The home reading journal, reading diary, reading record - call it what you ruddy will - my 9-year-old daughter has dutifully carried it back and forth in her bag since she started primary school. She has dutifully completed it and I have dutifully signed it. Until this week.
This week I did more than bloody sign it. I scribbled two pages and five-years-worth of pent-up irritation inside it. Because this year, they say, they want her to write in it at least four times a week - two of them a paragraph or more, two of them giving the page numbers she's read - and I've had enough.
I admit ranting and raving inside her journal isn't the best way to express myself, or even fair. I'm not actually angry with the teacher. I'm angry with the system, the lack of thought, the lack of reasoning. Because frankly, the way I see it, the psychology behind reading journals is warped.
Take my daughter, for instance. She's the type of kid who loves to read: novels, non-fiction, picture books, books nicked from my bedside table. I caught her reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus the other day. She sucks them up like the Incredible Book Eating Boy, digests them, revisits them and regurgitates the thoughts and knowledge they have given her readily and often. So if the purpose of a reading journal is to get children to practise reading until they're good at it, until they enjoy it, job done. Big fat tick. Let's move on.
Writing in her reading journal has simply become a tedious chore which interferes with the pleasure she gets from reading. In fact, it is in danger of making her read less, not more.
I mean, put yourself in the same situation. You've just gone to bed. You can't wait to read some of the book you've got on the go. It's a real can't-put-it-downer. You read thirty pages or so and then decide you really ought to get some sleep. You're just settling down when a little voice pops up in your head: Haven't you forgotten something? You know the rules. Always write in your book journal after you've read... Really? F*ck. You wish you hadn't read any now. You should have watched some crap TV instead.
So what about the other type of kid? The reluctant reader? I have one of those too. My son, now 16, has only ever read one whole book of his own free will in his entire childhood - Diary of a Wimpy Kid - unless you count the aviation books he liked to pore over when he was on the toilet. He has learnt the mechanics of reading absolutely fine, but it's not his idea of pleasure. Did the reading journal he had to complete week in, week out, for seven years of primary school get him into reading? Quite the reverse.
For these kids, the reading journal is even more of a chore and even more likely to build up a negative association with reading, because they are often the same kids who dislike or struggle with writing. What? You want me to read and then I have to write about it too? Arrrgh... It put my son off reading. Reading at home was something he did only because he had to fill out the reading journal. Anyway, he must have been thinking, if you want me to read so much, it obviously isn't something you do for fun.
Of course kids need to learn to read and get good at it. Because not being able to do so is a disability in life, a complete pain in the arse. But if schools want to get kids to practise reading and foster a love of books, there are so many better, more creative and positive ways to do it. How about 'Show and Tell' with books rather than toys, or class 'Book Groups' where they read and discuss the same book? If the aim of a book journal is also to get kids to practise writing about the books they've read, why not get them to write recommendations - like the ones you sometimes see in bookshops - that could be pinned up next to books in the school library, or teach them how to write a proper book review? Let's not reduce a bloody good read to an admin task.
It gets worse. A friend told me that at her child's school, if children don't complete their reading journal, they are made to stay in at playtime and...read! Using reading as a punishment is likely to build up a positive association with books as quickly as if you'd bashed them over the head with one.
Who thinks this stuff up? As I said, the psychology is warped.
Claire Potter blogs at The Quirky Parent.