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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

Students who do not acquire good reading skills and habits before they reach middle school are very likely to do below average work during their middle and high school years. Reading and writing skills are the keys to learning and, sadly, not all children leave elementary school with those keys in hand.

Donalyn Miller, a Texas 6th grade language arts teacher and enthusiastic reader, uses her classroom to pass her love of reading on to dozens of young students each school year. Miller tried the conventional methods of teaching reading but was disappointed with the results and recognized there had to be a better way.

She came to realize that simply teaching students how to read is not good enough and, largely through her own example and encouragement, Miller’s students now learn just how wonderful a gift a love of reading is. On the first day of school, Miller’s students are challenged to read 40 books during the coming school year, books they will choose for themselves largely from the classroom’s more than 2000-book library with as much guidance from their classmates as from their teacher.

Even more importantly, the students learn that they will be given about 30 minutes per school day during which they will be allowed to read for their own pleasure. Miller does not believe in assigning a book to be read by the entire class at the same time, worksheets to be filled in as a way to verify that reading has been done, or “busy work” art projects tied to the reading. She teaches the traditional book report format but more often allows her students to do “book commercials” during which students sell the rest of the class on reading a book they have enjoyed. Miller has little tolerance for exercises that do not add to the reading skills of her pupils – she would rather have them spend that time reading.

What happens in Miller’s classroom is guaranteed to make avid readers, especially those with small children of their own, smile and shake their heads in admiration. Most of her students meet or surpass their goal of 40 books, and even those who do not meet the goal, read many more books in the 6th grade than they had in any previous school year. Miller, as she should be, is especially proud of those students who go from three or four books in the 5th grade to more than 20 during the 6th grade. She, in fact, considers those students to be some of her biggest success stories.

The Book Whisperer
is filled with ideas, experiences, and recommendations that will prove useful to every classroom teacher. One thought that will stay with me is how strongly students tend to mimic their teachers’ attitudes toward the importance of reading. Those teachers who see reading as a gift rather than a goal have the greatest positive impact on their students’ long-term reading habits. There is a strong connection between a teacher’s personal reading habits and the reading achievement of that teacher’s students. Sadly, not all teachers, even reading teachers, are good role models.

Teachers, please read this book!

Rated at: 5.0

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