I am a loud-and-proud, avid reader.
Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about myself, even though it sometimes leads to awkward conversations:
“So, what do you like to do in your free time?”
“Um . . . read.”
*proceeds to just look at me* (based on real-life happenings)
Being an avid reader isn’t seen as a good thing by most people – the stereotype is that readers are antisocial and awkward introverts (okay, so that does describe me 93% of the time, but that’s not the point). But being an avid reader can revolutionize your teaching. That’s one of the points Donalyn Miller makes in The Book Whisper.
Thankfully, I have a strong background in reading. My mom encouraged reading while I was going up, and my grandmas always had books on hand and were always telling us stories. I had amazing teachers who helped shape my love of reading by sharing their favorite authors or books with me, teachers who loved to talk about what they were reading. One former teacher loves Jane Austin, who is now one of my favorite authors. My Senior English teacher is now a published author who gave me advice on writing and planted the crazy idea of earning a Master’s into my head before I even graduated high school.
I read The Book Whisper for the first time last summer. Alongside the examples of my former teachers, this book has strongly influenced my philosophy of teaching.
Who is it for?
Donalyn Miller is a reading teacher, so much of The Book Whisperer is based on her experiences in that field. But if you’re a pre-calc or biology teacher, don’t quit on me yet!
True, reading and Language Art teachers will gain the most out of Miller’s strategies and activities, but her reflections are good for all teachers to read. She focuses on the importance cultivating a love of reading in students and meeting students where they are, which is something I believe needs to happen in every subject area.
What I Loved
Model, Model, Model
Miller mentions multiple times (haha, alliteration – I’m so smart), the importance of teachers modeling the behavior they expect students to have. If we want our students to be life-long readers, we need to show them how to do that. When Miller’s students are reading, she’s reading. Evidence suggests there is a link between the reading habits of teachers and the reading achievements of their students.
Since Miller doesn’t use whole-group novel instruction, one way she encourages teachers to model is by reading classic works aloud. This is one of the reasons I placed a high priority on reading quality works aloud in all my classes (I do wish I would’ve put a higher priority on this – it’s easy to push reading aloud off to the side when you feel pressed for time).
With my 5th/6th grade reading class, I read Beauty and the Beast (the original fairytale) aloud as we finished up a characterization unit. I read the story aloud to them, and together we noted the different characters – who was dynamic and who was static? Who was a major character and who were some minor characters? Who was the protagonist? Why do you think that?
After we finished reading it, the students had a deeper understanding of characterization and the different types of characters. They all did great on their final test and could point out examples of charaterization in their own novels.
Create the Atmosphere
If you teach reading, you need to have books everywhere. Think about it – science classrooms look like science classrooms because of the microscopes and beakers and such. Miller emphasizes the importance of creating a room that screams “We read in here!”
One of my best friends (yo, Amy) does an amazing job of this in her classroom. I volunteered in her classroom recently, and she has books everywhere. Everywhere. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve gone shopping for “just a couple books,” and she finishes with arms full of new books for her kids. All of her students have books on their desks. She reads books her students are reading. She places a huge priority on her students having time to read, both independently and aloud. The whole atmosphere in her classroom echoes what Miller teaches – the atmosphere of the classroom needs to make it evident that reading is important.
Question and Reflect
“If you ever think you have all the answers, it’s time to retire” (pg. 14). Everything that Miller teaches through The Book Whisperer is self-discovered through research and trial-and-error. She noticed that her students weren’t excelling, so she found different approaches to her teaching style. Her personal reflections teach us to question our practices – are our activities and assessments actively contributing to our students’ growth, or are we only doing them because that’s what we’ve always done.
Over and over again, Miller stresses the importance of being real and honest with your students. If you love reading, great! Let them know that; model that love for them. Do you struggle with finding time to read? Perfect – tell your students that, too.
The ultimate goal in any subject area should be to teach students to take ownership of their learning and giving them the tools to do so. Miller argues that it’s in building relationships and modeling the life of a lifelong reader (or learner) that will encourage students to do the same.
Scattered throughout The Book Whisperer are little gems of information that I find extremely useful. Miller shares strategies and activities she uses in her classroom. I found Chapter 6 to be the most beneficial – she talks about traditional strategies and provides and explains alternatives. There are three appendixes in the back, which have forms and lists available for use. She also includes student examples and quotes to show her activities in action. I gain a lot of knowledge through reading; however, I learn to apply that knowledge through watching other people. By including all her examples, Miller helped me understand how to implement her strategies.
Most everything Miller teaches in The Book Whisper has contributed to who I am as a reader and a teacher. There are a couple areas where my views differ, but I still respect her thoughts and reasons. For example, Miller doesn’t like using whole-class novel instruction and opts for book groups instead. As a novice teacher, I lean toward using whole-class novels, because it’s easier for me to teach strategies and model when we’re all reading the same thing. I think book groups are important and make a good extension after reading a whole-class novel.
Who knows, maybe those views will change as I gain more experience.
Even if you’re not a reading teacher, if you haven’t read The Book Whisper yet, please do. You’ll find something worth your while in there. And it’s a fairly quick read.