In my last post, I mentioned that I was reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It is a book written by a fabulous 6th grade teacher that loves reading and has figured out how to share and foster that love with her middle school students. I shied away from the book when it first was released last year because I am a primary teacher. I have to tell you after reading it in about 2 days that I regret not reading it sooner. Donalyn has reminded me about what matters most for students right before the start of the school year. Much of what I am taking away from the book are the messages she whispers in her writing. I loved the straight forward, authentic voice she has as a writer. She shares her journey as a reader and a teacher and the changes she has made to help her students catch the reading bug. As I read, I made connections to her thinking even as a teacher of our youngest readers. I couldn’t help but think about how her ideas can help anyone who teaches reading.
I had to start writing my thoughts about how her ideas influenced my learning and thinking. Here’s what I can’t stop thinking about…
Reading is a journey. Donalyn shares many moments in her life as a reader as well as a teacher. She encourages us to share our struggles and successes in our journey with our students.
LISTENING has to be the most used strategy she uses to connect with her students. She listens to their conversations, reads their thoughts about books and asks them questions about their life in order to help her choose books they will love. (She is limited to two hours a day with a class but I have all day to listen.) In fact she says… ”I will continue today, tomorrow and everyday after until I have made preview stacks or pulled select titles for all of my students.” Now that is listening!
Validation. She recognizes every student as a reader and sets expectations that all students can adopt attitudes and behaviors of readers.
She embraces the classroom not just with a reading corner but as an entire reading space where students are surrounded by books.
She lets her students just READ. In fact, I love when she says, “No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, students will never build capacity as readers.”
She has let go of many controls she had over kids reading like assigning the whole class to read a novel. I think as primary teachers we can over-rely on controlled reading like when we rely just on leveled books for teaching kids to read. Sharing great picture books and helping kids see the supports of picture book texts like repeating words, rhyme and using pictures to enjoy reading naturally exposes kids to understanding real reading.
My last and favorite is that she has said goodbye to worksheets and comprehension fill-out forms, filling her old morning warm-up time with free, voluntary reading! Gotta love books in the morning!
Donalyn also blogs at the Book Whisperer and has challenged herself to read a book a day this summer.