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.

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Teaching Ideas | 9 Comments

Golden Butterflyz

 I am the featured blog on Fresh Blog Fridays over at Golden Butterflyz!

 I love the way that Miriam, blogger at Golden Butterflyz, describes herself as the CEO of domestic affairs. You may want to hop over there and meet her.

 I’m ending off with another Rick Lavoie quote that has been on my mind quite a lot recently. It pertains to the child who is driven by power, but I think it can relate to most children …especially those ones hovering in the vicinity of the teen years. It certainly provides food for thought when parenting and teaching:

 “The Power driven child does not want any of our power. He just wants some of his own.”

 Have a lovely week!

Posted in About me, Blog Hop, Inspiration | Leave a comment

Which House Do You Choose To Build?

 Did you know that as you grow up, you build the house you are going to live in one day?

When I teach students, I like to use the analogy of building a house when viewing the choices they make. When students first begin with some kind of intervention lessons, I ask them what the first thing is that has to be done when we build a house. The answer? We make the foundation.

What would happen if this foundation is not so strong? Well…the house might fall down or begin to crumble. It might even become a bit wobbly. Students often need to attend special ed classes because their foundations in a particular skill are not strong. We discuss the reasons for this, and usually agree that while every child is unique, they are all being taught the same way in the classroom. Maybe, just maybe, the way they are being taught is not their way. Maybe it was not the right way for their brain. So…the foundations are looking a bit shabby and our first goal is to strengthen these foundations.

Continuing on the house analogy, we talk about the “bricks” that each child has been given. It does not really matter in the end which type of bricks you have…it matters what  you choose to do with them. Some kids have been fortunate enough to be given the best quality bricks, but they build “houses” that are not worth being proud of in the end. In the same way, I have seen some fancy, expensive houses which I think are ugly, ostentatious, cold and uncared for. I have also seen kids take the “bricks” they have been dealt and build incredible “houses” with them. Yes…I know – some bricks are top quality and imported and some bricks have chips in them. Some even broke along the way and need to be adapted so they can still be used. In the end, it’s what you choose to do with them that counts.

So, as your teacher I can:

Help you strengthen your foundations – by starting at the right point.

Provide you with the cement – to make sure all the parts can stand together.

Show you how to use some tools – so you can keep them in your kit for when you need them.

Give you keys to open some doors – you can choose to step inside.

Do my best to provide you with some windows that have amazing views of the world behind them – go out and explore them. You might have to take some risks at first, but you can always come back to this great house you are building.

So ultimately, no matter what bricks you have been dealt, it’s up to you which house you choose to build.

Should we get started?

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Resillience, Teaching Ideas | 12 Comments

Beauty Lies In the Eyes of the Adjudicator

Years of debating against his mother (*sigh*) have turned my Senior Son into a pretty determined debater. Excellent advice from his teacher and support from his debating team have turned him into a strong debater. Which is why, as an 11 year old, he can handle topics like the one he had for this week’s interschool debate – “Beauty Is Skin Deep.” Easy to prove this negative, right? Except that his team had to prove this statement to be true.

At the end of every debate that Senior Son has lost, he has taken himself off to the adjudicator to get feedback. The advice has always been constructive and Senior Son has always done his best to carry this advice into his next debate.

Proving beauty to be only skin deep is not easy, but I swallowed my personal horror from a distance and kept out of it. As teachers and parents aren’t we constantly trying to teach our children that beauty comes from within? I had to watch my Senior Son clacking away at his computer, working out every possible way to prove that this value that we teach so strongly in our schools is totally incorrect.

He spent hours this week doing his research and putting his speech together as well as preparing possible rebuttals, only with guidance from his debating teacher.

His team lost.

The feedback he personally got from the adjudicator at the end of the debate went something like this:

You lost points for your speech because your arguments were too advanced.”

Ummm…hello? Am I missing something here?

When he brought home his anger and confusion and related the details to me, all I could do was laugh. I mean really…what else could I do?

Could someone please explain?




Posted in Dilemmas, Kids, Life, Resillience | 19 Comments

What Message Are We Really Giving Our Kids?

 I have been completing a number of strength and weakness charts recently. If you are interested in knowing how I do this, you may click over here.

Now, whenever I complete a chart like this, a child is ALWAYS able to identify a number of strengths. This does not surprise me.

What does surprise me, however, is the reaction of some parents when I call them to discuss the chart. I’m often asked, “Was he able to identify any strengths?” Some parents seem quite surprised that the list of strengths is so much longer than the list of weaknesses. I often feel the parent’s relief is greater than the child’s relief at realizing that there is this whole positive side too.

Which makes me wonder… when we have children who experience some kind of difficulty, do we spend so much time focusing on that difficulty that we a) totally reinforce the child’s problems for him and b) spend so much time focusing on the hard stuff that we completely forget about the good stuff?

Which makes me question… whether Special Education withdrawal lessons and differentiation into groups is always the right solution. It’s great for the high achievers – they are always the victors. But for the others, we are constantly reinforcing for them that, academically, they are nowhere near the top. Oh – there are so many positives to small groups with intense intervention and attention and some children thrive on it. Some children need it. But what message are we sending our kids? Are we telling them where they belong?

Which makes me think… Is our education system ultimately going to be responsible for making kids believe that their weakness pile of sticky notes is much higher than their strengths?

Does something need to change?

Posted in Dilemmas, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Teaching Ideas | 22 Comments

“Thank You For The Sandwiches”

“Thank you for the sandwiches” said my father into the phone recently.

When my father was a young boy at boarding school, he detested the daily jam sandwiches he was given to take to school for lunch. A school friend called Kenny, not at boarding school but obviously understanding that my father was a long way from home, took it upon himself to bring my father extra meat sandwiches from his own home. Every day. Not so long ago, somebody passed Kenny’s phone number onto my dad. Sixty years later, he was able to pick up the phone and thank Kenny for his sandwiches.

A few weeks ago, when interviewed here for ABC online on what makes a good teacher, I was asked about the inspirational teachers I had at school. (You can find the article here.) . I was able to contact Mrs Visser, (who now lives 16 837km away from me) and send her a link to the article letting her know that she had been my one and only inspirational teacher at school. She sent me a beautiful reply saying, “As you get older you have plenty of opportunity to look over your life and think that you could have done something better or differently and it was so very, very heartwarming to get affirmation of something you actually did right.   Thank you so much.”

I am so glad that I had this golden opportunity to show someone that they had meant something to me. I hope one day, when I am old and grey, that one of my students will contact me. Hopefully they will contact me for the right reasons.

There are so many people in our current  lives who we need to thank and I am sure we do. But is there someone you forgot to thank along the way? Someone from your past who needs affirmation from you?

Perhaps you would like to thank them over here.


Posted in About me, Inspiration, Life | 28 Comments

Motivating Forces – Part 2

“If the child cannot learn the way that we teach, we must teach the way that he learns.”   Rick Lavoie

In a post published last week, I discussed Lavoie’s motivational forces. 
Lavoie refers to the six P’s that motivate our children. These are:

  • Projects (e.g. choosing an independent study topic)
  • People (e.g. spending time working with people)
  • Praise (e.g. Post-it note on your work for doing a good job)
  • Prizes (e.g extra computer time)
  • Prestige (e.g have a project displayed for all to see)
  • Power (e.g select a topic for the class to study)


How do these P’s fit in with the motivational forces? 

I have drawn up a summary table below. The P that works for each child is highlighted in red.

I used Lavoie’s informal assessment tool/mini-survey to confirm if I was correct about my own two children and what drives them and motivates them. It helps me to understand that Senior Son is inquisitive and motivated by people, prestige and praise. Junior Son is motivated by status and recognition and needs prizes and prestige. For new students who you don’t know so well, the mini-survey may prove an effective tool when planning your direction for the year. It may also serve as a great starting point for motivating the unmotivated student you come across in the school dynamic.

Motivational Force

Brief Description


Gregarious Child

The need to belong

Loves a crowd

  • Encourage to interact with others
  • Contribute to class morale and school spirit
  • Co-operative learning activities and committees


Autonomous Child

The need for independence


Loves working independently

  • Complete  independent projects





Status Driven Child

The need to be important

-Very aware of feelings of others

-Becomes easily embarrassed 

-Self-esteem dependent on others so has difficulty evaluating his own performance or strengths

  • Needs an enthusiastic teacher who celebrates his unique strengths and affinities



The Inquisitive Child

The need to know


  • Ensure the curriculum is relevant to his own daily life
  • Enjoys problem solving and research


The Aggressive Child

The need to assert

Wants to have his opinions and feelings heard.

  • Give him opportunity to express his feelings
  • Avoid power struggles and allow him to make his own decisions where possible
  • Assist him to convert his aggressiveness to assertiveness that is socially appropriate.



The Power Driven Child

Needs control and influence over activities.

If he is deprived of this, he will seek inappropriate ways to gain control – such as disruption

  • Responds well to responsibility.
  • Foster his leadership skills
  • Gain his input about classroom ideas.




Recognition Driven Child

The need for acknowledgment 

-Strong need to be recognized

-Very sensitive to reprimands and criticism

-Highly self- critical and can become distraught over insignificant failures

  • Responds well to awards, certificates and public recognition.



Affiliation Driven Child

The need to associate and belong

-Wants to be identified with a collective entity and responds well to academic teams and cooperative learning

He wants to be identified with adults.

  • Responds well to belonging to teams and groups
  • Needs to feel that you know him.





In dealing with each child in a separate chapter, Lavoie also provides brilliant advice on how to work with and grow with the power driven child. An essential section to read is also on questionable practices related to reward systems as well as the numerous tips for parents to motivate their children at home.

Charity Preston, from The Organized Classroom Blog, also has some great resources which she has created in order to obtain more concrete evidence of childrens’ motivation. You can download them over here. Charity also provides a great list of motivational ideas that fall under each of the P’s listed above.

To end this post, I use my favourite Lavoie quote once again:

“If the child cannot learn the way that we teach, we must teach the way that he learns.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Things That I Know … or at least think I do.

– I do some of my best writing after midnight.

– I used to look at myself in the mirror and see my mother and it used to scare me, but now it makes me proud.

– Apparently, if you survive the sale of your house, the move will be a breeze. I know this from my knowledgeable friend Robyn – and she does all her research properly. If Robyn says it, then it is true. This week WILL be a breeze.

– Living far away from family sucks. Big time.

– When packing up your home, it is good to keep out two wine glasses to help you cope with the move. This beats drinking expensive port from the bottle because you have packed the glasses.

– Husband has proved that he CAN pick me up and carry me over the threshold.  I hope that come Thursday, he will do it without the exaggerated grunting and pain.

– Packing up your house and wiping out the cupboards feels like you are wiping up the memories. Moving house can make you excited and really sad at the same time. Drinking good red wine (or any wine for that matter) helps you deal with the distance and journey between these two emotions.

– Junior Son has informed me that I am now allowed to sing. He still thinks I am a terrible singer, but he has told me that he now knows that I am, “… just always going to sing,” and so he has decided that he, “Might as well go get used to it.”  I’ve always said he was a big thinker.

Is there something that you think you know? Tell me – I would love to know!

Posted in About me, Life | 28 Comments

Motivating Forces Part 1

Richard Lavoie

A few weeks ago, I posted about Rick Lavoie’s Myths About Motivation.  This post is a continuation on the theme of motivation, as inspired by Lavoie’s new book.

According to Lavoie, there are eight forces that motivate us. Now although we are all motivated in some way by all of them, the extent to which we are motivated by each one of these creates a “motivation profile” that becomes unique to each  one of us. Using this profile helps us understand our own children and the children we teach.

The descriptions given below are relatively brief. I highly recommend that you read Lavoie’s book to gain deeper insight into his motivational   breakthrough.

The motivational forces are:

Gregariousness, Autonomy, Status, Inquisitiveness, Aggression, Power, Recognition and Affiliation.

Lavoie recommends that you give yourself a profile rating out of 10 for each one as you read about them.  Give it a go, or think about your own child as you go along…


This person loves being in a crowd. He is the joiner…the person who does not enjoy independent, solitary projects.

Gregariousness can manifest itself positively (popularity, friendliness) or negatively (joining gangs, challenging authority).


This person’s self-esteem is very dependent on the opinions of others. He is eager to please and worries about upsetting other people.


The autonomous person thrives on working independently… kind of the opposite to the person motivated by gregariousness. The person motivated by autonomy is inspired to work on solitary projects and making decisions -and then making those decisions work.


This person is motivated by the need to learn and know – and this need is not limited to his own area of expertise.


Although it sounds like it, a person’s need for aggression is not necessarily negative or disruptive. Aggression may be used in a positive way…these are the people who are willing to confront injustice and unfairness and may do so in appropriate ways such as debating, political activism, etc.


This person is motivated by control and influence and he will relish responsibility and authority.


People who are motivated by this force thrive on a genuine need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments and efforts.


This person is motivated by a strong desire to be connected with organizations, institutions and movements…and he gathers strengths from his affiliations.

Now, if each of us had to rate ourselves out of 10 for how strongly we respond to each motivator, there would be an infinite number of variables. The chance that your own child or the children in your class have the same motivational profile as you is minimal. If I look at each member of my family, we all carry a different motivational profile,bearing in mind that these profiles, especially for children, are subject to change over time. What motivates Junior Son now, at age 7, is not going to necessarily motivate him in 5 years time. I know now that I am motivated by autonomy and status. I love working independently, but I need to know that others think I am doing okay. (I never referred to it as “status” before…who knew? I wish I wasn’t dependent on the opinions of others, but it turns out that I am and I suppose that is what has motivated me to work so hard…)

The implications of different profiles is huge. If our motivational profiles vary to such extremes, then, as Lavoie says,  “Why do we, as adults, try and motivate children by applying the forces that motivate us?”  

Think about it. How often have you tried to motivate your own children using some trick or strategy that you think would be perfect for you? Has that star chart failed?

In hindsight, I can think very specifically of an independent project I created for a child a while back. It was focused on her strength and affinity. It failed to inspire her and now I know why. The child was motivated by gregariousness and affiliation. Giving her an independent project was obviously not the right solution – giving her a team to work with would have been far more successful in motivating her.

Once we are able to identify each child’s motivational type, then we are able to pinpoint how to motivate that child in our school or home environment. As a teacher and a parent, I am sure you have needed to motivate a child, for whatever reason, at some point. 

Lavoie speaks of the six P’s that motivate our children and how they fit into these categories.  

You will be able to read about them in Part 2 … watch this space.

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Parenting Tips, Teaching Ideas | 12 Comments

45 Steps To A Happy Marriage

I enjoyed reading this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Although it has been written for newlyweds, I think it is very appropriate for us “oldies” to read too.

Fortunately I am married to a man who detests eating breakfast in bed, so obviously I am going to have to find something else to do that counts as “… the sexiest thing you can do in bed.” *

Number 45 is my favourite item on the list.

You can find the full article over here.


* Note: I am not asking for suggestions…

Posted in Dilemmas, Inspiration, Life, Parenting Tips, Resillience | 13 Comments