- Hillside Middle School
Thoreau Park Book Clubs boost reading time for fourth-grade students
January 6, 2020
Thoreau Park Elementary School fourth-graders are exploring new books through newly-created book clubs at the school.
Each Wednesday, a group of students and a fourth-grade teacher eat lunch and read a few chapters of a book together during their lunch and recess time.
Rachel Kaczmarek, one of the fourth-grade teachers at Thoreau Park, said teachers wanted to get the book clubs started to help students foster the love for reading.
“I just wanted a big push for reading – reading for enjoyment, reading to learn new things, reading to inspire creativity and use imagination,” she expressed. “It’s also good to have them talk about these books with other kids, which lets them relate and connect with each other.”
There are four groups lead by Amy Haws, Kaczmarek, Sandy Maderka and Anne-Margaret Wells.
When the clubs started at the beginning of the year, students could sign up to be part of the book club if they wanted to. Then they could select from a list of books chosen by the teachers, one that was of most interest to them. The name of the teacher leading the club was not listed so students could choose the book, not the teacher.
“We were charged with how can we help our students grow,” Maderka shared. “One of the things we wanted to support was a love of reading. These clubs are really the brainchild of Rachel Kaczmarek, but we all jumped on board because how often do we get to just sit and read together, especially with all the standards in place.”
Ted Bickley, principal at Thoreau Park, sponsored the cost of the books, and was proud to see so many students involved. About 35 to 40 students are currently in the book clubs, with more interested in joining when the next books are announced.
“I think this is pretty awesome,” he shared. “It shows that students have a good relationship with their teachers and are really looking to belong to a group. This was 100% teacher created and I was happy to support it.”
Currently, Maderka and Wells’ clubs are reading “Fourth Grade Rats” because of the large number of students who wanted to read the book. Kaczmarek’s club is reading “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” and Haws’ club is reading “Crenshaw.”
“Each teacher did their own research,” Kaczmarek explained. “I liked this book (‘Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library’) for my girls, who are in high school now, and it was one of the books I enjoyed reading with them. I know Mrs. Haws picked ‘Crenshaw’ because she read it with her family. So I think having those connections help you fall in love with books and their characters.”
All types of reading happen during a book club, including the teacher reading aloud to the class, students taking turns reading aloud and independent reading quietly. Students also participate in games, trivia, discussions and activities that go along with the book, too.
Kaczmarek’s club even wrote a letter to the author of their book, Chris Grabenstein, who sent a letter back and signed bookmark.
“I didn’t expect him to write back and I was so excited,” she expressed. “The kids were so excited. I really don’t ever do things like that, but I do it and have this club because I love my kids.”
Maderka’s club is thoroughly enjoying their book, “Fourth Grade Rats”, with students describing the book as “really good,” “super funny,” and “amazing.”
“We do spend a lot of time laughing,” Maderka admitted. “We have also been inspired by Mrs. Kaczmarek’s club and we are reaching out to our author, Jerry Spinelli. We were talking about writing to him as a group and decided to learn more about him.”
Students reading “Crenshaw” with Haws said they joined the book club for a variety of reasons from “we love cats” to “we were bored at recess” to “it sounded like French fries.” But, they all agreed that they like reading and the club is really fun.
“I even have one student’s grandfather who bought the book so he can read along and discuss it with him, which I thought was really cool,” Haws expressed. “I think this club is awesome because I only have three of these students in my class, so I get to meet with other students from classes to share the love of reading.”
Teachers are hoping to complete two to three books by the end of the school year.
“I want my students to develop a love of reading,” Kaczmarek shared. “In school it’s a lot of read, respond, read, respond, but there is so much more to reading when you are just reading. You let yourself be more comfortable.”
PHOTO CAPTION: As part of Thoreau Park Elementary School’s Book Club, fourth-grade students recently teamed up with teacher Sandy Maderka to read “Fourth Grade Rats”. The Book Club program help students gain a love of reading.