waiting for you to tell us which medium is better. I won’t tell you that you’re wrong, but this comment is the equivalent of walking in the room and saying “you’re wrong!” without actually explaining why or what you would do differently. Totally unconvincing.

        1. Still waiting for you to tell us which medium is better.

          The fact that you consider books to be the only medium and can conceive of none other speaks greater volumes than I can write.

          Nobody gathers around the camp fire and reads books to entertain each other. Nobody gets up on stage in front of 100K screaming fans and reads a book to them. There is no 11-on-11 team storytelling where everyone can watch all the team members write in real time. The overwhelming majority of the time, you don’t get half or a third of the way into a book and have the book adapt to your reading style or alter its outcome based on your participation or enthusiasm. Plenty of other mediums routinely accommodate such things and have since well before the printing press existed.

  27. “Reading logs turned a fun, self-directed activity into a top-down chore that chafed at the soul.”

    And people say schools don’t prepare kids for life in the real world.

  28. My kids were all avid readers and the teachers knew it so the teachers just let their reading logs slide and give them the grades anyway. One of the times my oldest gave in to peer pressure was the AR reading prizes. She read all the time but hated doing the quizzes to get the points. This meant not everyone in her class participated in the program so the whole class was going to miss out on the party. All her classmates pressured her to do it so they could have the party. The teacher even excused from a day of work so she could take quizzes so the class would get the party.

    1. “Vee have rules that *must* be followed!”

    2. Those quizzes suck. Knowing that you have to remember every single part of the book because they might ask you about it really sucks the fun out of the story.

  29. In my experience, any time a ‘professional educator’ asks a classroom full of children “…won’t that be fun?”, the answer is almost certainly “No.”

  30. I teach English to high school seniors. Often times the kids who end up in my classroom admit to not having read a book since fifth grade or worse. Yet, if I had a dollar for every time I heard a kid say it’s all because of those damn reading logs, I’d have precisely zero dollars.

    Kids develop a disinterest in reading for lots of much larger reasons. From kindergarten on, most students are told what to read and when to read to it. They’re given books that are precisely at grade level or higher — often too difficult to understand independently. They’re then forced to over analyze a text with mostly meaningless assessments to prove that they did, in fact, read the book. Bottom line: most English classrooms do not create a culture where the primacy of reading is the book instead of the reader. That’s backwards. You aren’t teaching a book — you are teaching the readers.

    Things change when kids are encouraged to choose their own book, read it for pleasure, at their own pace, and respond to it in a way they find meaningful and authentic. If you pass ownership of the reading process over to the kids, a reading log is just a small self assessment/accountability tool in that process — like tracking your workouts or your nutrition when on a diet.

    1. Second paragraph should say…
      most English classrooms DO create a culture where the primacy of reading is the book instead of the reader.

    2. Things change when kids are encouraged to choose their own book, read it for pleasure, at their own pace, and respond to it in a way they find meaningful and authentic.

      Thank you. This is exactly what I was trying to say above. Its the shit books that they assign to you and the over-analysis that kills kid’s enthusiasm for the stuff.

      The logs are a minor annoyance. Its the fact that they don’t let kids read about subjects that they’re interested in. Instead, they shove really, really shitty old books down everyone’s throat and kids come away thinking that is what reading is all about.

      Its a damn shame and it takes years to undo the damage the school system does to our enjoyment of reading and learning in general.

  31. How do you hear someone reading?

  32. My kids didn’t mind the reading log at all and I think it encouraged them. It’s all in how it’s implemented.

    The log was simple – when you are done with a book, write down the name and number of pages. Once you have enough pages in the log, hand it in to the teacher and you get a coupon for a free kids buffet from Pizza Hut. That’s it. No grades, quotas or punishment. Nothing else.

    Read -> get pizza.

  33. I remember when, if one misbehaved in class, or something, one was “punished” by being forced to write. This type of behavioral conditioning has obvious benefits if one wants to create a semi-literate generation of people. I suspect being forced to account for what one reads would have a similar effect.
    On the other hand, encouraging kids to falsify official records at an early age is great practice for becoming a bureaucrat: i.e. Teacher to student: “Did you really read ‘War and Peace?” Student: “Nope, I read ‘Batman Returns,’ but you can’t prove it!”

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