Book challenge motivates Cranbury School fourth graders to read

ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

Fourth grade students at the Cranbury School are boosting their reading with a personal challenge to read 40 books each during the current school year.

Introduced by their fourth grade teachers, this personal challenge is called the “40 Book Challenge.” Throughout the 2021-22 school year, the students participating are challenged to read 40 books from a variety of genres during their free time at home.

“It is valuable for students to collectively participate in book reading challenges for a variety of reasons. One, it is modeled after adult reading clubs, who often track and celebrate their reading efforts, making it a ‘real world’ experience that creates momentum and excitement about reading books,” said Susan Genco, superintendent of schools and principal at the Cranbury School.

“It also reinforces the Readers Workshop philosophy, that we should always take risks and read across genres. Additionally, any challenge that engages students in a reading activity offscreen is valuable during the post-pandemic phase of schooling.”

This is not mandatory reading for students. The students participating have volunteered to take part in the established project.

“Here in fourth grade at the Cranbury School students do realistic fiction and now we are into our nonfiction unit as part of the reading curriculum. They will go on to do historical fiction and some other historical nonfiction,” said Shannon Kelly, Cranbury School fourth grade teacher. “There is only so much time in our year together, so I knew there was a lot more out there for students that I wanted them to get exposure to.”

But in the confines of a short year together, and the curriculum, there really was not too much of an opportunity, other than challenging kids to read these different genres for independent reading, she said.

Teacher Shannon Kelly is leading the initiative, joined by fellow fourth grade teachers Haley Mayo and Jamie Pintimalli.

“As the English/Language Arts supervisor for the district, this teacher-initiated project highlights the superior commitment the fourth grade team has shown to the importance of cultivating lifelong readers through their teaching practices,” said Elizabeth Grimaldi, Cranbury School District supervisor for curriculum and instruction. “Fourth grade is a magical time in a children’s life. Let’s inspire our fourth graders to fall in love with reading. That’s true magic.”

Kelly has already implemented the challenge in her class and in the coming weeks Mayo and Pintimalli will introduce the challenge to their students as well.

“I came across this 40 Book Challenge that was actually created by another teacher in California. I thought this would be great to bring into our classroom here,” Kelly said. “I have 17 kids on my roster and have 14 kids actively participating in the 40 Book Challenge.”

There are nine different areas of focus for the challenge: poetry, traditional literature, mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, informational, book of choice.

Each student gets a reading log.

The children can choose to read print or books off of EPIC, a digital library. Kelly said most of her students are reading print books. When they finish a book 100 pages or more that fits within one of the genres, the students come into class and color a dot on the reading log in the classroom.

Filling the rings with all these beads signifies the books they have finished and serves as a physical reminder of all of the books the students have read this school year.

“The challenge is optional and have a majority of my class participating. There is no real race to it. The challenge is whoever finishes 40 books that have to be over 100 pages,” she said. “If the book is over 300 pages it will count as two books. They come to me, talk to me about what they have read when they are ready for a bead.”

When a student has read 40 books they will receive a certificate signed by Genco, Grimaldi and Assistant Principal Michele Waldron. The students that complete the challenge will also have a choice to receive either a T-shirt that states they have read 40 books this year or a sign in their yard that says they have read 40 books in the 2021-22 school year.

“The kids are choosing to read on the weekends and coming up to me excited to add a bead. It really is encouraging kids to read on their own and giving them a break from gaming or a screen,” Kelly said. “Studies will show the importance of reading 20 minutes every night and the difference it will make in their vocabulary and their standardized test performance. It really wonderful to see these kids active involved in reading.”