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Happy Easter weekend! I have Good Friday and Easter Monday off this weekend, for which I am so thankful. I’m using the time to get caught up on some books on my Libby app that have been waiting to be read, as well as getting some things done around the house (I hope!).
To be honest, I debated until the last minute whether I would post the next installment of our Things Good Readers Do series today or wait until next weekend, because I have some book lists brewing that I can’t wait to share with you. However, following the plan won out, so here’s the next habit of good readers: setting goals and tracking reading.
(Actually, that’s kind of two habits. But they go so well together and are very closely related, so I decided I’d put them into the same post. Just call it Two-for-one Saturday! You’re welcome 🙂 )
Now, for the Type A and/or Enneagram 1 and 3 (and 5 and 6?) types, the title of this post probably sounds great. For our more footloose and fancy-free friends, setting goals and tracking something might make you shudder. I hope you hang in with me, though, because it will be worth your while.
To those who just read what they feel like reading, I agree that there is something to be said for not always following a plan when reading. I will readily admit that while I do have goals, I also read what I feel like reading, too. The books I feel like reading are important because otherwise reading becomes a have to instead of a want to. As we’ve talked about in previous posts, the only “ought” about reading is that it ought to be a joy. So I try to go back and forth between books I know I’ll be glad I read and books I just feel like reading because it’s, as my sisters and I call them, “fluff books.”
Even if you’re in the “I only read whatever I want” camp, keeping track of what you read and setting goals can actually be really good for readers.
Set Goals and Track Your Reading
First, let’s take a brief look at setting goals for your reading.
What kind of goals do good readers set?
For example, good readers set goals for reading:
- the number of books they want to read per week/month/year
- the genre or type of books they want to read
- books by a variety of authors (perhaps by ethnicity, race, gender, or culture)
- books before or after a given publication date
- books they already own
- books on a classics list
- books chosen by a book club
Really, the possibilities are endless. It depends on you and how you’d like to grow as a reader.
“But why must I set goals? Can’t I just read what I want?” you might ask.
I used to think just like you, about three or four years ago. Reading was my escape, and setting goals for reading was not something I had the time or energy for. I hadn’t done that since participating in the summer reading challenges at my library when I was a kid. (By the way, why don’t they continue those for college students and adults? Or do they? If your library does, please tell me in the comments!)
That all changed when a friend recommended Modern Mrs. Darcy to me. This friend actually was just telling me about the daily Kindle book sales that the website sends if you’re on the email list. That’s how I got started following Anne’s blog. But I soon realized that she was giving some great suggestions for how to be more satisfied with what, how, and how much I read.
Reading had been such a private and personal endeavor to me for so long, I didn’t realize other people had such similar experiences as me. That was a bit ignorant of me, I suppose, but in my world, I didn’t yet know who the other bookworms were or that they sometimes got stuck in reading ruts and reading slumps too. I hadn’t really reflected on my reading; it was just something I did.
However, I reflected enough to realize I was only ever reading books from a very specific sub-genre.
Actually, for someone who has always been an avid reader, I had a few years where I didn’t have the best relationship with books. I couldn’t seem to branch out and find other worthwhile books. I wasn’t really sure how to. I didn’t want to waste the precious reading time I had on books that I didn’t like or had content that was trigger-filled, so trying new type of books seemed really risky and/or a potential time-sucker without the satisfaction of having read a really good book.
I had this niggling thought in my head that I was missing out on some really great books in other genres. If I could only find them.
It felt like my options were to to read boring books (nonfiction), books with heavy and dark themes (classics) or books I liked (historical fiction Christian romance).
With the help of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s year-long, 12-book reading challenge, I started to branch out. I mean, hey, if I read 12 books that weren’t in my regular niche, that was great progress compared to zero.
Without realizing it, I started developing my own reader habit of how to find good books – and actually started spending time every few weeks or so looking at recommendations and reviews to see if it would be worth trying.
If you are stuck in a rut, or wish you were reading more or different books, setting a reading goal – and tracking it – is my recommended cure.
Yes, reading books you like is important. But as I tell my students, when you try new things, you might surprise yourself with what kinds of books you like.
For instance, I barely ever ever ever read any nonfiction prior to starting on reading goal adventures. I thought they were all categorically boring.
Turns out, they’re actually not! I just had to set goals in line with topics I already enjoy learning about rather than topics other people find interesting. Now I read a few nonfiction books every month – and enjoy it! (See images below for examples)
Think about it this way: If you don’t set fitness goals, you may or may not already have some habits in place that will help you work out a few times a week. However, if you want to intentionally exercise more and get in shape, setting a reasonable goal and making a plan to get there is the best way to do it.
Same with any other aspect of life – including reading.
How do I teach and practice this habit?
As with any goal, your reading goal needs to be S.M.A.R.T:
Sidenote: There are actually different words people use, especially for the A and R of this acronym, but these are ones that go best with reading-related goals.
For instance, if you haven’t read more than 4 books in a year, it would not be an attainable goal to aim for, say,125 books this year. Perhaps you could set a goal of 5, or 7, or 12.
Instead of a number, perhaps you want to read a specific type of genre or titles from a certain book list. Great! Do it.
If you’d like ideas for setting your own reading goals, take a look at my post on 2021 reading challenges, do a quick Google search, or look at your favorite book bloggers. Most of them are hosting or participating in one (or more!) challenges. Or set your own! Like I said earlier, the possibilities are endless.
With my students, I’ve set a goal that is a combination of an amount and genres of books.
For the number, I set the goal of 40 books for students within a school year, based on Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer ideas. Keep in mind that kids’ books are shorter (especially nonfiction books) so this is fairly attainable for most students. They won’t all meet the goal, but it can push them to read far more than they would have otherwise. Plus, when they read for at least 15 minutes a day in school, plus more at home, they’re spending enough time reading they should be able to get close (or surpass it).
For the genres, I picked some of the most common genres and types of books and put the number anywhere between two and five books for each, for a total of 40 books.
Here are the genres and book types I use with them:
- Realistic Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Graphic novels
- Fairy Tales and Folk Tales
- Nonfiction science
- Nonfiction history
- Nonfiction – other
When students balk at the idea of having to read all these kinds of genres, I tell them my experience. Or I relate it to trying new food: you can’t say you don’t like it until you try it. And, after trying it, you might not enjoy it. But at least you’ll know from experience.
I also tell them that, while I want them to try new genres, I do understand being in the middle of a series, or already having a favorite genre. So if they read 35 fantasy books and 5 books from other genres, that’s okay.
The ultimate goal of mine is to get them to read and to like it.
But I also don’t want kids to miss out on the amazing books awaiting them in other genres, so I try to coax and coach them out of their preferred genre at least a few times in the year.
To explain all of this to them, I show them the way that they will be tracking their reading.
This is why tracking reading goes so well with goal-setting: how do you know you’ve met your goal if you aren’t keeping track?
The below picture is linked to the Google slide I made for my students to track the genres they read. I also made a document that is a list for them to write down the title and author, the date they completed it, and whether or not the book was too easy, just right or too hard. However, since I used the exact format of the Reading List found in appendix 13 of Fountas and Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6, I’m not providing a link to it here.
The kids glue these in their interactive reading notebooks, and for the Reading List (not pictured), when they’ve filled up one page, they glue in another.
I chose to create a document and print these out because overall, everyone will stay more organized if the table is pre-made.
However, if you’re at home, you could easily grab a lined or graph notebook and create the table yourself. It would surely save paper, if not time.
I tell students to write the books down as soon as they start reading them, because otherwise they a) forget to write it down at all b) start it and abandon it and then don’t remember what it was called.
It’s important to me that I see how many books they’re abandoning so I can know when to step in and offer book recommendations.
Let’s talk a bit more about tracking reading at home:
What, exactly, needs to be tracked?
The three main things to track with reading are:
- Books you’d like to read (to be read, commonly called a TBR)
- Books you finished – and what you thought of them
- Books you did not finish (commonly called DNF’ing)
First, tracking reading helps you know your progress on meeting your goals. Having a TBR list helps you remember titles that you might want to read next based on your goals. Many readers find that they can’t immediately pick up a title that they hear about, so it helps to have a dedicated spot to write those titles down to remember for later (whether for meeting your goals, or for reading what you feel like reading).
Second, tracking your reading helps you see patterns. Looking for and finding patterns in your reading can help you get to know yourself better in terms of what you enjoy and don’t enjoy, which in turn helps you find more books that you’ll really like. Since people grow and change over time, it’s not a good idea to assume that you’ll only ever like, say, graphic novels or YA fantasy fiction.
For instance, here are some patterns I’ve noticed in my own reading over the past few years.
- I really enjoy memoirs as a nonfiction genre
- I appreciate narrators who are tongue-in-cheek and address the reader at various points
- WWII historical fiction is still a favorite genre of mine
- Personal finance and productivity/time management books are another area of interest
- I tend to read the latest and greatest since I see so many book recommendations of new books (thank you, social media-based marketing)
- I don’t read many older books (but would like to)
- I abandon books when they are too scary or have pure evil creatures in them (oh fantasy, sometimes you fail me)
Third, tracking your reading helps you easily find the title and author of a great book you want to recommend to others – or lets you tell them you recommend that they avoid it. I am notorious for reading books so quickly that I barely register the title, let alone the author, and might even forget which events happened in which book in a series. Especially when it’s an ebook. Laughably sad, but true.
However, now that I’ve been tracking my reading for a few years, including ratings and reviews, I can just grab my phone and scroll through til I find the book I’m trying to think of. My reviews help jog my memory about the book so I rememer why I liked/disliked it so much. I have no idea how I’d remember all the books I read if I wasn’t keeping track of them.
How can you track your reading at home?
For those who like easy 1-2-3 steps to follow, I’m sorry to disappoint you: there is no right or wrong way to track your reading. It really depends on what works for you – as in, what you’ll actually remember and make time to use.
I do have a few examples and suggestions for you, though.
My most important suggestion is this: if you’ve never tracked your reading before, keep it simple. You’re far more likely to track your reading consistently if your method isn’t too time-consuming or complicated.
- Dedicate a specific notebook to track your reading (or your child’s reading). Perhaps you want a section for a TBR list and another section for tracking the books you read or abandon. Be sure you have a way of rating or reviewing what you read.
- Print out a personalized book list: My older sister types up and prints off a list of books she wants to read, and then pencils in more books as she goes. She also crosses books off once she has read them. It’s a simple TBR and books-I-finished list all in one.
- Use a printable reading journal. Modern Mrs. Darcy has one you might check out.
If your child (or perhaps you) has no idea what to put on a TBR list, start by thinking of interests that you have: sports, history, technology, space travel, etc. Then work on finding some books on those topics – whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. All you really need to include are the author and title (and, perhaps, genre).
Most kids just read one book at a time, so having them write down books they’d like to read helps train them for when they grow older and find that their TBR list is too long to finish in their lifetime. (And yet that knowledge doesn’t stop us from trying…)
Mercy, there are so many choices here! There are all sorts of spreadsheets and apps out there with various degrees of detail in the stats they track. Some of the spreadsheets track details down to the gender of the author and publication date. But again, my recommendation is to keep it simple.
- Goodreads app/website– this is my preference for tracking what I’d like to read and what I’ve read. I don’t use it so much for the social aspect of it; rather I use it because it’s convenient.
- It already has ways to mark books as TBR, currently reading, and finished. (I created my own shelf for my DNF’d books.)
- It keeps track of some (very basic) stats automatically so I don’t have to manually enter them every time I finish a book. I use this mostly to track my numerical goal for the year.
- It’s visual, since it uses images of the book covers. I can much more easily find a book I’m looking for by the book cover rather than scanning through rows of a spreadsheet
- It’s not perfect, but it works for me. Some day, I might switch to a spreadsheet, to personalize the data that I collect. The data lover in me wants to, but the pragmatist in me knows now is not the time.
- Your own spreadsheet or Word document table – I’ve used a Word document for my specific genre goals the last few years. I write down titles that sound interesting and would fit the criteria and then mark which I ended up counting for that goal.
- Someone else’s spreadsheet – You might want to look at Your Words My Ink, Book Riot or maybe this one, which seems a little simpler. Whatever you do, make sure you keep it simple to start with. You can always add more stats to track later.
- Another app you find that you like – Here are some reviews on apps to get you started.
Whether you or your child function best with analog or digital, the important thing is that you track your reading somehow.
Tips for Grownups at Home
Phew, that was a lot of information up there. Let me give a few succinct suggestions for how you can help your child learn to track their reading.
I recommend a paper and pencil option – for ease of access, and because I am not a fan of kids using screens any more than they have to.
For the littlest tykes, you’ll have to help them a lot with setting goals and tracking their reading. That’s okay. If you help them start early, they’ll make it a habit – which is the whole point of this series! 🙂
As they get older, they’ll be able to do it more on their own, with some monitoring from you.
- choose either a printable journal or a lined notebook for tracking your child’s reading.
- Keep the journal in the same place so it doesn’t get lost. Train your child to return it to its spot when finished updating it.
- Have your child track the 3 things above: TBR, books they finish, and books they abandon.
- Create a simple rating system for your child to use. An example: a sad face for books they didn’t like, a straight face for okay books, and a smiley face for books they really liked. They can just pencil in the corresponding rating next to the book title.
- when little, you’ll probably need to do the writing for them
- When older, do periodic checks on their notebooks – perhaps once every week or two
- Talk with them about their ratings and why they did/didn’t like each book
- Notice patterns in their reading, and then point those patterns out to your young reader. This will help them see the patterns too!
How do you track your reading? Do you have a specific app or spreadsheet that you use and love? Let me know in the comments!