Saturday, 18 August 2012

Keeping Track of Readers

"You're not going to believe it," Jackie said as she came into my classroom after one of her first classes of the year.  "Seven of my kids have already read Wonder!"  I have to admit, I was a bit deflated.  I'd read Wonder (see trailer above), a powerful first novel by R.J. Palacio, over the summer and couldn't wait to showcase it in my class.  You know that feeling you get when read a great book and have to share it with others?  Well, it turns out even though Wonder was just released in spring, a bunch of our readers had already devoured it.

If your students are anything like mine or Jackie's, they're amazing readers.  This is good news.  They come to us knowing what genres grab them and which authors work for them.  Not only that, they keep up to date with the latest and greatest new releases.  That's why now more than ever before, we have to be on top of our game in the classroom when it comes to keeping track of our readers.

When I think of keeping track of my readers, I keep the following in mind:  volume, reading rate, and books they're reading.  At the same time, I'm always looking for seamless systems that make these things visible and easily accessible.  


For volume (how much each reader reads), I'd been using Reading Records in the back of students' readers' notebooks where students record the books they've read.  Although good in principle, students seemed to forget about it, and I had to collect all of their notebooks to check them out.  

This year, I'm trying something new.  I've adapted an idea that I got from Jackie where I've posted a Reading Record pocket chart in the back of the room.  In it, each student has a card where they write down the title, start and finish dates, and genre of the books they read.  When I introduced it, I likened it to a factory where workers check in and check out by punching a card.  Hopefully that's what they'll do as readers with this system.  

What I like is that I can already see how many books they are reading, how fast they are reading them, and what genres they are trying out.  I can also use them during conferences as an additional talking point.

Reading Rate:

Let's face it.  Knowing a reader's reading rate is important, but it's not the end all be all.  I used to have students fill out countless Reading Logs noting the pages they read and how long it took them.  They hated it, and I don't blame them.  When I tried it out, I hated it too.  And the worst part was, I never really referred to them as their teacher.

So I've modified it.  Now I use them with a purpose.  I have students complete a Reading Log for a given week only.  Then we can analyze that information and figure out the reading rate (words/minute).  As long as I know that students continue to read chunks of text on a regular basis, I don't need to know every single page number and minute read.

Recently, I picked up an idea from Crystal while working with her in her classroom.  She does a snapshot of a log by having students record the pages they read in one sitting on a sticky note.  She then collects them, and instantly, she's got valuable data and can plan meeting with certain kids immediately.

Of course the things I look for are high and low reading rates.  Some readers are blasting through books.  They're plot junkies, and they need to slow it down.  Others are extremely slow.  They might be in a challenging book, they might be distracted, or they might be reading a new genre (i.e. nonfiction).

While I don't consider it an exact science, it's certainly something to think about.  If you're interested in suggested reading rates per grade level generated by Teacher's College, click on this link.

Books They're Reading:

I believe that one of our most important jobs is to match every reader with the right book at the right time.  Like you, I use surveys and one-on-one conferences to make suggestions and give mini-book talks on the spot.  In the back of my mind, I also keep in mind the concept of Reading Ladders from Teri Lesesne.  Her idea is that readers can move through a progression of books based on increasing difficulty in a given genre or theme.

I also try to showcase my library whenever I can.  Years ago, Betsy gave me the idea of having Book Bag Mondays.  For twenty minutes or so, she pulls books out of her beloved bag and gives book talks on them.  Very often they are new releases or must reads, and it's amazing how quickly they fly off the shelf.

These are just a few of the many great ideas that are happening in our classrooms to promote reading.  If you have another idea you think others would benefit from, please leave a comment or have me come and check it out in person.  We'd love to learn from you!  


  1. Thanks again for your blog entry, Scott. We're (NJ, BA, BM) thinking of introducing Goodreads as one of the kids' choices to record and maintain a reading list this year. I'll model how I keep BOTH a written list AND a Goodreads list. While our students wouldn't have to do both, they do need to maintain one as evidence of what they're reading and what they've read. There's already a place in their RN for "to read" books (mimicking what Goodreads also offers) Again, we hope that having a choice will motivate the kids who don't like the written list inside their RN covers. We'll we . . .
    I can't nudge us all enough to be readers -- that's the biggest "teaching tip" we can offer our students. I can put books in kids hands because I read (a lot). I can match kids with books because I read a variety of genres. And, the big point here (which is echoed in Teri Lesesne's READING LADDERS and in Donalyn Miller's THE BOOK WHISPERER, and in almost any professional book on reading reading to middle schoolers) is that teachers need to read YA books. I know there are tons of terrific books for adults and many of these are on my bedstand, but I reserve these for vacations. While I'm teaching I read children's and YA books almost exclusively. To me THAT'S part of my professional development. And it serves my student readers quite well. Best YA I've read this month? BOMB (NF) by the author of THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD (the "story" of the atomic bomb). I'm now reading (devouring!) SHADOW AND BONE. It's mighty good (especially for our more mature readers -- strong female character, lots of action, adventure, and even timely amounts of blood and gore). I think it'll fly off my shelf once I booktalk (or book bag) it.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Nancy. By reading the books, I can speak to them more personally, and I know which students would love to read them next. I just finished LIAR & SPY, and now I'm on to ICE, a new nonfiction about the history of the ice industry. Thanks for sharing!