Dec. 6, 2018 -- Students at Heights Middle School are digging into good books and sharpening their literacy skills, thanks to a fun and competitive reading incentive program. The inaugural Battle of the Books took place on the Wiley Campus with 40 students testing their knowledge of novels written by young adult author Sharon G. Flake.
Nearly two months ago, students in 6th through 8th grade formed small teams to read Flake’s novels. Each grade level was assigned three different titles based on the book’s reading level and the maturity of its content. Teams could choose whether they each read all three novels or whether they split up the list, with each student becoming an expert on just one book. The entire group gathered on November 27 for the Battle of the Books, which kicked off with a Skype session with Flake herself and topped with a lunch of pizza and cake.
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During the competition, teams were given 30 seconds to select the correct answer to a question about specific content from one of their grade level’s assigned novels. Three teams competed in the 6th grade, with the 3 Musketeers taking home the prize of $10 Amazon gift cards. Six teams competed in the 7th grade with the Squaddies coming out victorious. And the Siberian Tigers were the best of the four 8th grade teams. The gifts and food were purchased with a mini-grant from the HMS PTA.
Sharon Flake watched the whole thing from her computer, unable to visit due to bad weather in Pittsburgh. She joked that students were doing better than she was at answering the questions, especially those that demanded specific details like the amount of money raised when one character’s grandmother was in the hospital.
Monticello Title I Instructional Coach Yolanda Harris, who led the project alongside media specialists Joellen Denk and Laura Lorek and Roxboro Title I Lead Anna Gregory, appreciates that Flake’s books present real world issues and hardships that students might be struggling with. “Even if our students haven't personally experienced some of these issues, they all know someone who has. And that teaches them compassion for what others are going through.”
Students may have been learning important life lessons but they also simply enjoyed the books. Seventh grader Megan Patterson thought her book, Money Hungry, was funny, and 6th grader Karley Johnson liked the action in the mystery Octavia May. Karley’s teammate Saniya Ford liked the entire process, including winning. “I’ve been so excited. I was telling my mom and my auntie about this weeks ago.”
That was exactly the point, according to Ms. Flake, who said, “I’m excited any time kids are reading and thinking about what they’re reading and talking about what they’re reading.”