Reading, Teaching, Learning

Thursday, June 21, 2012

40 Book Challenge

     That's too many books.  They can't do it.  It's too much pressure.  Parents will be mad.  These are the excuses I made to avoid Donalyn Miller's idea in  The Book Whisperer  to challenge students to read 40 books during the school year, even when some of my colleagues were saying it was successful.  Finally, and I don't really know why, I decided to take the risk.  I proposed the challenge at the beginning of the year, and we glued in the list template into reader notebooks with the various genre categories.  I saw some stressed faces on some of the kids, while others wore expressions of eagerness to get started.  I decided to focus on the eager reactions so I wouldn't get stressed myself.  I let the kids count audio books, classroom read aloud novels, magazines if read cover to cover, and some picture books that covered the informational and traditional literature genres. 

     At first, I won't lie, I graded their progress.  I know Donalyn discourages that practice, but I just couldn't help myself.  I still felt like I needed to control and assess the process in a traditional way.  Giving grades seemed to be the only way I thought I could keep the kids accountable and make the kids and parents who need that kind of feedback happy.  I could see that strategy backfiring, however. Surprise, surprise.   It started to turn into a job, a homework requirement, and frankly, a drag - for them AND for me.  I started to get e-mails from parents who were anxious about it, and I realized this was turning into a traditional assignment instead of an exciting way to invite kids to read all kinds of books.  So I quit grading it.

     Lo and behold, it worked.  My students were reading tons and loving it.  They discovered new genres and authors.  I got to know tthe kids as readers in ways I never had before.  Some made it a competition with others, but I didn't consider that necessarily a bad thing.  I also began a Mock Newbery Club 2013 to further encourage the reading of quality books and to teach them how to evaluate the characteristics that make a book a Newbery contender.  That helped put more books into the hands of eager readers.  During the last week of school, we added up the total number of books we read (thinking back, I should've added MY books into the total - oh well - that's what next year is for).  The grand total between two classes was over 2,000 books.  Not all the kids made it to 40 books, and not all the kids read all the genres, but I realized that wasn't the point.  Most of them read more books that 5th grade school year than any other school year.  A lot of them had read their new favorite books, their new favorite authors, or discovered they enjoyed a new genre.  The Newbery Club members had sophisticated conversations about writing and reading, and they were recommending books to each other.  We celebrated using one of Donalyn's ideas.  The kids decorated signs with the number of books they read and their favorite titles.  We went outside on a beautiful, sunny day, took pictures, and ate a chocolate chip cookie cake a parent made in honor of the challenge.  Next year, I'm going to tweak it a little, of course (I may re-name it 40 Book Invitation), because that's what we do as teachers...make a colleague's great idea a little more of our own, get to know our new students and what works for them, and say a little prayer that they end the year better than when they started.




14 comments:

  1. Oh, how I love this. A childhood classmate of mine now teaches fifth grade and is doing something similar in her classroom (I'll have to asked if she was inspired by The Book Whisperer). She has baskets of books in different genres for the kids to choose from and a specific number of books they're to read during the year. I was impressed and encouraged to see when challenged in this way how the kids read so broadly and so well.

    It was a delight to visit Ms. Little's classroom as a guest author. I've never had better, more insightful questions.

    Love those proud posters, by the way. What a bunch!

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  2. DANGER! DANGER! This makes me miss teaching!!! There's not much better in life than getting kids excited about reading! And to be allowed to just read for the fun it -- no grades attached... Holly, is that even legal! Ü Keep up the good work. Kings is sooooooo lucky to have snatched you up.

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    1. I'm excited to be a part of Kings and can't wait to start!

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  3. It's ideas like this that make me wish I were still a school librarian, surrounded by terrific teachers like you! I love the pictures of those enthusiastic readers. They are going to remember this school year for a long time.

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    1. Your book was part of our Mock Newbery Club!!

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  4. all right-- I am sold after reading just half of the book-- and I don't care if it is January-- I want to do it now! I am thinking I am going to challenge them 20 books.... since half of the year is over-- but I am afraid of grades...... How do I grade them? It won't matter when I begin common core next year-- but I have to finish this year. What are your ideas?
    ~ wendy Wbramlett@newberry.k12.sc.us

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    1. Wendy,
      Go for it! It's an exciting way to create a classroom culture that promotes reading, choice, and books. I don't grade it. It's something I started doing and abandoned. I do, however, ask the kids to do a self-evaluation at the end of every quarter and I grade their thoroughness of their reflections - not the number of books they've read. You'll end up taking the ideas from The Book Whisperer and other bloggers like me and tweak it to make it your own. I expect to change it up every year according to what's worked and what hasn't. Also, every group of kids is different, so you'll adapt it to those unique needs. Happy book whispering!

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  5. Love the idea of 40 Book "Invitation".....I am rolling this out next week and thank you for the additional ideas.

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    1. Lynette,
      I'm glad you love the idea! I've gone back to using the word "Challenge," and tweak it every year. Make it your own and let me know how it goes!

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  6. Hi Holly, I'd love a copy of your reflection sheet. What a great idea!
    Thanks, Leigh

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    1. Sure! Just let me know what your e-mail is. :-)

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