#3TTWorkshop — How to Hold Students (and Ourselves) Accountable for Reading

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Reading accountability and grading our students’ reading goes hand in hand. Both are parts of a workshop classroom that can seem daunting, and sometimes we have to be flexible until we figure out what works well for our students and for us. Let’s start the conversation with accountability.

How do you hold students accountable for their reading?

Amy:  More than any other year, holding students accountable for their reading is driving me crazy. I’ve tried passing a clipboard like I learned from Penny Kittle. Many of my students cannot get their heads wrapped around a simple “Write down the page number you are on” and then “tally your reading for the week.” I see my students for half a class period on Mondays and then every other day the rest of the week. Seems if they miss the chart at the first of the week they never get it caught up.

Last year I tried an online reading chart. Each student had a page in a spreadsheet that I asked them to keep updated. I gave them a couple of minutes in class right after independent reading time. That worked a little better, but it was more difficult for me to access at a glance. I really like to get a true state of the class.

The past few weeks, I’ve started walking around on Mondays and recording page numbers myself. I decided to try this since my students were moving into book club reading. I can see if they are on target with the reading goal for their groups. It’s worked better, but this is not the kind of accountability I want to inspire in my readers. I’ve made myself the accountable one, and I am outnumbered.

Jackie: I’ve had a love-hate relationship with accountability like you, Amy.  The initial passing-around-the-clipboard method did not work for me either.  I shifted to checking individually two years ago.  I have a spreadsheet in which I enter their page numbers and reading rates on Mondays.  The spreadsheet then immediately calculates the percentage they completed and whether they fulfilled their reading rate for the week.  It isn’t a perfect system and I would much rather be conferencing with students instead of checking page numbers, but there are both pros and cons.

On the bright side, I do like checking in with every student on Mondays, and with a class of 24, it takes me about 13-15 minutes to record pages for the entire class.  The other benefit is that I also immediately know when students didn’t complete the number of pages they were capable of reading for that week.  Instead of telling them they didn’t complete the assignment though, we have a conversation about their reading overall.

Honestly, for my freshmen, this form of accountability is key.  It is less important for my AP Literature students, but I enjoy walking through the class every Monday, touching base with every student, and ultimately starting my week off by acknowledging their reading successes.

Amy:  Like you, Jackie, I do enjoy checking in with every student on Monday morning. The time is a trade off though, since I try to hold reading conferences when students are silently reading. I just don’t feel like I have the time to really talk to my students who are not getting their reading time in (That might be the crux of my frustration — I have too many students still not doing enough reading), and now meeting with each student for a longer reading conference on a regular basis takes that much longer. Seems like time eats my lunch every day.

I ask my AP Language students to read three hours a week in their self-selected books each week. Some students read voraciously, and I find these readers don’t necessarily like keeping track of the pages they read each week. I love that they read because they want to — something I hope for all my students, so I do not want to penalize them for not marking an accountability chart.

Besides just noting how many pages students read each week, what other accountability structures do you have in place?

Amy:  In our writer’s notebooks, we keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish. We also pull vocabulary words –5 words a week — from our independent reading to put in our personal dictionaries. I know you and Shana just discussed vocab last week.

This year as another accountability piece,  I started asking students to complete an occasional reading one-pager. I have mixed feelings about this because I know the value of reading for reading’s sake, but marking the reading chart wasn’t working, and I have a difficult time conferring as often as I’d like. I also need my students to practice writing about literature. All they want to do is summarize, and the one-pager is one way to help them move beyond that.

I hope to get my students to think about accountability as self-evaluation. We talk a lot about the reason for reading:  We build fluency, acquire vocabulary, gain empathy, and learn information. “How has your reading this week helped you do that?”

Jackie: We also keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish.  Students add to their “Books Read” list at the beginning of their writer’s notebook and they check off the books they complete.  Students also pull four words per week from their independent reading and log them in their WNB dictionaries.

Like you, I tried one pagers from Kelly Gallagher two years ago, but they were difficult to track and my strongest readers oftentimes slowed down their reading to avoid the one pagers.  I believe they can work, but I haven’t found a perfect fit just yet.  My AP Literature students do keep a critical reading journal (CRJ), which I started using this year thanks to Sheridan Steelman’s help.  Sheri is a phenomenal AP Literature teacher I met at UNH Literacy Institute.  Her structuring of CRJs has helped me gain even further insight into my AP Lit students’ needs and successes.

At the end of the day, my greatest source of information comes from the conferences I have with my students.  Students want to talk about their books, and it is a pleasure to sit beside them and learn every day.

So how do you grade your students on their reading?  

Jackie:  My school has competency based grading, so I file reading initiative grades under “formative assessments.”  I look at reading time as purely formative in the sense that it is necessary practice time for students to explore their interests while also building reading stamina.

Students in my CP Freshman English class must read two hours in their independent reading books while students in my AP Literature class must read three hours.  Each student has an individual reading rate, which they calculate and recalculate throughout the year. I adjust their reading times based on whether or not students are completing whole class or literature circle novels.  Students then receive a weekly reading initiative grade out of 20 points.  At the end of the day though, this structure is in place to help students carve out time for reading.  

One of the greatest complaints from my AP Lit students at the beginning of the year was that they didn’t have time to read anymore.  They loved it but it had been a long time since they’d picked a book on their own.  After a quarter of independent reading, Jessica said, “I love independent reading.  It gives me a break from everything” while Claudia said, “I have read more this quarter than I have in the past year.”

Amy:  I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for reading. I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for a lot of the work we do in class, but that is a topic for another day. All my little reading checks equate to a reading grade, all formative, except for a self-evaluation of their reading lives students complete about every nine weeks — that’s a summative assessment I model after a reading ladders assignment I learned from Penny Kittle.

Really, when it comes to grades, if my students show me growth and improvement, the grading is easy. It’s all about moving as readers. Eventually, most students come to realize that — and they thank me for making reading matter again.

How do you handle reading accountability and reading grades in your workshop classroom? Please add to the conversation by making a comment.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.


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15 thoughts on “#3TTWorkshop — How to Hold Students (and Ourselves) Accountable for Reading

  1. […] wrestle with accountability, making the right choices, bankrupting our personal finances, moving in new directions, providing […]


  2. Survival Strategy: Return to Structure | January 3, 2017 at 7:26 am Reply

    […] but I don’t take their reading time. It’s just that important. However, holding them accountable for their reading outside of class? That’s a never ending battle. I’m going to get back to students […]


  3. Elly Cantrell Gilbert December 2, 2015 at 9:26 am Reply

    What I have found that works for me is to send the kids a Google form to complete every Monday. I ask what page they are on in their book, how many pages they read this week (I put that in a spreadsheet later), plus I ask some questions about how the reading is going, are there any problems they are having with their book/their goal, how can I help them, and if they enjoyed what they read this week. It takes maybe five minutes for them to do and then all the responses come to me on a spreadsheet. I just copy the form each week with a new date and add/revise any questions that I feel are pertinent. I base my conferences on their responses, and they get a grade on the percent of their page per week goal.

    On Tuesdays, they have tasks they get to choose from– I basically hijacked these from a Penny Kittle handout and made them into a task sheet– based on writing craft, text structures, literary elements, etc. Students choose a task to complete based on their book and turn in their brief analysis. I’ve gotten some really good thinking/writing from them. Our workshop is kind of in its infancy, so I’m sure to experience some growing pains!


  4. steelmsl November 14, 2015 at 8:07 am Reply

    I’d like to weigh in here – the best accountability structure I’ve had this year (aside from the Monday morning checks that Penny Kittle suggests) has been through weekly conferring. I have a teacher assistant this year, so my conferring has been doubled because we can do 6 each time if we hold our conferring to five minutes each. This year students bring their critical reading journals as well as the book they are reading. They share their active reading notes with me for books of higher literary merit and show me how they keep their heads in the game with more difficult books. Sometimes they share character lists, story boards, quotes, plot diagrams, sketches, doodles – whatever helps them understand what is happening. Mostly, readers need to STOP AND REFLECT on what they are reading to help them go a little deeper with their reading. Unfortunately, that’s not what my students seem to want to do! The tendency is to barrel through the reading as they do with many young adult novels. I tried modeling how this worked for me when I was reading The Orphan Master’s Son. I stopped about 75 pages in and started to diagram my thinking and discovered how many references to darkness I remembered: night, tunnels, black bags. I hadn’t even thought about it until I stopped and began to write. What I’m trying to say is that I have begun to share my own writing much more often and holding students accountable by having them share theirs during conferring time. Sheridan


    • ckiley4 November 14, 2015 at 11:06 am Reply


      Do you coach your students on how to respond in their journal to their reading? Do you have certain structures for how and when they respond? Would love to hear more as I’m struggling with this aspect of reading! Thanks!


    • jackiecatcher November 15, 2015 at 4:39 pm Reply

      Sheridan, thank you so so much for your insight and input! I’m so happy you can be part of this conversation since, as I said in the blog post, your help has helped guide me in so many ways. I hope your year is going well; I’ll e-mail you to catch up!


  5. skrajewski November 11, 2015 at 2:23 pm Reply

    I love this post, for I struggle with reading accountability too. I also have to give a grade, though I wish I didn’t. The tech integrator at my school helped me create a spreadsheet I can use to write down what page students are on each day I see them. I’m willing to do it, for I want them to only worry about the reading itself. Like Penny Kittle suggested in Book Love, my students aim to read two hours per week. They get the first 15 minutes of each class to put toward the two hours. Since I have to give them grades, I give them 20 points per week. 10 points are for simply reading during those 15 minutes of class time. The other 10 is for meeting their page goals. This way if a student only reads in class, he/she can still get a 15/20. My students also keep track of their titles in Goodreads. This way they have an ever growing list and an online reading community with me and their classmates. My biggest struggle is with conferencing! I try to meet with students after they finish a book, but I just don’t have time for more than one student, if that, in the 15 minutes each day. I’ve thought about setting up required conference times during Homeroom and after school. I haven’t tried it yet though. How do you find time to talk to kids one on one about books?


    • Colleen November 11, 2015 at 7:06 pm Reply

      I use the 15 minutes of independent reading to briefly conference with a few students. I do this at any stage of their reading–looking for a new book, part way through a book, or finished. It allows me to discuss many different aspects and moments of the reading process with students. I find that even a two minute check in can do wonders to your relationship with a student and quickly improves their reading, because they know you are checking in. This has been my greatest tool for accountability–they know I want to talk to them about their reading! And they’re not afraid to admit when a book isn’t working for them–they know I’ll just suggest a new title. As they grow confidence in themselves and trust in me to find them the right book, their reading abilities grow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • skrajewski November 11, 2015 at 7:08 pm Reply

        I do that too, probably a lot more often than I think. Do you keep notes about all of them?

        Liked by 1 person

      • jackiecatcher November 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm Reply

        I keep notes as I go along, but it has been a process of seeing what I keep track of and where I go with it. I tend to jot down books I’d recommend, genres they like, things I should look for when they’re discussing their comprehension later on, etc. I agree with you Colleen that even two minute check ins work wonders, especially with many young students who need that face time. My freshmen, particularly at the beginning of the year when they’re the neediest, crave that sort of recognition.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Amy November 11, 2015 at 8:48 pm Reply

      I love Goodreads myself, and I introduce students to it, but I don’t hold them accountable for using it. I tried that one year, and it was just another thing for me to keep track of. I need my students to want to be accountable. That’s my idealism shining through.

      Like Colleen says she does, I try to confer with a few students during independent reading time. In 15 minutes I can meet with at least two kids — I wish I could talk faster, but I rarely can get to three students in 15 minutes. I keep track of these on a conferring chart I created. I also confer a lot while standing at the book shelves. These are informal but have huge bang for the buck.

      I really like your point system for reading grades. I may have to adopt something like that.

      Thank you for the comment! Best to you and your students.


      • Colleen November 12, 2015 at 5:58 am Reply

        I am inconsistent about keeping notes! Sometimes I do I jot a note to myself, like “find a hunting book for Joe” but more often, I do not take notes.

        Amy, I would love ego see your conferring chart…or maybe it’s already on the blog? Is it like the one you posted for writing conferences?

        Thanks all, I really enjoy and appreciate these conversations and flow of ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Amy November 12, 2015 at 6:29 am Reply

          I haven’t posted my chart yet. I will soon. Still revising. It’ll go I’m my book.
          I love these conversations, too. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences. So valuable and so needed.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. jhuber2015 November 11, 2015 at 7:23 am Reply

    This is exactly what we are talking about in our book study on Book Love this month. I take student page number aloud at least three times a week. I keep track in a Google doc and they keep track of books they have completed on a book genre sheet. This works really well in my classroom. Other students get a chance to hear what others are reading and if they are liking it. I will often ask short questions to students when I ask their page numbers. So students may be opened up to a few books they want to read every day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy November 11, 2015 at 8:37 pm Reply

      I love any kind of talk that allows students to hear what others are reading. Curious, you say you ask questions, is this how you confer, or do you hold formal conferences, too.

      Thanks for the comment!


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