I have students in my mainstream ninth-grade English and in my ESL classes complete a simple “Reading Log” every Friday. It has five columns — ones for the day, title of the book, the number of minutes read, space for a student signature and one for a parent signature.
Though I leave it on for a reason, the “parent signature” box has remained blank for years.
I tell students at the beginning of the year that I expect that they will read a book of their choice at least two hours each week, and that if they promise to me that they will tell the truth on the log — even if they read less some weeks — that I will eliminate the requirement of a parent signature. Students always agree and make a public commitment, as well as shaking hands on it with me. I think seeing the “parent signature” column is a reminder of that commitment.
Each Friday, they quickly complete the sheet and, if they haven’t read for two hours during the previous four days, they write a few words at the bottom of the sheet with specific plans on when they will read that Friday night or over the weekend (“I’ll read for twenty minutes after we get home from our cousin’s barbeque,” etc.). I check with students on Monday (during the first ten minutes of class, which is always silent reading time) if they followed through and, if not, they tell me how they’re going to make-up the time that week. And we talk about how things do come-up, and that there’s always flexibility.
I’m confident that the vast majority — at least ninety percent — of students are genuinely honest, and determine that by seeing how far they’re getting in the books they read during our silent reading time and by the progress they make during cloze and fluency formative assessments. And, based on my previous experience, I’m also confident in saying that it’s a much higher percentage than years ago when I required parent signatures, which are easily faked.
Yes, I talk with parents about the reading expectation, but between the multiple home languages, regularly changing phone numbers and moves, and other difficulties in making parent contact, there is a large percentage of parents that I just can’t communicate with — despite my obvious commitment to parent engagement.
Of course, this instructional strategy is combined with a strong emphasis on relationship-building and with life-skills lessons focused on helping students develop intrinsic motivation.
So, let’s say ten percent of my students might not be entirely truthful to me.
As this post’s headline says, I’ll take 90% student engagement over 100% “compliance” any day….
(You might also be interested in My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them)