Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Book Whisperer

Over the summer I read The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller.  Many people in my PLN (Personal Learning Network) have talked about this book, and it has been on my list of books to read for a while. When I saw it on the shelf at the public library, that clinched it.  It is just the inspiration I needed.  I am now reading it a second time, and making notes.  Donalyn Miller writes
"Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them.  It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control. Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated." 
This is certainly not a new concept.  In fact I used to teach this way, though maybe not as well.  We used to read all the time.  I did readers workshop.  We were always engaged in lots of great books.   But over the last couple years, and especially last year, I felt that I lost my way.  Last year my school district adopted Houghton Mifflin, Journeys.  There was more and more pressure to limit reading instruction to the reading series, and to narrow the instructional focus to tested common core standards.  The pretesting and post testing schedule was relentless, and I saw my students shut down more and more.

Last year was not a good year for me.  Missing more than five weeks of school, because of an accident and broken bones, certainly did not help, but it was more than that.  I feel strongly that in our desire to increase "rigor" which is a word I hate, by the way, and make students and teachers accountable, we have taken the joy and excitement out of learning.

My goal is to put it back.  So this year I am working to balance the requirements of my school district with what I know kids really need.  I have to teach my conscience.  The whole reason I got into teaching was to share my love of learning.  I think The Book Whisperer is the road map I need to get back on track.  I will be writing other posts about this book, as I learn from it and try new things in my classroom.

We just started school on Thursday.  Our homework that first night was to complete a reading survey that Ms. Miller includes in her book on pages 202-203.  It is the Reading Interest-A-Lyzer, based on the Interest-A-Lyzer by Joseph S. Renzulli.  I started trying to make a copy of the survey from the book, and then I had the good sense to Google it.  I found a downloadable copy here.  This is going to give me a starting place for learning about my students as readers.

Here are some of my other goals for the year:

  • Immersion:  Students need to be surrounded with books of all kinds and given time and opportunity to read them every day.  
  • Conversations about reading, what is being read and what students are getting from their books need to be an on-going event.
  • Demonstrations:  Teach daily reading lessons using authentic texts like books, articles, and textbooks, designing every lesson around the skills that readers really need to develop reading proficiency. 
  • Expectations:  expect students to read every day and to read a large volume of books. The goal for the year is 40 books.  I will allow them to count the books we read together as part of that number.  
  • Responsibility:  Students need to make some of their own choices when pursuing learning goals.  Set reading requirements at a certain number of books per genre, but students have the freedom to choose which books.
  • Employment:  give students time to practice and apply the skills taught.
  • Responses: provide immediate non-threatening response on student progress.

At this point in time, I'm not sure how all of that will look, but I am excited about this journey.

Each Monday I participate in #4thChat on Twitter.  I was a little concerned about setting the reading goal at 40 books.  It seemed high for a fourth grader, so I was asking some of the other 4th grade teachers what they required.  Donalyn Miller responded in a tweet that I should set the goal at 40 books.  We live in a pretty spectacular world, when you can get advice directly from the author of the book you are reading. You gotta love technology!

Have you read The Book Whisperer?  If so, how have you used it in your classroom?

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