After reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and getting to hear her speak a few years back, I felt inspired to challenge the students in my school a challenge of that nature. It just took me awhile to wrap my head around how to accomplish such a task with a whole school.
Facing ObstaclesI had two obstacles, in my mind, to overcome. The first was coming up with a way to monitor reading logs for a whole school. In The Book Whisperer, Miller describes the reading journals her students keep as a living, breathing, dynamic student record. Students are recording information about books they want to read, books they are reading. They write letters, thoughts, ideas. For a classroom teacher this sounds like an incredible way to interact with texts.
For a librarian like myself, working with a few hundred students, creating this kind of experience isn't quite a possibility. I thought about using paper logs, but that seemed unreasonable, so as an experiment, I decided to create a Google Form for students to use to track their books. To help minimize error, and to help sort things, I set it up using branching logic so that students choose their teacher name, then they choose their own name, and finally they enter information for the book.
The form is easily accessible through either the library web page or the library app.
The second obstacle, and perhaps the most daunting in my mind was this: I taught high school English for 10 years, where I read stuff like Thoreau and Shakespeare. My experience with "kid lit" has come a long way in the last few years in the elementary library, but honestly, I haven't made enough time to read anything but professional blogs, tweets and books over the last few years, and my recommendations always start with "Well, a lot of kids are checking out ___".
How embarrassing, right? Faced with this understanding of myself, I had to give myself a stern talking to; I can only use the "I came to the elementary level late in the game" excuse for so long before it's just that: an excuse. It's time to pony up and get down to it and start reading, really reading. So, what to do? Take the challenge myself of course.
To hold myself accountable I am going to try to do two things. I'm going to keep track of what I have read on my Goodreads account on a 40 Book Challenge shelf (not sure if the link will actually work), and I'm going to try to create short video reviews/recommendations (which in all honesty will probably be the first thing to go - I wish they had a messy hair filter).
The Power of RecommendationsI really think the recommendations are part of Miller's incredible success. She hand picks books for kids, makes thoughtful recommendations, and completely "geeks out" in the coolest of ways over books with her kids. She gives them interest inventories, arranges stacks of books. In my mind they're all wrapped up like "brown paper packages tied together with string (these are a few of my favorite things)". I want to be able to do that too when I "grow up". And, taking the challenge myself is going to be the first big step to get me there.
One of my 5th grade teachers read The Book Whisperer this summer and vowed to become the teacher that places stacks of books on desks. She gave the interest survey Miller uses, combed through the lists and started making stacks, and her kids are thrilled. They're not just thrilled- they're giddy. Some of them have been exchanging books mid-week, something they never would've done last year. This is huge, and it's a major testament of what taking a personal, vested interest in a kid's reading habits can accomplish in a short time frame.
As for me, I'm taking a bit of a "fake it until I make it approach". I spent some time this summer putting together another Google Form that uses branching logic. This time it asks students some questions about genre preferences and then provides a result that includes a visual of books they may be interested in and links to some Goodreads lists that I checked first. You can check the form out [here]. While the form is an ok tool - I kind of wish I had created a quiz similar to what is all over social media these days with the striking visuals.
I introduced the whole idea of the 40 Book Challenge through our yearly introductory PowToon, where I go over the theme for the year and some of the big things we'll be doing. I really tried to emphasize that for me, this year the 40 Book Challenge is really just about reading more with no judgement. I told the kids they could read fiction or nonfiction, picture books or chapter books or a combination of all of it. I myself will be reading quite a few picture books (although our guidance counselor, who is also taking the challenge on has assured me she won't be filling in with picture books :) )
Check out how I introduced it all here:
I followed that introduction up with a newsletter home to parents using Smore. I tried to highlight the benefits of independent reading and let them know that I asked students to create their own personal reading goal. I had some very positive feedback from the information I shared with parents, which was exciting to me.
Where do I go from here?As part of this initiative I really hope to spark some teacher interest and host a book study on The Book Whisperer either this year or next. The real power in the 40 Book Challenge, in my mind, can come from the classroom, where teachers are making strong personal connections throughout the course of the year. I might have that opportunity with 25 "readers" across the entire school, but nothing can take the place of what a classroom teacher can draw out of their students.
I will find out soon enough if this is going to be a sustainable effort for me. We are into our third week of school, and I'm only half way through reading my second book. I also need to figure out an authentic way to encourage students to add their books to the form since it's all voluntary at this point.
When I introduced the idea of a 40 Book Challenge, I told kids that 40 books was my goal for them (really it's only about a book a week) - but then I asked them what their own goal was. I told them it was okay if it was under or over 40 books. I just wanted their personal goal to be a good fit for them. I had kids who admitted to not reading anything really last year and telling me that their goal was to read 10. I had others who are convinced they can read two or more books a week. I didn't judge or offer commentary, I just recorded those goals, and I really want to do something special to recognize kids who reach their own goal - be it 10 or 100. I just hope it's more than last year.
I want to be careful about tying extrinsic rewards/prizes to achieving reading goals - personal or 40 book. Much of the research I've read lately shows that kids don't really get much out of extrinsic rewards. That being said, reaching goals is a big deal. Right now I'm thinking about doing something like a button, or a postcard (who doesn't want to get mail right?!) or maybe even just a shout out on the morning announcements. I'm struggling a bit here, but I think I have a few weeks more before I have to start dishing out the big kudos...
To date, we have 248 books entered on the form. The results aren't being recorded exactly like I thought they would be, so I may need to tweak the results sheet some to make it readable. I will also need to figure out a way to easily share the results with teachers and students each month so they can keep track of their progress. This is something I really couldn't adequately test in advance, so I'm for sure learning as I go with the form. I think the information I'm collecting and the goal setting could be something useful for next year in tracking reading progress - but more importantly reading preferences. I'm really interested to see what titles the kids are reading that we don't have to help me figure out a way to grow our collection. I know I could just as easily ask, but having it all on a spread sheet to look for trends might be an interesting piece of information.
I'll wrap things up here for now with the thought that this is all another learning in progress moment for me - and I'm interested to see what develops.
If you do a 40 Book Challenge in your class or library, how do you structure it? I would love to hear some ideas!