July 2, 2014

40 Book Challenge: Student Progress Update

One of my goals in taking on the 40 book challenge, was to encourage more students to complete the 40 Book Challenge themselves. Last year, 5 of my 22 students completed the challenge and the others each read at least 20 books.

For the challenge they needed to read a certain number of books in each of 10 genres, plus several free choice books. Every teacher sets up the 40 books differently, here's how I do mine:

This year, 14 out of 19 students have completed the challenge. The others each completed at least 25 books. The books totals in our class ranged from 25-90, with an average of 52 books read.

Hold on - wait - really!?!?!? That is simply amazing.

Granted, this group of students was already known as "readers," by teachers of previous grades. But still...

So what did I do differently this year to have such a dramatic change in results?

1. I made a concerted effort to emphasize productive reading habits. My students took to bringing their book with them everywhere - even to the computer lab since it takes 3-4 minutes for the computer to load. This is a strategy Donalyn Miller talks about in her terrific book, The Book Whisperer.

2. We did our weekly check-in, It's Monday, What Are You Reading? religiously. They held each other accountable, "You're still reading that book! It's been 3 weeks! That book is only 200 pages long. You need to do something about that."

We developed a cult of excitement about books. At It's Monday, What Are You Reading? books changed hands regularly. "What part are you at?" became the most popular question. Heated discussions, spoiler alerts, and debates over which book is best in the series were commonplace.

3. The 25% Boards were effective motivators. Students fist-pumped whenever they reached a new board. "Yes! I can sign the 50% board!" They smiled broadly as we clapped for them.

The only downside, is that the social pressure was maybe a bit too intense. I'm a bit worried about my 5 students who "only" 25+ books. Although I told them that it was only a challenge, and we emphasized how awesome it is to read 30 books in one year, the social pressure to finish all 40 was palpable. Still, I had a one-on-one conversation with each student during the last week of school to emphasize their incredible reading growth this year.

4. I took on the challenge for myself as well - and made my progress VERY VERY public. You can read more about The Teacher's 40 Book Challenge in my reflection post.

Something I still need to work on ~
Also - I had several students who still avoided poetry, nonfiction, and traditional literature like the plague. I know that the best way to prop up these genres is to get excited about them myself... working on that...

I successfully added nonfiction read alouds this year and my class got really into reading nonfiction books by Kadir Nelson. I'm still looking for really engaging nonfiction to read aloud - I discovered Catherine Thimmesh's books this year so I may read one of those. Of course, I also need to read aloud more poetry.

Perhaps we will try a sequence of read aloud books:
1. Nonfiction
2. Novel
3. Poetry
4. Repeat

I'm really curious to see if these results will be replicated next year. If so, that means that this success wasn't just a group that already read a lot. Crossing my fingers.

~ Amanda


  1. I planned on doing the 40-Book Challenge this year and I love your approach to this! I was wondering how to keep up with what everyone was reading and your "It's Monday, What Are You Reading" is a fabulous idea. I wondered: did you put any restrictions on what students could read to satisfy the requirements, or were they able to read whatever they wanted? I'm kind of picturing kids reading kindergarten-level books just to check them off, especially with the less-popular genres. Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Shauna - Those are great questions!
      1. I'm not a huge fan of reading levels, but I am definitely involved with helping my students choose books that are appropriate for their reading abilities. I do that by holding lots of classwide conversations about what books are appropriate, and lots of one-on-one conversations whenever I see a student choosing a book that is way too hard or way too easy. Note that the traditional lit genre is largely made up of picture books, but I am planning to add a classics element there this year. Needless to say, I did not allow my students to count any books toward the challenge unless they matched their reading needs.

      Also, I conferenced with each student about once every 3 weeks. To count a book for the challenge, they needed to write a brief (quarter page) summary and a brief (quarter page) review. I use the conference to ask questions, probe their thinking, discuss their plans for future reading, and address any book-selection concerns. I write the titles on their form myself so that I know that they really did read them

      2. As for the record-keeping for It's Monday, What Are You Reading - I found it absolutely crucial to keep a record! To do this, I made a form with large empty boxes beside each person's name. Each week, I wrote down the books that student finished, what they were currently reading, and what page they were on. That way, I could just look back to previous week's and keep an eye on patterns and progress.

      Wow - that was a long response! I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. I can't wait to hear what you come up with for implementing the Challenge in your class!

  2. I am a student research assistant at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Technology has created exciting ways to connect with others and form professional learning networks. As a part of an active member of a social media community made up of teachers, I wanted to contact you to ask you to participate in a study our research group is conducting.

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    Kaitlyn Rudy
    Research Assistant
    Department of Mathematical Sciences
    Montana Tech of the University of Montana