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Farmington students read their way to the top

Akin Road Elementary School teacher Sara Drazkowski reads to her students last week. Drazkowski encourages reading among her students.

There is no shortage of books in Sara Drazkowski's fifth grade classroom at Akin Road Elementary School. There's no shortage of enthusiasm for reading, either.

That's probably what helped her class earn recognition as a Top 100 Reading Classroom in the Pizza Hut Book It! reading contest.

More than 680,000 classrooms around the United States participated in the reading incentive program, which ran from October through March.

The program offered an interactive tracker that teachers could pull up on the whiteboards in their classrooms. Every day, students could log how many minutes they spent reading, and a virtual pile of books would add up.

"I think that helped encourage the kids to read some days," Drazkowski said. "It's kind of a peer pressure tactic, but a good peer pressure. It logs not only the class minutes spent reading, but the individual minutes as well, so we could kind of see who was reading and pulling their weight and who wasn't. Students were encouraging each other to read, rather than me as a teacher harping on them."

Reading has been a focus in Drazkowski's classroom all year long. She's tried to make as many books as possible available in her room, so students can just go over and pick out something when it comes time for individual reading. She has many genres and she tries to get students to read new kinds of books all the time. She's read all of those books, too, so she's always willing to make recommendations for her students.

When she talks to her kids about the books they read, Drazkowski takes more of a book club discussion approach. In doing that, she's helping students develop an understanding of what they do and do not like in reading materials. And that, in turn, keeps students interested in reading.

Drazkowski sets aside reading time in her classroom every day. She'll call students over to sit around a chair in her room, and she'll pull out a book to read to them. Afterward, she sends them back to their desks with instructions to start their own quiet reading time. Over the course of the school year, she's allowed more and more time for independent reading.

"It's usually 10 minutes to half an hour. We've been building up that sustainable quiet reading time. Some days, we'll read for 45 minutes and they have no problem with that. It's a good habit to learn," Drazkowski said.

As a winner of the Pizza Hut Book It! contest, Drazkowski's classroom will win a pizza party sometime in the next couple of weeks. Winning free pizza wasn't necessarily the goal for her classroom this year, but it's certainly a nice perk, she said.

"They knew they could get a free slice of pizza, but the kids weren't in it for that," she said. "But we got to be one of the top 100 in the country, which I thought was pretty slick."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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