The Possible Negative Implications of Reading Logs

In the educational community, there is a consistent and valuable effort to coerce kids into reading more often, not just for academia but for recreation as well. It is known that recreational readers generally score higher on standardized testing, are more successful economically, and are typically more creative. In light of such, initiatives to encourage reading are constantly being implemented, not the least of which is the idea of reading logs. Yet, how effective, really, are these logs? Does forcing kids to read for a set amount of time every week, then making them record their reading time, actually encourage children to read on their own?

According to this fifth-grade teacher’s blog, her students were to read at least 100 minutes a week and log the time in their notebook. Yet, a substantial amount of research opposes this very idea. In reality, it is largely thought that extrinsic rewards (or things like goals and deadlines) can actually heavily undermine internal motivation. Put simply, when we’re forced to do something because we want something else, we generally lose interest in whatever it is we’re actually doing; because, we don’t care about it.

We care about the grade, or the deadline, or the goal (not, as is the case here, reading). Thus, theoretically, when we impose reading logs on children, it is possible we are actually damaging their potential to become recreational readers. By associating reading with reading logs, work, and deadlines, it is very plausible that we are teaching children that reading is work, and work has a negative connotation that is not likely to encourage children. However, all this said, this notion of reading logs paradoxically inspiring an aversion to reading is relatively new and not exactly concretized as of yet.

Recently, as in a few years ago, a study which was published in the Journal of Research in Education suggested that reading logs do, in fact, have a negative effect on adolescents’ attitude towards recreational reading. After more than 100 second and third graders were divided into two separate groups, one group was given a mandatory log and the other was given a voluntary log. Those in the voluntary group were encouraged to read, but the log itself was clearly optional.

After both groups had completed their assigned reading, the two groups were evaluated for their attitudes toward recreational reading. Those with the voluntary logs had more positive feelings and an increased interest in reading than did their mandatory counterparts. Now, it needs to be noted here that by no means is this study comprehensive or to be understood as incontrovertible truth.

The fact remains that there are a number of loopholes, the most significant of which being, how do we even know the study’s participants read regularly? Just as well, measuring motivation is subjective to begin with, and I imagine trying to extract emotional information from preadolescents is not the easiest task in the world. Yet, regardless of the study’s potential deficiencies, its findings and implications are intriguing, to say the least.

They should be taken into account when educators create their lesson plans and brainstorm new ways in which to connect with their students. Perhaps some sort of in-class quiz would serve better to ensure students are reading without leaving a bad taste in their mouth. Or maybe assigning participation grades a greater value and forcing kids to discuss their previous night’s reading with each other in a classroom environment would foster a greater appreciation for the literature in question.

There must be, and are, ways to foster an inclination towards recreational reading that does not inspire disdain or distaste. While reading logs are not necessarily the worst idea, they are by no means the best, and I believe we can do better.