Thursday, October 8, 2015

Creating a Reading History Archive

Some readers are already starting
to add response to their digital archives.
Talking About Our Reading Lives
Last year as parent-teacher conferences rolled around, I decided I wanted parents to be able to hear from their children.  Using Evernote presentation mode, I collected snapshots of work samples (more here) and began to create a story of these young literacy learners.  I wanted parents to be able to hear from their readers so I decided to voice record a few discussion topics for parents.  I had three basic topics of conversations with students that I recorded for parents:

  1. Tell me about yourself as a reader.
  2. What are your strengths as a reader?
  3. What are you working to improve as a reader?

I was quite surprised at how hard it was for my students to speak to these topics.  When asked to talk about themselves as readers they didn’t really know how to begin.  I would have to stop the recording to explain they could tell me anything:  books they enjoyed, authors they loved, favorite spaces to read, topics they liked to read about, where they liked to get books, who read to them - anything.  There were so many possible answers, but still they struggled to respond.  Strengths and goals came easier as we talked about these in our reading time each day.  It was at this time that I knew I needed to do a better job of helping my students to see themselves as readers and to begin to think about their reading lives.

Our Reading Lives
This is my second year working as a reading specialist supporting primary readers.  These young readers receive intervention to help them make quick gains.  Of course, this work requires teaching of many aspects of the reading process, but the part that is equally important is often the first part that gets lost in busy schedules:  developing a reading life.  Readers receiving support often have less time than peers for real reading.  It’s not uncommon for them to spend more time in groups and be given the books they are to read at home.  This leaves little time for them to find themselves as readers.

As a classroom teacher, there are so many more opportunities to support conversations around our literate lives than in the thirty minutes I have with students each day.  When I was a classroom teacher, my students kept track of the books they took home each evening.  While this helped us when books were temporarily misplaced, I found its greatest purpose was in talking about our choices in our reading lives.  Since students chose their own book to take home each evening, it became a place to begin our conversations about reading choices.  By looking at the recorded titles we could discuss the types of books selected.  Did students have favorite authors, topics, genres, or other interests?  We could also discuss the level of challenge of selections.  Were students selecting books of appropropriate challenge?  The record allowed us to look for patterns and push ourselves to grow past our places of comfort.  In reading intervention, I needed to find a way to create these same opportunities in smaller windows of time.

Rewind to my first year in reading intervention.  Families were used to a calendar that was to be initialed each evening to show students had read.  As I didn't want my students to be discouraged by the cumbersome work of writing titles, I decided to continue the practice of a calendar signature.  It wasn't long, however, until I was missing the benefits of archiving our reading history.  Without keeping track of the titles students had read, I couldn't consider their choices.  We couldn't talk about favorite titles or books that didn't really work.  We couldn't push past our places of comfort.  Most of all, I don’t think students realized how much reading they were really doing.  They weren’t seeing themselves as they readers they were becoming.  I knew I needed to find a better way to help students get to know themselves and archiving their reading life seemed a good place to start.  

Archiving Our Reading History 
There is much debate about keeping reading logs, and I am not talking about a logging system.  In an extensive search I could find little written to support their use in a classroom.  I think this is because often logs are used as a measure of accountability.  Students are given a particular system, often parents are expected to sign and enforce, and parameters are placed on reading.  This is really the opposite of what we hope to accomplish.  We really hope our systems will ignite a fire in our readers, yet this rarely happens.  Unintentionally we seem to discourage our real readers and frustrate those we are trying to bring on board. We hope our systems will:

  • encourage student ownership of reading
  • provide opportunities for choice and self-selection
  • connect home and school reading
  • help readers connect with other readers
  • open a world of reading opportunity for our students
  • begin conversations around reading with peers and in our reading communities
  • help students to grow into different types of reading
  • shift students toward intentional decision making
  • make students more metacognitive about their reading lives
  • most of all, fall in love with reading

This year I wrestled for weeks about archiving reading.  There are systems available through sites like Bookopolis and Biblionasium.  There are possibilities for keeping track of reading in writing or using Google docs.  I didn't want a cumbersome system, but I did want to be able to talk about choices.  I don’t think the vehicle matters as much as the purpose.  

I did want these readers to realize how much reading they were doing across a year.  I wanted them to begin to see themselves as the readers I knew they were.  I wanted them to be able to talk about the books they were choosing.  I wanted them to tell me about favorite books, authors, and genres.  I knew I wasn’t concerned about the parent signature.  Yes, I needed to get parents to help support reading at home, but it seemed to me I needed something better than a signature on a calendar.  Honestly, I knew I had students the previous year who hadn’t read, but had signed calendars and those that had read in which calendars remained unsigned.  I decided to help these readers grow their reading lives I needed to start with them.  I needed to help them own their lives as readers, connect with others, and learn to talk about books.  

To accomplish this, it seemed I needed to start with two changes.  First of all, I felt I needed to work within classroom take home systems.  Many of the students I work with are able to self-select books so I helping them to learn to make smart choices seems something I shouldn’t overlook.  Secondly, I wanted a way they could archive their reading so that they could reflect on their reading lives.

Our Reading Walls
After much consideration I decided to create reading walls for each student on Padlet.  There are many ways I could have accomplished having a reading archive, but I wanted something students would be able to own and would have continuous access. Padlet seemed an easy way to keep track of the books we were reading. We could take pictures of our books to add to our wall and easily add text or links as well.

  • Each student has their own digital reading wall.
  • Students have a QR code that will take them directly to their wall attached to their reading bags. This goes home with them each evening and is in the classroom during the day.
  • Students just snap a picture of their book selection and place it on their wall.
  • This creates a reading archive or record of some of the reading they have been doing and provides a starting point for continued conversation about our reading lives.

Growing Our Walls
I would never want a system that makes students not want to read.  The ease of this system should make it seamless.  We will only be adding the books students are selecting for home reading.  Using Padlet will allow students to grow their walls in new ways if they choose to do so.  For me, it is important they are able to make the choices about how they will use their wall. Some ways I envision readers might want to grow their wall:

  • adding books read in class
  • adding books read beyond the school day
  • staging pictures of books read in favorite spaces
  • adding comments about books
  • including a personal written book recommendation
  • adding links to more information about the book
  • writing reflections on paper or in digital spaces and link them to the wall

If our goal is to truly help readers to develop their reading lives, we have to ask hard questions about our systems for home reading.  Who is choosing the books?  Are students required to do certain reading?  How are students keeping track of reading?  Are our systems cumbersome for students?  Do our systems free students up to read or distract from our intent? I'm hoping I've found an authentic way for students to archive their reading histories to allow for purposeful conversation about the choices we make in our reading lives.


  1. Wow. What a fun and thoughtful way to use Padlet, Cathy. I have so missed you and am glad to be catching up a bit. I will be sharing this post. xo

  2. This is such an amazing idea - It is a visual book log that is purposeful, authentic and motivating for students. We can't wait to share this idea with teachers.

  3. I love this, Cathy! Such a great way to document students' reading lives in a motivating way! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Cathy, this is wonderful! I use Padlet in different ways, but never thought to use it as a portfolio of sorts. I love how students can easily contribute and teachers/parents can respond and see the reading wall grow. I can't wait to share this with my graduate students!

  5. I'm super excited to read this, Cathy. I started working in Padlet with 4th graders a few weeks back, and today we talked about where, when, & what when it comes to reading. Hooray for your post - now I can work on combining all our book talk and book love in one spot. Thanks, as always!