The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child Paperback – 3 Apr 2009
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About the Author
Donalyn Miller teaches 6th grade language arts and social studies at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas. She also writes an ongoing blog for teachermagazine.org. The book is published in partnership with Education Week Press (www.edweek.org).
From the Back Cover
". . . a primer of the heart on how to make reading magical again."
― Carol Ann Tomlinson
Donalyn Miller is a dedicated teacher who says she has yet to meet a child she couldn′t turn into a reader. In The Book Whisperer, Miller takes us inside her 6th grade classroom to reveal the secrets of her powerful but unusual instructional approach. Rejecting book reports, comprehension worksheets, and other aspects of conventional instruction, Miller embraces giving students an individual choice in what they read combined with a program for independent reading. She also focuses on building a classroom library of high–interest books, and above all on modeling appropriate and authentic reading behaviors. Her zeal for reading is infectious and inspiring, and the results speak for themselves. No matter how far behind Miller′s students may be when they start out, they end up reading an average of 40 books per year, achieve high scores on standardized tests, and internalize a love for reading that lasts long after they′ve left her class.
Travel alongside the author as she leads her students to discover the ample rewards of reading and literature. Brought to life with Miller′s passionate voice, The Book Whisperer will help teachers support students of all levels on their path to reading success. It also includes an invaluable list of books that Miller′s students most enjoy reading.
"Miller′s new book, The Book Whisperer, is a breath of fresh air. Powerful and practical, this book will support you as you change your classroom for the better while helping you to understand how to overcome current classroom cultures where some children learn and many learn to hate reading."
―Richard L. Allington, Ph.D., University of Tennessee
"In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller deftly describes the inherent need children have to engage with books, intellectually and emotionally. The book is a timely and rare gift for teachers."
―Ellin Oliver Keene, author and consultant
"This book reminds anyone―who is lucky enough to have loved a book―what classrooms and kids have lost in our frenzy to ′cover′ content and standardize student performance in the name of reading. This is a primer of the heart on how to make reading magical again."
―Carol Ann Tomlinson, William Clay Parish, Jr. Professor of Education, University of Virginia
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The author pulled me in from the beginning by being a reflection of what I'd like to see myself be as a literature teacher. Mainly, she's able to turn non-readers into readers and to turn book loathers into book lovers. Her 6th grade class is challenged to read 40 books each year and most go even beyond that goal. But I work with adult ESL students in an American literature class. Could her methods work for them as well? In one week, I've already noticed an excitement from my book loathers when I announce that it's time for pleasure reading in class. They know that if they don't like something, they're not going to be forced to read it for "pleasure". And that seems to make all the difference to them.
I felt the need to underline passages and write in the margins of this book (a rarity for me) as I read. Miller talks about how important it is that students read to become good readers. This is why she feels so strongly about giving free reading time in class. She also feels that teachers should re-evaluate class activities to determine whether such activities are accomplishing anything or are mere busy work that could be replaced by reading time. She also expresses the importance of reading leading to private dialogue or "whispering" between student and teacher and between student and student. This whispering can be accomplished through letters back and forth between student and teacher and from individual student-teacher conferences. It can also be accomplished through book reviews and class projects like book commercials.
Miller seems to have reached many of the same conclusions I've reached within the past couple of years. For example, I recently added a class library from among my own books and let students choose their own novel to read rather than reading a group novel. However, many of the things I've felt haven't been working for my class but have had no solution to are things Miller was able to find a solution for. For example, she gives alternative ideas to students stumbling over reading aloud in class round-robin-style. And she discusses alternatives to reading logs which students aren't likely to keep up with. I also added many of her beginning-of-the-year interest survey questions to the survey I had been using to give me a deeper insight into my students' minds.
I'm excited by the possibilities this book has offered me for the teaching of my class. I feel that every reading and literature teacher should take the time to read this book. I think that any open-minded, book-loving reading teacher with enough time can use the strategies in this book to help their students develop a genuine love for reading.
In the mean time, anyone who considers himself or herself a teacher needs to read THE BOOK WHISPERER. It's a book that gets right to the heart of what makes us readers and how to instill that love of words and stories in our kids. Miller goes right after so-called "tried and true" methods like comprehension tests, book reports, whole class required novels, and test preparation workbooks not just with empty criticism but with solid research that supports reading time and student choice. More importantly, she provides a healthy list of more kid-friendly, reading-friendly alternative strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms right away.
Truly, this book is a model for getting kids back to books they love, and it provides a great model for classroom teachers to follow. For those who aren't sure where to start, there are plenty of anecdotes, sample student interactions, and useful classroom forms to get new teachers started.
I'm both a children's author and a National Board Certified middle school English teacher, and I found myself nodding my way through these pages to the very end. Miller's ideas -- and they're ideas that smart teachers all over our country are using in various ways -- have the power to make a real difference in education.
She also loves being a teacher. She loves her job, respects her students and shares her love for books and reads with her students. She learns her students' personal reading preferences by making them fill out surveys at the start of the school year. Those who don't like to read learn to love to read by the end of the school year.
Her tips make a lot of sense. She suggests the reading teacher do the following: develop a personal library, create reading workshops, initiate book groups, allow students to read books they enjoy and don't demand book reports, have a reading corner with comfortable furniture available, and give the students some empowerment by working with their personal reading interests. If a student can read at least 30 minutes a day then the student is on its way on becoming a book whisperer.
One good tip for teachers: read more children's books and take recommendations from your students on what you should read.
According to Miller, there are three types of readers: the Developing reader, the Dormant (reluctant) reader and the Underground (gifted) reader. All can overcome their hesitance to read if teachers allow them to choose their own books to read. Her class day starts every day with fifteen minutes of "Independent Reading" where students can read whatever they want, a book, a magazine, a picture book, silently. If a book doesn't interest them after a few minutes, they can try another book. If they want to read an old favorite they have already read, they can read it again. She is there to mentor the students. And she reads in class as well, to be a role model.
Although the students chose the books they want to read, Miller does have a few requirements that they must follow: of the 40 book requirement, five must be poetry anthologies, five must be traditional literature, five must be realistic fiction, another five historical fiction, four must be fantasy, two must be science fiction, two must be mysteries, four must be informational, two must be autobiographical, and nine must be chapter-book choices. She then discusses various genres and lets the students define the individual terms. This is how she adheres to her state's required curriculum standards.
What works for Miller is that she also teaches social studies. If her class is studying a time such as World War II, she suggests reading books that deal with that war. This helps students become more engaged in all aspects of literature and history.
But there is more to just silent, independent reading. Instead of dreaded book reports (She prefers book reviews); she has her students discuss the books they have read. She discusses genre, writing styles, themes, content. (Is there a book she hasn't read?) Students are also required to maintain a reading notebook journal.
All these tips make sense, but my question as an educator is how can these tips work for the middle and especially the high school student? I taught six grade once and the students were still in love with reading, but a few grades later, plagued with hormonal overdrive, reading got replaced with texting, iPoding, and emailing.
One thing that is crucial to implementing Donalyn's strategies is having a principal and a school district that will support these reading endeavors. Yes, reading what one enjoys reading does develop a stronger reader and a more compassionate and civic-minded citizen, but this is harder to implement when most class hours are 60 minutes or less. In Miller's instance, classes were 90 minutes long; long enough to have independent reading before marching on to other requirements.
My two questions, however, didn't get answered. Can a teacher make a student who has poor English comprehension, become an avid reader in an English-speaking classroom? And how can we get teenagers in high school to learn to love reading?
No doubt Miller is an excellent teacher and her school should be proud of her, but I go away from this book resigned to the fact that her style and her advice are best for elementary school teachers. For someone like me who deals mostly with high school kids, this book is not quite helpful enough.
Still, her book was a great read. Her love for her students is very obvious.
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