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

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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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