- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (March 16, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0470372273
- ISBN-13: 978-0470372272
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 498 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child 1st Edition
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Because she couldn’t find a book that showed her how to use her own love of books to imbue her elementary students with the same love, Miller, Teacher Magazine blogger, decided to write her own. She recalls her personal journey as a teacher and the surprise and disappointment of learning that book loving cannot be automatically passed on to students. No more having the whole class read the same novel. She gave her students questionnaires to determine their interests and personally selected stacks of books of possible interest to them, then allowed them to read independently—at least 40 books a school year. She recounts the experience of some students struggling and others exhilarated by the freedom to read. Miller’s tactics resulted in improvement in her students’ vocabulary, comprehension, and writing. She also saw students respect book suggestions that came from a reader’s passion rather than a teacher’s agenda. Miller includes reading lists, activities, questionnaires, and other resources. Although aimed at teachers, this book will also definitely appeal to parents interested in encouraging their children to read. --Vanessa Bush
[Starred review] Miller, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher and blogger, has enabled students of many different backgrounds to enjoy reading and to be good at it; her students regularly score high on the Texas standardized tests. Her approach is simple yet provocative: affirm the reader in every student, allow students to choose their own books, carve out extra reading time, model authentic reading behaviors, discard timeworn reading assignments such as book reports and comprehension worksheets, and develop a classroom library filled with high-interest books. Her students regularly read more than 40 books in a school year and leave her classroom with an appreciation and love of books and reading. Miller provides many tips for teachers and parents and includes a useful list of ultimate reading suggestions picked by her students. This outstanding contribution to the literature is highly recommended for teachers, parents, and others serving young students.—Mark Bay, Univ. of the Cumberlands Lib., Williamsburg, KY (Library Journal, March 15, 2009)
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Anyway, back to the book. It has been harder to write this review than I had expected. Mostly I found it an enjoyable and accessible read. Unlike some bookworms, she does not delight in using obscure words, and there is a fair amount of white space, so the text is easy on the eyes and there is room for making notes.
Ms Miller starts right out with giving us a piece of her mind about the system as it currently works, or doesn't. She doesn't have much use for the practice of "teaching to the test" or of many of the tests themselves. She makes some good arguments for a lot of our academic practices being more about profit and self-propagation than about benefits to the immensely diverse student population. She doesn't like reading logs, or comprehension tests, for example, and she explains why. Her arguments make sense but her methods won't work for everyone - I think, though, that they could work for many! She is definitely passionate about her subject, and while I think she knows whereof she speaks, at times I believe that she is a little too passionate, a little biased, and that there are other methods and that sometimes the system isn't all bad. But that is really only a small quibble; the work is spirited and moving.
Sometimes it seems that she is more dedicated towards getting the kids to read and enjoy anything than towards leading them to seek out what is right and noble and all of that. But then again, each generation has its own standards and you have to start somewhere. I think perhaps my quibble should be with the publishers who allow such titles as The Day My Butt Went Psycho - a book that many of her emergent readers (especially boys) enjoy, and that I have indeed seen in a bookstore so I know it exists. On the other hand, who am I to judge? So you see, this book can raise a lot of questions. And she certainly shares many titles. I plan to look up another favorite, A Girl in Blue, by Ann Rinaldi.
While she doesn't bury us in boring data, Ms Miller does cite some interesting studies. Of course, I don't know how many other studies she doesn't cite. For example, "Teachers fare no better on surveys of adult reading behaviors than the general population; in the 2004 article, "The Peter Effect," Anthony and Mary Applegate report that of the preservice teachers whom they studied, 54.3 percent were unenthusiastic about reading, leaving little hope that these teachers would be able to inspire students to engage in an activity they themselves did not enjoy." (p. 107)
Ms Miller provides us with a variety of tools. She shares copies, both filled in and blank, of the worksheets that she does use in her classes, which are more about the students and their responses to life and reading than about books, but which are nonetheless thought-provoking and indicative of the literary growth her students achieve. She also shares titles and lists of titles, and the occasional website, such as "Jen Robinson's Book Page"[...], as well as a couple of pages of references.
Mostly I found The Book Whisperer to be an enjoyable read. I am neither a teacher nor any other sort of educator, but I am a parent and a book lover. Towards the end I started to feel that perhaps the book showed a little bias, but I think that for its value, any bias was worth the price. I think that we would benefit from listening to her, and altering our educational system. Each district will need to take what works best, but I suppose it is at the Federal and State levels that we need to be given the freedom to take these actions. The results, however, speak for themselves. Her kids read!
She also loves being a teacher. She loves her job, respects her students and shares her love for books and reads with her students. She learns her students' personal reading preferences by making them fill out surveys at the start of the school year. Those who don't like to read learn to love to read by the end of the school year.
Her tips make a lot of sense. She suggests the reading teacher do the following: develop a personal library, create reading workshops, initiate book groups, allow students to read books they enjoy and don't demand book reports, have a reading corner with comfortable furniture available, and give the students some empowerment by working with their personal reading interests. If a student can read at least 30 minutes a day then the student is on its way on becoming a book whisperer.
One good tip for teachers: read more children's books and take recommendations from your students on what you should read.
According to Miller, there are three types of readers: the Developing reader, the Dormant (reluctant) reader and the Underground (gifted) reader. All can overcome their hesitance to read if teachers allow them to choose their own books to read. Her class day starts every day with fifteen minutes of "Independent Reading" where students can read whatever they want, a book, a magazine, a picture book, silently. If a book doesn't interest them after a few minutes, they can try another book. If they want to read an old favorite they have already read, they can read it again. She is there to mentor the students. And she reads in class as well, to be a role model.
Although the students chose the books they want to read, Miller does have a few requirements that they must follow: of the 40 book requirement, five must be poetry anthologies, five must be traditional literature, five must be realistic fiction, another five historical fiction, four must be fantasy, two must be science fiction, two must be mysteries, four must be informational, two must be autobiographical, and nine must be chapter-book choices. She then discusses various genres and lets the students define the individual terms. This is how she adheres to her state's required curriculum standards.
What works for Miller is that she also teaches social studies. If her class is studying a time such as World War II, she suggests reading books that deal with that war. This helps students become more engaged in all aspects of literature and history.
But there is more to just silent, independent reading. Instead of dreaded book reports (She prefers book reviews); she has her students discuss the books they have read. She discusses genre, writing styles, themes, content. (Is there a book she hasn't read?) Students are also required to maintain a reading notebook journal.
All these tips make sense, but my question as an educator is how can these tips work for the middle and especially the high school student? I taught six grade once and the students were still in love with reading, but a few grades later, plagued with hormonal overdrive, reading got replaced with texting, iPoding, and emailing.
One thing that is crucial to implementing Donalyn's strategies is having a principal and a school district that will support these reading endeavors. Yes, reading what one enjoys reading does develop a stronger reader and a more compassionate and civic-minded citizen, but this is harder to implement when most class hours are 60 minutes or less. In Miller's instance, classes were 90 minutes long; long enough to have independent reading before marching on to other requirements.
My two questions, however, didn't get answered. Can a teacher make a student who has poor English comprehension, become an avid reader in an English-speaking classroom? And how can we get teenagers in high school to learn to love reading?
No doubt Miller is an excellent teacher and her school should be proud of her, but I go away from this book resigned to the fact that her style and her advice are best for elementary school teachers. For someone like me who deals mostly with high school kids, this book is not quite helpful enough.
Still, her book was a great read. Her love for her students is very obvious.
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I agree with her premise.Read more