Book worms

Central Lyon Middle School sixth-grads Claire Vreeman and Lincoln Kock read books during Sheila Maxwell’s class. They are participating in a challenge to read 40 books this year. Vreeman is reading “Heartbreakers” by Ali Novak and Kock is reading “Game Seven” by Paul Volponi. 

ROCK RAPIDS—Fifth- and sixth-grade students at Central Lyon Middle School in Rock Rapids have been challenged to read 40 books this year.

Reading teacher Sheila Maxwell implemented the challenge for the second year in a row. Developed from the book “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller the challenge gives students the opportunity to read what they are interested in.

“I started last school year when I was looking for a way to get middle school students back into reading,” Maxwell said. “Students are more willing to read books that they enjoy. I try to teach them to find books that interest them. I also teach them that it’s OK to abandon a book if you find out you don’t like it. The goal is to make kids lifelong readers by choice and not by obligation. I have some who are highly motivated to get to the 40 and I have others who just want to read and not be a part of any challenge.”

This year 110 students have chosen to participate.

One student enthusiastically undertaking the challenge is sixth-grader Avery Harman. She is on her 29th book, “If I Live” by Terri Blackstock which is the third book in the “If I Run” series. That book is Harman’s favorite so far. She completed the challenge last year with 60 books and is happy to participate again.

“It’s fun because you get to read and get rewarded for it,” Harman said.

Students must read books at or above their grade level and then prove that they read the book by taking an Accelerated Reader test or doing a one-on-one conference with Maxwell. The teacher records the book in each student’s reading log and those who manage to read 40 books before the end of the school year receive a surprise reward.

“Believe it or not, most of them just enjoy the satisfaction of reading 40 or more books,” Maxwell said.

In the meantime she awards smaller prizes to students who reach goals. One example is if students read 10 books in a quarter, a pizza party will be provided by the Rock Rapids Pizza Ranch.

“They all want that reward,” she said.

Participating students also get a bingo card. Each time they pass an AR test, they spin a wheel for a number. Once a student gets a bingo a smaller prize is awarded such as “eat with teacher” in which a student gets to eat lunch in the classroom with Maxwell and she turns on funny YouTube videos. Other sought-after prizes include a “no homework” pass and “free computer time.” There also is a treasure chest with booty consisting of bouncy balls, unique pencils and other fun prizes.

“Before doing the challenge, my reading goal was for the students to get to 25 AR points and they get a pizza party,” Maxwell said.

Books have different reading levels. The lower level books can earn a student half a point so it would take 50 books to equal 25 AR points. A higher level can be worth 15. This helps to level the reading field and allows students to read according to their skill.

“I have a lot of students who will talk about their books and pass them around their friend group,” Maxwell said. “I get excited when they do that.”

Some of the more popular genres include graphic novels such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Maxwell’s sixth-grade girls are more into young adult novels such as “The Selection” series. A new book genre trend is historical fiction. The “I Survived” series features stories about significant events such as 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

So far the teacher has 13 students who have met the 40-book challenge — one has read 109 books.

“I’m hoping that through this challenge students will find books that they are interested in and realize that reading doesn’t always have to be a chore or a requirement,” Maxwell said. “I have a high schooler who hated to read and it was like pulling teeth to get him to read and reach his requirements. I don’t want these kids to end up that way — hating reading. The kids also don’t realize that the more they read the better readers they become.”