This year I decided to do something kind of crazy: I asked my 6th graders to attempt to read 60 Books in 6th Grade! I based the idea on Donalyn Miller‘s work in her book The Book Whisperer. I liked the seemingly insurmountable challenge Miller described, but I wanted more kids to be able to access the varying genres without being frozen with fear by book length. I co-teach LSS (learning support services) and ELL (English-language learner) classes, and I have many kids who enter sixth grade with reading scores below grade level. I needed to make Miller’s challenge appear a bit more accessible, so I lowered the number of chapter books and increased the number of overall books!
Miller is adamant that teachers not change the book challenge in ways that negate its original purpose; she writes about this in a blog post titled The 40 Book Challenge Revisited. I read her book ages ago, and I’d felt like I’d found my kin. The reason I’d connected to Miller’s ideas was her main message: Find what you love to read. Read a lot. Those aren’t Miller’s words, but that’s what I gather from her work, and it was just what I needed to hear since I’d struggled with “being a reader” until I was in college.
Another way to illustrate the purpose of Miller’s work is this: This year, I did the 60 Books in 6th Grade Challenge along with my students. Guess what? I did not read 60 books, although some students did. What did I do? I read more than any other year of my life. I found a lot of new authors I like. I realized I like science fiction. That’s HUGE! And it was huge for my readers to see me grow with them.
Believe Me- This is not as crazy as it sounds!
In today’s high-stakes testing environment, many companies have developed computer-based reading programs that promise to increase test scores. Yet we all know what students really need to do to improve reading skills: They need to read. And read. And read. Students need access to a variety of books, they need targeted instruction, and they need time to read.
That idea alone is what makes 60 Books attainable. Students spend a lot of time reading in my classes. The 60 Books log helps them track which genres they read most, it is a record of author’s they prefer, it asks them to step out of their comfort zone and try new genres, but does so by including picture books as an introduction to the various genres.
Believe Me- They’re all reading more!
Some teachers have asked how I make sure students don’t lie and just fill in book titles. The truth is, there is no reason for them to lie. This assignment isn’t worth points. We talk a lot about the fact that it really doesn’t matter whether you get to 25, 40, or 60. What matters is that this year we are reading more than any other year of our lives! Students feel really good about that! Challenge by choice is a perfect term to describe this assignment- Students are given the task of reading 60 books of various genres and lengths. Students decide how far to take it! The only “requirement” is that students go further than they ever have before!
And you know what? They are reading more! We all have students who are shocked because they suddenly realized that they love to read. When the appropriate structures are in place, students do unearth a love for books. Yet, 60 Books was a game changer in my teaching and in student growth. Students have noticed themselves changing as their book logs got longer and longer, and now they realize that attempting to accomplish something that seems really overwhelming and out of their league, can actually happen. They just need support, time, materials, perseverance, and a plan to get it done. Intrigued? I hope so.
5 Tips to Help:
- Designate independent reading time every day. Period. Don’t get rid of it when time is short and you feel like something has to give. Time to read is exactly the one thing we can’t give up.
- Schedule extended reading time once or twice a month. This time should be set aside just for 60 Books! (Our school has shortened class periods about once a month due to PLC meetings, so we used these days to celebrate our successes and look into what we still had to accomplish on our 60 Book logs.)
- Talk about the 60 Books log often. As soon as a student says they’ve finished a book, celebrate, and ask if they’ve added it to 60 Books. When a student is looking for a new book to read, ask them to open their 60 Books log and help them narrow down which genre they want to try next.
- Talk about effort and honesty often. All year long, discuss that getting to 60 is not exactly the point. The purpose is to read more than ever before, to discover new genres, and to learn about and reflect on reading habits.
- Do 60 Books along with your students. This is a huge challenge- there is no way around it. Even when we focus on growth, even with all of the support we give students, this is a big challenge! So, I did my own 60 Books log. I shared my reading challenges- like having to read science-fiction! I shared my choices- books I knew they’d love too. Seeing me attempt this task alongside them, helped make it real.
If 60 Books in 6th grade (or 40 Books in 4th grade…) seems like a challenge worth your time, please let me know how it goes! If you run into trouble, I’d be happy to troubleshoot with you. I can say with all honesty, this task was worth every minute we spent on it. Kids are really proud of how far they’ve come!