The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller

DANGER! DANGER! Teacher post! Teacher post! 

Quick excuse for a promise you forgot about: I know, I claimed I’d do a Hunger Games commentary, but I re-read it after seeing the movie opening weekend and now I want to see the movie again before posting that. (At this point, I’ll have to wait for second run since I’m not sure who’s showing it…)

Slightly outdated Life Update (as the school year ends on Monday):  I’ve been teaching fifth grade Reading and Social Studies for the past two/three months. It’s a very odd situation. I’m technically just subbing, and for a while I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay. It was kinda like, “I can’t officially offer you anything, but can you sub here?”  I’ve been treating it like, “I’ll keep showing up till they tell me to stop.” Real assertive of me, right? Anyway. I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything earlier. So, there it is.

This teaching interim has been way different from my experience in sixth grade. I’ve had an easier time of it in fifth grade because (and this’ll sound awful, I’m sorry) I’ve been okay with being boring. If you don’t know you’ll be there the next day/week, you keep it simple. We’ve been reading a story from the textbook, testing, and moving on to the next story on a weekly basis. We’ve read a lot of cool stuff, actually. We’ve recently read about ghost towns, King Midas, and an excerpt from Journey to the Center of the Earth. They loved the Titantic story, and they begged me to read a story about the Hindenburg. I have a hard time communicating clearly, and having a set routine that we do has been WAY easier than the reading journals/lit circles/ multiple novels I tried last year. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I said it was rewarding at the time because I now have two novels under my belt.  I’ll never do it again. I nearly drove myself crazy; why do that to yourself?)

That being said, The Book Whisperer is how I want to teach. Miller says every child is a reader, whether they know it or not.  There are some that come into school as an “underground reader,” which means they love reading and hate Reading class. You’re holding them back; don’t do that. There are some that come into school that simply don’t know what to read.  Take what they already know and build onto that.

Like I said, I really liked her style, and it reminds me a lot of my favorite English teacher in middle school.  Before SOLS, my free-thinking hippie teacher let us have reading days and let us talk about books and was amazing. If memory serves me correctly, we’ve always had Drop Everything And Read at our school(s)– maybe not elementary, but definitely upper grades.  15 minutes was enough to get people interested.

I’m droning. Let me sum up:
Give them time to read in class. That’s the best way to make sure they’re reading in the first place, but it encourages them in their reading efforts.
If they don’t like a book, they can pick another one.
Give them a goal: Miller’s goal is 40 books for the whole year. 
She says she has had only a handful of students who have not reached/surpassed this goal, but the fact that they read 20-some books the year she had them versus the two the year before, well, you’ve accomplished a biggie!
Out of this goal, make sure they make different selections. I like fantasy books, as you may have noticed. If I don’t branch out and read other books every now and then, I won’t find other books that I enjoy.  She makes them read a minimum of certain genres: 5 non-fiction, 3 poetry, etc. The number can change from year to year depending on standard changes, etc.
If you focus on reading skills, they’ll be decent test-takers. If you’re a reader, the standardized testing is nothing to you.
Instead of teaching to the test, teach reading skills and teach tests as a reading genre.  I’ve never heard this idea before, but that is brilliant!
Encourage discussion of books.  It sparks more interest. Be open, admit, “gee, I’m struggling with this book,”/ when you’ve stayed up late reading… etc.
Brilliant side-effect to this method: This means no kid can ask “What do I do after _____?” It’s obvious: Read. 

How I’ll apply it: I will probably still teach from the book or from novels (depending on the school system) so that the class can have common experiences. However, that will be to teach certain concepts. The kids will find concepts in their own reading, but I’m new at this, and want to make sure they *get it.* However, I’m totally doing DEAR, book groups, etc.  I love the idea of test taking as a genre. (Sidenote, sorry for babbling: My fifth graders complained about not having a chance to practice bubbling. I’m sure they were kidding, but how funny. I assume they practiced in 3rd grade when they started the tests, but still…)

Grade: A!  Inspiring, but practical and easy to implement. The last teaching book I read was by Rafe. I totally look up to him, but let’s face it, I’m new at the game, it’ll take me a while to reach that confidence level/tenure. 🙂 But, if my job is to “evangelize for reading”, this is the way to go.

I get to work the local book fair next week (I’M SO EXCITED!!!)! Any suggestions that I should be on the look out for, leave a comment. I know I’ll leave with more books than I’ll know what to do with! 🙂



Filed under Teacher stuff, Uncategorized

4 responses to “The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller

  1. Helen M. Bowman

    A Long Walk for Water by Linda Park and Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen are two new titles that would fit 5th Rdg/SS curriculum. The Book Whisperer is now required reading in ENGL 354.
    Choice and accomodations for unmet goals! A winner.

    • I’m really glad you recommended it to our class! It was a really easy read and I know your class will enjoy it. Thanks for the new book suggestions!

  2. I’m looking for a movie I saw a few years ago about people that hear books. Any idea what it’s called? Obviously not “The Book Whisperer”.

    • I’m not sure exactly. Have you checked out Inkheart? It is about a family who can essentially read books into life. I don’t know if they can “hear” books, though.

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