My Big Fat Secret to Holding Kids Accountable for Reading


“Does he really want us to read every day?” 

I overheard one of my rambunctious boys ask the kid next to him. It was only the first week of school. I think it’s important to be strong and clear with expectations early on.

“Every day of your life for the rest of your life,” I answered with a smile. “But,” I was quick to add, “you probably won’t. I won’t either and that’s okay. It’s a goal to shoot for. We’ll help each other.”

“Even on Christmas?” he asked.

“Even on on Christmas.”

Getting kids to read can be tough—especially in today’s culture of pixels and plastic. I wrote a post last week called What I Hate About Reading.

I was hating on the educational practice of using reading logs to hold students accountable for reading. I called them a hackneyed accountability gimmick.

So I thought I’d list some better ways to hold students accountable for reading sans the logs.

1. Sell them on it

Talk to your students about the awesomeness of reading. Students are going to read for different reasons. Use that to your advantage.

I read for an escape as a kid. It was a way to remove myself from reality and take a trip somewhere else. I loved to slip inside a book and completely lose myself in another world.

Some students will want to read so they can devour new information on topics they love. Others might read for the sheer entertainment of it. It’s a way to relax and unwind from a busy day.

Tell your students about the myriad benefits of reading. Sell it hard and sell it often.

2. Give them time to read

I know, I know. Time. It’s the one thing we always need more of. I know; you don’t have time to let kids read.

You have material to cover. But to what end? I’d argue you don’t have time to not read in class.

Teach your lessons. Keep them focused and succinct. Then let the kids go and actually read. What’s the number one thing that should be happening in a reading classroom? Students reading! Try for every day. It builds the reading habit.

Let them pick out their own books and practice those skills you’re teaching them with their own selections. Autonomy is a wonderful motivator.

3. Talk to them about reading

If you want your students to really dig in to this whole reading thing, you gotta talk it up. Big time.

I love talking about books to my classes. I share books that I’m reading. I share celebrations as well as struggles I’m having. Most students love hearing about what books I read when I was younger.

I get a huge smile every time I hear, “You mean they had this book when YOU were a kid??” Sometimes I’ll tell them, “Yes. But the book was chiseled on to stone tablets.” Or I say I had to read it off a papyrus scroll. The kids just stare. I laugh.

4. Let them talk to each other about reading

One of my favorite morning activities is to let students talk to each other about what they read the day before. The students get with a partner and talk about the story or content, questions, thoughts, predictions, and so on. Then they listen to their partner. It’s quick and authentic. Win-win.

I encourage my students to give short informal book talks to the whole class as well. They discuss their lit circle books during their group meeting. Students post book recommendations on Edmodo. Some write blog posts, and others will make book trailers.

5. Realize that you can’t

So I guess my big fat secret to holding kids accountable for reading is realizing that you can’t. Not really anyway. Teachers can’t make students read. I think kids need to know that. It’s what gives them the power and responsibility.

I know encouraging, equipping, expecting, and even requiring students to read can open up their future for greater things. I just don’t see how a required log would necessarily help much.

Reading should become less about being homework and more about being part of a community. The students know they need to read. It’s just what we do. They’ll learn to hold themselves accountable. All you need to do is light the fuse and stand back.

photo credit: Ninha Morandini via photopin cc


I’d love to connect with you on Twitter. You can also get every post by email or RSS.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with the buttons below. Thanks!