33% of my 118 7th graders told me they had not read a single book last summer. That books were just not their thing or they were simply too busy. 33%…Many of them told me they had read the book club books they had been assigned the year before but not that much else. Some told me they had fake read most of their way through years prior, averaging 1 to 2 books a year if even. Some told me how much they loved books, that their summers were spent with their nose in pages because what else would you do when you have all of the time in the world
Teaching 7th graders has taught me many things, but one of the biggest is the incredible need to inspire a larger love of reading in more of their lives. Not because teachers before them haven’t, but because for some reason it hasn’t completely stuck for all of them. So that becomes our mission; for the students to fall in love with reading or at the very least hate it less.
One of the biggest expectations in our classroom is to read 25 books (or more if that is not a high enough goal). Inspired by the 40 book challenge created by Donalyn Miller and described in the incredible book The Book Whisperer, I knew that when I moved to 7th grade I wanted to do something similar but adapted to the crazy life of middle schoolers and only having 45 minutes of English every day. I knew I could only give them 10 minutes of reading every day and so I needed a number that would push most students, set a high expectation, but also be a tangible goal. It therefore became 25, with a few guidelines:
- Books under 200 pages count as 1 book
- Books over 200 pages count as 2 books
- Books over 500 pages count as 3 books
- Books more than 750 – see the teacher
- Depending on its size a graphic novel may count as a whole, half or quarter of a book.
- 10 of the books have to be chapter books
- If this goal is not high enough for a learner, they set a higher goal
- They write down their titles in a packet we keep at school and update it every Monday or whenever needed.
I do not ask them to read certain genres but instead take this as an opportunity for them to explore themselves as readers and figure out what they love to read. I constantly book talk books, as do they once we get rolling, and I am constantly sharing recommendations to individual students. We practice wild book abandonment, making sure that the books we read are books we actually want to read, and we book shop monthly if not more. Our to-be-read lists are extensions of our reading life and are used weekly, if not daily.
I introduce the challenge on the second day of school and some kids are scared (as are some parents), they do not feel they can ever reach that high of a number. What they do not know is the magic behind the challenge; there is no punishment if they don’t reach 25, but the challenge is meant to inspire them to read more than they did they year before. To stretch themselves as readers, to find great books, to have great reading experiences and add a new label to their identity; reader.
After 2 years with the 25 book challenge, I can tell you, it works. I am not surprised, after all, Donalyn Miller and her ideas have never let me down. While not all kids reached 25, many did, and many of those who did, never thought they would. Yet the biggest success is not just the kids that reach their goal but within the kids that don’t. As one child told me on his reading survey, “…I even read a book at home for fun, I had never done that before.” That child’s number? 5 more than the year before. 5 more great books that he loved so much he book talked them to others. Books that gave him such a great experience that he continues to chase that feeling again.
I will not pretend that it worked for everyone, there are always kids that it does not work for, where what we did together was not enough, but there are so many that it made a difference for. Where the expectation to read every single day and reach a certain goal meant that they turned up their reading, that they selected their books more carefully, that they spent a longer stretch reading then they normally would have.
So for the 118 7th graders that I teach, I am so grateful that they believed me when I told then, “Yes, you can read 25 books.” But do not take my word for it; let these pictures show you what it looks like when 7th graders read and become readers. Let these pictures show you that yes we can get kids at this age to read, that just because a child is going through huge personal development reading is not lost. What matters is the reading community we create.
And in case you are wondering, that is 4,357.5 books. Not bad for how many kids told me that reading was not something they felt like doing.
If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree. The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.