Sunday, February 19, 2012

Growing readers instead of teaching reading

BlackoutI finished reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer and enjoyed my brief foray into reading just for fun (and it was a fun read, though I was taken aback by the abrupt ending.  Cue next book in series...).  Though my mountain of books-to-read at home is comparable to Everest, I am still compelled to buy more, usually from my wishlist on Amazon while trying to fulfill the $25 requirement for free shipping.  This is an almost weekly ritual, and in one of those orders to purchase a Sherlock Holmes movie for my daughterand the Caldecott-winning Blackout by John Rocco for my classroom, I bought The Book Whisperer (published by Jossey-Bass, 2009).

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every ChildI became familiar with Donalyn Miller through Twitter, of all places.  Dr. Lesesne required us to follow several different "types" of people on Twitter during our time in her YA Lit class.  One of those types was a language arts teacher, and I noted that Dr. Lesesne followed Ms. Miller, so I followed suit.  I enjoyed her tweets during book and library conferences, and notes about her sixth grade language arts class.  I also added her book to my Amazon wishlist, with no sense of urgency.  After finally reading it this weekend, I only regret not doing so sooner!  It is now sporting over two dozen sticky flags to remind me of activities, quotes, and "aha!" moments I encountered in this MUST-READ for teachers of literacy.  Let me share a few of my flagged notes and quotes from this resource which has changed the focus of my language arts time for the rest of this school year!

"Books are boring."  (p 73)  Ms. Miller handles this one with an honest "Some books are boring!", and emphasizes the rights of readers to abandon books, even in the classroom setting.

"Forty-Book Requirement"  (p 78) This is the number of books her 6th grade students are required to read each school year.  She chooses a number from each genre, and includes nine free-choice chapter books--but students are free to choose their own books within each genre.  For those students who read books over 350 pages, she allows those books to count twice.

"Are we teaching books or teaching readers?  I would rather have my students read books of questionable literary value than not read at all." (p 85) Ms. Miller emphasizes instilling the motivation to read first; moving on to 'meatier' books will be a natural progression.

Read-alouds, lessons on identifying genres, examples of student-recorded lists and response entries--these are all activities I've tagged. 

"...I read every day of my life and that I talk about reading constantly.  I am not mandating an activity for them that I do not engage in myself.  I do not promote reading to my students because it is good for them or because it is required for school success.  I advocate reading because it is enjoyable and enriching."  (p 106)  I myself am guilty of constantly trying to make that "real-world connection" with reading to my students (partly because it is part of my evaluation!).  But the reality is that if students aren't intrinsically motivated to read, none of that will matter.  The joy of reading needs to be communicated above all else, and it is best done by modeling.

"...teachers who have an aesthetic view of reading have the greatest influence on their students' motivation and interest in reading....and have more impact on the long-term reading habits of their students than those who see reading as a skill to be mastered, the instructional edge goes to the teacher who sees reading as a gift, not a goal." (p 109)  This bears out in Ms. Miller's experience, as her students go on to pass and ace the state reading tests year after year. 

"Traditional reading instruction that focuses on mandates outside of the students and stirs fear-based motivation hijacks reading away from readers.  Give it back to them." (p 139)  Ms. Miller has definite opinions on schoolwide reading programs (such as AR), home reading logs, traditional book reports, and round-robin reading.  So many aha! moments for me. 

"The only way you will know that your students read every day is to watch them read right in front of you." (p 144)  This is now my new guiding principle for my own language arts class.  Though I have always known--and taught students--that we become better readers by reading, I have not dedicated the time in the classroom where we are all engaged in reading at once, and to include myself in that activity.

I could go on and on....but I will end by saying that this book has been the most inspiring text I've read on literacy.  I've already decided to redesign my classes and an evaluation project based on the information and activities Ms. Miller has provided.  I hope to report back at the end of the school year on my students' reading success!

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