Guest post by Derek Fialkiewicz

I teach math as my father did before me, so I have always considered myself to be a “math nerd.” I find math fun and am proud of my students’ achievement, but when I became an assistant principal, I was forced to consider student achievement and learning outside of my math bubble. I came to better understand that while my students achieved in math, many were struggling as readers. This was a perfect opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and entice students to read.

After months of research on how to increase students’ desire to read, I eventually learned about a principal who led a monthly Principal Book Chat with her students. That sounded like fun and something I could handle. Iimmediately began collaborating with my librarian, Ms. Madeline Noetzel, to design our book club. We needed a catchy name. Ms. Noetzel and I brainstormed for days until she asked a student, “What do you think about Cranium Crunch at Lunch?” The student loved it, and we were off and running.


First, I must say Cranium Crunch at Lunch would have never left the ground had it not been for Ms. Noetzel’s assistance picking the first books and establishing the initial structures. Cranium Crunch is a monthly book club. To join, students and parents must sign an agreement to read the book and attend the discussion during lunch. Students receive a copy of the book with about a month to read it before the next lunch discussion group. The discussion occurs in the library during the students’ lunch. Tables, covered in butcher paper, are arranged in a large rectangle. Students, as they filter in and eat, draw or write their answers to my initial questions about the book. Once students are settled, we start the discussion. I begin with predetermined questions but allow the students to morph the discussion with their comments, ideas, and questions. At the conclusion of the lunch, I give a brief synopsis of the new book and then students receive a copy on their way out.

Growing Cranium Crunch at Lunch

We began with 40 (out of 1,500) students spread out over three different lunches, and we were ecstatic. As the second year began, I looked for new ways to promote Cranium Crunch. I happily made a fool of myself each month advertising the new book on our daily video announcements. I spoke to students about the book on campus. Mostly through my passion, having fun, and good books, word about Cranium Crunch traveled quickly. It soon became “the cool thing to do.” We were not prepared with enough books when year three began with 100 students. Teachers began reading the books and attending the lunch discussions. By the beginning of year four, over 150 students (10 percent) regularly participated in Cranium Crunch.

Increased Reading Levels

As the number of students in Cranium Crunch grew, I became curious if there actually was a positive impact on student reading levels. Data showed over 80 percent of students who regularly participated in Cranium Crunch increased well over one reading level during the school year. About 75 percent of students who participated for three years entered high school reading at or above grade level. The data confirmed that this club is not only fun but also helps to improve student performance. 

Captain’s Club

I am now the principal of a middle school, which already had a recently established book club called Captain’s Club when I came on board. My first Captain’s Club as principal drew over 120 (of 900) students—up from 40—five teachers, and one parent. In my experience, a successful book club can be built and maintained at any middle school when passion and fun are the keys.

What programs could you develop to enhance reading and increase student engagement?


Derek Fialkiewicz is principal of Lied Middle School in Las Vegas, NV, which serves a diverse population of about 900 students in grades 6–8. He became an administrator nine years ago after teachinghigh school math for 12 years. He is the 2017 Nevada Assistant Principal of the Year and a National Assistant Principal of the Year Finalist. He is an avid participant of #APChat on Twitter. Follow him @derwood73.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *