Friday, September 24, 2010

The Book Whisperer

As some of you know, I have a 6-year-old daughter named Gretchen. Gretchen is in first grade and although I feel she is exceptionally bright (what mother doesn't?), she absolutely hates doing her reading and math homework. In particular, I'm surprised she hasn't taken to her reading homework as we find she has always loved having books read to her. I know she can read tough words - she surprises me every day with the words she sounds out and tells me she can read - but she has no interest in reading the 1 page story she has to read to me 3 times each night.

Out of desperation, I came across "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller at my local library. As I have read this book I felt like the clouds parted and the heavens started singing. This teacher - Donalyn Miller - gets it. As she describes how she gets her 6th graders to read 40 books a year, I am in awe of how on the mark she is about why people, like me, end up being life-long readers. The current system we have in American schools for standardized tests, comprehension assignments, etc. nearly extinguishes any passion children may have for reading.

Some of the key things Miller does in her classroom are:
1. Independent reading (upwards of 30 minutes a day) happens in her classroom every single day

2. Students are allowed to select the books they read to achieve their 40 book requirement - making sure they read adequate amounts of books from various genres

3. She rarely requires book reports or comprehension tests; she gauges whether a student is reading by talking with the students and offering recommendations for future reading

Seems too simply, right?

At the end of 2008 I got sucked into reading the Twilight series of books. And when I finally emerged from a 3 week reading binge I realized how much I missed reading. Since finishing college in 2001 I had unintentionally taken a hiatus from the voracious amounts of reading I did in high school and college. As much as I find the Twilight books annoying now, I do credit them with rekindling a love of reading and now a somewhat obsessive hobby to those who know and love me.

I think Donalyn Miller summed up my feelings how books help us to relate to each other as humans. We need to encourage students to become a lifelong readers because of this need to relate.

p. 173 of "The Book Whisperer"
This is how I show my students that I love them - by putting books in their hands, by noticing what they are about, and finding books that tell them, 'I know. I know. I know how it is. I know who you are, and even though we may never speak of it, read this book, and know that I understand you.' We speak in this language of books passing back and forth, books that say, 'You are a dreamer; read this.' 'You are hurting inside; read this.' 'Your need a good laugh; read this.'

I can't recommend this book highly enough to parents and educators who want to encourage children to love to read. My prayer is that I have a daughter who soon discovers this love for reading and grabs it and makes it her own.

To recap:

Worth reading: Definitely

Worth buying my own copy: If you're an educator, yes

Recommend to friends: Yes

Stars: 5 out of 5


PS - Donalyn Miller has a blog with teachermagazine.org that is worth checking out. Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/donalynbooks

1 comment:

donalynm said...

I am glad that you found The Book Whisperer meaningful. I learned a great deal about my own reading and teaching journey while writing it. It's wonderful to find another kindred reading spirit!