My 40-Book Challenge

I have received a lot of comments asking me about my 40-book challenge.  I plan to use it again this year, with a few modifications, for my freshmen and seniors.  I can’t take credit for this idea at all- that goes to the incomparable Donalyn Miller.  Donalyn, the “Book Whisperer” has a fantastic professional resource that every English teacher should own. In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn discusses her 40-book challenge, in which she challenges each student she teaches to read at least 40 books over the course of the school year.  I took this idea and made a few adaptations to use it in my classroom this past year.

I drew up a document that had a table on it, with a variety of genres.  Looking back over my classes for the past few years, I decided how many books in each genre the students would be responsible for reading.  I want them to have choice but also wanted to guide them towards books they might not otherwise pick up.  The genre requirements are something I would probably change every year to best fit each class.  To give a few examples, I required 3 historical fiction books, 5 fantasy, 3 science-fiction, and so on.  The largest percentage were realistic fiction because it was the perennial favorite in 6th grade.  I also left 10 books open to free choice of any genre.  While the students moaned and groaned a bit, I think the genre requirements were very helpful.  They didn’t hold any students back but they also helped more reluctant readers because they provided guidance.

Now, when I hand out the requirements there is a stunned silence in each period.  Most of my students freely admit that they may have read 3-4 books the previous year, so 40 books sounds like an insurmountable amount.  However, I just tell them that I have complete faith in them and I know they can do it.  If they ask what happens if they don’t read 40 books, I just tell them that isn’t an option.  And that as long as they are always reading when we read in class and they do their reading at home, they will be fine.  I do explain it a little differently to parents, though.  I tell them that even if a student doesn’t complete 40 books, the goal is to read more than they did the year before and to increase their skills.  More importantly, it increases their enjoyment of reading because the 40-book requirement helps them find something they do like!  But I ask the parents not to tell their kids that it’s “ok” not to read 40 books.  If they think they don’t have to, many won’t!  The challenge holds them to a high standard and I like that.

Did all my students complete 40 books?  No.  Did they read a lot more than they did in the past and become more passionate readers?  Absolutely!

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10 Responses

  1. [...] My 40-Book Challenge « The Reading Zone [...]

  2. I had the same experience last year using the 40 book challenge for the first time.

  3. I also read Donalyn Miller’s book last summer and decided to implement the 40 book challenge. It was tough getting my principal to allow me to move away from AR points, but he had to admit that whatever we were doing wasn’t working. I had to make a few changes to the challenge as well. Each student had to read 10 books per quarter with a few genre specific books, but usually about half of the books were free choice. Fantasy seemed to be the favorite genre for my group this year. Many of my students met the requirement, but those who didn’t still read more than they did in fifth grade. Since it seems to be all about test scores these days, I’ll let the scores speak for themselves. Last year the sixth graders scored in the 69th percentile in reading. This year our score was in the 76th percentile! In AL we also take something called the ARMT. Last year we scored 94%, and this year a 99%. I am so proud of my students!! This year I need to do more conferencing and come up with a better reader’s notebook. Last year was the first time I had ever tried the reading workshop method, so any help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Hi Sarah,
    Like you, I’m a HS teacher who has recently made the transition from a readers’ workshop-focused middle school classroom. This year, I’ll be working with seniors and freshman. I’d love to bring something like the 40-book challenge to my classes, especially since we know that the students who are best prepared for college and career are those who read the most! However, I’m struggling with fitting reading choice into my curriculum. My school has a strong full-class literature requirement — does yours? I’d be really curious to hear about how you plan to integrate the 40-book challenge into a full-class lit program, if your school requires that approach, like mine does. Regardless, I will be so interested to follow your transition this year! Thanks for sharing your approach in this space.

  5. Oops, meant to write “seniors and sophomores.”

  6. Would you mind sharing your middle school contract? Thanks!

  7. Yes, I’ve read Donalynn’s book as well, and used it to help shape my reading workshop. However, I can’t get away with demanding 30 books, let alone 40 books, from my students. My administration is not supportive to expecting my students to read. My requirements this year are books a trimester, which will total 15 books at the end of the year, and I’ve already heard some sniffling about my expectations being too challenging and unrealistic. It’s a huge buzzkill when I am so passionate about my reading program.

    • Okay, so my principal yesterday told me that 5 books a trimester (15 books total for the year) was too high of an expectation for 6th grade and made me cut my requirements to 3 books a trimester. They’ll read 9 books total in 6th grade when in 4th grade they were required to read 8 books a trimester. How does that make any sense?

      • I think that you need to give your principal a copy of the Book Whisperer. Then, I think that you need to explain your issue of what you want your kids to read vs. what your principal thinks. Challenge them to read more, let them set their goals, then bring your results to the principal at the end of the year. I can guarantee that your students will want to prove to the principal that they can “beat” his goal for them!

  8. My 6th grade granddaughter is required 45+ books this year, 2 per 9 weeks read in the classroom in her regular reading class, 3 per 9 weeks read at home for her lab reading class and they are reading a book in their English class this 9 weeks as well. It seems overwhelming, but I must say she is reading more than she ever has and her reading has already improved just in this first 9 week marking period. Oh God, please help her accomplish this. Her poor reading is adversely affecting all her classes. This is her best change to improve. She attends a magnet IBO Middle School.

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