Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Book Whisperer: “Required” Reading Project

I have a stack of nonfiction books about reading and storytelling and children’s minds and children’s behaviors. I’m not sure how long I’ve been collecting them…some are at least two years old, because I bought them thinking they would prepare me for being a first time mom. I like to think I’ve done pretty good so far, but I feel lame having a stack of unread books that I really wanted, so this year I’m reading them, one a month. I started with The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, which was a great way to kick off my self-imposed “required” reading project.

I loved this book so much. I’ve always been an avid reader, but read only a few required books throughout my school career. I never really knew why, but Miller’s book addresses this problem, which is more common than you might think.

She has a refreshing approach to teaching reading and language arts: she lets her sixth graders pick their own books from her classroom library, and gives them time to read during class. I know I would have loved this, so it’s definitely an approach I’m going to adopt (the best I can, being a librarian vs. a teacher). Miller also recommends books to each student personally, after they fill out an interest form and she gets to know them. She even talks about bad books in her classroom, as in books she started but couldn’t get in to. This way students know they don’t have to love, or even finish, every book they try. It also has the perk of challenging some students to read a book the teacher couldn’t!

The book has more details about how she makes this work and still meet certain criteria for required lesson plans. Her theory is to ditch the whole-class novel because you’re “teaching readers, not books”. She suggests alternate plans to entice students who may not be readers - you can read aloud to the whole class, read aloud while they read along, etc. Miller did a great job of balancing the fantasy of making such a program work with the reality of how kids react to it, so while it’s an inspiring book, it doesn’t seem glossed over. It’s an easy, engaging read - not dense like some instruction books might be.

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