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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