Are you hoping your child might be the next Oprah Winfrey? Bill Gates? Warren Buffett? Reese Witherspoon? Elon Musk? Mark Zuckerberg? Emma Watson? Barack Obama? If you’re wondering what these folks all have in common, it’s reading. Each of them sets aside time, every day, to read, to expand their experience, to learn. And each of them attributes part of their success to their reading habits.
“What I know for sure is that reading opens you up,” says Oprah, “It exposes you and gives you access to anything your mind can hold. What I love most about reading—It gives you the ability to reach higher ground” (What I Know For Sure, O. Winfrey).
We can best serve our students if we can help them to see reading as not limited to English class, or even just for school, but as a life habit. This is built into the US summer FSB clubs (Faculty Sponsored Book clubs) that are led not just by English teachers - not even by just classroom teachers - but by a corps of volunteers from all aspects of the school who model for our students what it means to be a lifelong reader. It’s the same message that parents who participate in their own book clubs send their children — reading is for everyone and it’s for always.
In her second book, Reading in the Wild, celebrating her love of teaching reading and getting kids to be passionate readers, Donalyn Miller describes her 40 Book Challenge. In this, students are encouraged to stretch themselves as readers, selecting from a variety of genres, both favorites and not-yet-favorites, to read a total of 40 books during the school year. If your eyes were bugging out as you read that last sentence, then know that your expression likely matched that of every 5th - 8th grader over the course of the past week. The US English team, and two lower school classes, have thrown down the gauntlet and made the 40-Book Challenge our goal for the year.
In all US classes, students have considered what kinds of books they already enjoy, and what genres, with more exposure, they might learn to appreciate more. They’ve set personal reading goals to be worked toward alongside a set of reading goals that will be incorporated into classroom instruction. For example, seventh graders later this year will research a person and then write a mystery podcast about them. This will mean students are reading several biographies in class so multiple books in the biography genre were included on their 40-Book Challenge planning sheet.
Ask your Upper Schooler to share their reading plan with you and to explain why they chose the personal goals they did. And, if you’re really brave, consider taking on this challenge with us.
There is a range of texts that we are open to including in the challenge; ultimately, the goal is to push our students to read, read, read. And along the way, we hope they find new worlds to explore and ideas that inspire.