Lessons From The Book Whisperer

I finally made it to the end of Donalyn Miller’s book…I could have devoured the whole book in one sitting, but unfortunately time is always an issue. I love Donalyn’s writing voice – she is a successful teacher sharing her experience with other teachers and this makes her book so easy to read.

The Book Whisperer is essential reading for any teacher. I feel almost deprived that it was not available to us all those years ago when we started out teaching and were ready to inspire kids to become great readers. It should become compulsory reading for any student teacher. I am sad that we have spent many years letting so many of our kids down, but at least we have the opportunity to make it right.

This book has confirmed for me that the way I teach reading is on the right path.  It has also given me ideas on how to proceed from here and continue constructing the reading journey I hope to take my students on. I am glad I have chosen the correct route, but there is still a way to go.

I have extracted some essential points from the book:

1.  The students who are the readers in our schools are also the top academic students  in our schools. They achieve in all key areas of learning – reading, writing, researching and content-specific knowledge. Successful strong readers are the ones teachers don’t worry about.  Hence, turning our students into lifelong readers should be one of our ultimate goals as teachers. I’m going to make it mine.

 2. A fantastic place to start the year is with a book choosing frenzy. Instructing students on what they have to read is not turning them into readers.

 3. We need to believe that our students are readers so that they can believe it. The idea that they can’t read or don’t like to read is not an option.

4. There is no hope in the terms, “struggling reader” and “reluctant reader” – terms that we as teachers (and too often Special Ed teachers) resort to. Instead, Miller recognizes three types of readers in our schools:

 a)      Developing Readers:

According to a study conducted by reading expert Richard Allington, “struggling” readers read 75% less than their peers. No matter how much decoding instruction we give them – they will fail to improve as much as they could until they have real reading experiences.

These students do have the ability to become strong readers. They just need to read and read. They require a heavy dose of independent reading paired with explicit instruction in reading. We should give both elements to them. Daily. Because our students appear to have such hectic afternoon schedules, it is our duty to give them time to read in class every day.

 b)      Dormant Readers:

This refers to children who can read, but have no love for it. They might become engaged readers if someone showed them that reading is engaging.

 c)       Underground Readers: 

These are gifted readers, but see the reading they are asked to do at school as totally disconnected from the reading they do on their own.  Underground readers just want to read and for the teachers to get out of the way and let them.

5. The goal is for students to lose and find themselves in books.  (Don’t you just love that?)

6. The question should no longer be, “How can we make time for independent reading?” The question must be, “How can we not?” DEAR  (Drop Everything And Read) reading is often just used by teachers to keep students busy while they attend to other tasks. It is not necessarily encouraging a love for reading because it is viewed as a time filler. There is no inspiration behind it which confirms the importance of reading.

7.  The way we teach and assess reading encourages children to hate reading. We spend more time responding to books in a written format with dreaded book reports, questioning and analyzing that we are taking away valuable time from actual reading.  We need to teach readers, not books.

 8. Reading a number of books each year (Miller sets the standard at 40 for her students) is an expectation in her class…not a challenge, not a competition, just a simple – This is what we do here.  The least number of books ever read by a student in her class in one year has been 22. Now from 1 the previous year to 22 is a huge achievement. I hope that one year from now, when I have set the expectation for my classes, I will be able to report the same.

We owe it to our students to give reading back to them in every way we can. I am certainly going to strive to do so.

It is the expectation I am placing on myself.

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9 Responses to Lessons From The Book Whisperer

  1. TheUrbanMum says:

    Amongst the greatest gifts I would like to bestow upon my children is the ability to “loose and find themselves in books”. It is from this very beginning that the path of my own life began…and still continues. Thank you for yet another thoughtful post.x

  2. GERALD says:

    What a delicate balance – to get your kids to develop a love of (and hunger for) reading! To play the Big Daddy or Mommy and try to force someone to read is a non-starter. One hopes that the children see their parents reading and follow suit – also by reading to the from a young age and so encourage a thirst for the written word (and all that goes with it)

    • TeacherMum says:

      Absolutely Gerald! I agree with everything you say. There is so much out there convincing parents how important it is to create that love from a young age (I started reading to my kids when they were a few weeks old!)Unfortunately, you would be horribly surprised at how many parents don’t read and don’t read to their kids.

  3. mamawolfe says:

    I loved your post! One of my greatest fears in CA is that as we continue to move towards satisfying NCLB, and as families feel more empowered over school districts to dictate number of homework minutes, that reading will fall to the side. We know that good readers and good writers go hand in hand, and that is what makes for strong students in any subject.

    • TeacherMum says:

      We often get told in our kids’ homework that they should read for x amount of minutes every night. I admit, I have never looked at the clock and told them to “stop.”
      They just read until they felt it was enuough…now I struggle to put their lights out at night because they are reading and lost in the book, not wanting the adventure to end.

  4. Janice says:

    Sounds like an absolutely wonderful read! I am definitely going to add this to my collection! Thank you so much for sharing!
    I’m also a teacher mum……love the name 🙂 over at http://www.learning4kids.net. I started my blog only 3 weeks ago and I am so pleased to have your website. 🙂

  5. Elie says:

    I love to read and so does my husband. Because of this exposure to reading for pleasure our kids have a fondness for books that extends outside of school. Does this book explore ways to encourage family reading time? Getting the parents to show an interest in reading with the children? Just curious.

    I have two beginning readers at home (ages 5 & 6) and a 12 year old and they all enjoy books of all types – we are running into a common problem of “reading only accelerated reader” books though because of the points required at school (the little ones do not have a required number but the middle schooler does). My oldest is very into non-fiction and the options for AR tests in non-fiction are very limited. Do you deal with this in your profession?

  6. TeacherMum says:

    Hi Elie
    Thanks for your comments.
    I do think that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is an environment which encourages a love for reading. Well done for achieving that in our home.
    To answer your first question – The Book Whisperer is aimed at teachers and the way reading is taught in schools, so it does not delve into fostering a love for teaching at home.

    I am Australian – so am not too sure about which point system you are referring to at your school. What I can say though is that:

    1. It is important for children to read books that are right for them on every level.
    2. Children need to enjoy the books they read.
    3. Children should have some choice involved in the books that they read.
    4. Although some children only read fiction and some are obsessed with non-fiction, it is essential that all children read accross various genres. It is also highly essential that boys DO read fiction aswell. You can read my post I did on boys education and why this is so important over here:

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