Monday 31 December 2012

366. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
Published February 2009 John Wiley

From the publisher:
Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn't turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller's students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller's unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring. The book includes a dynamite list of recommended "kid lit" that helps parents and teachers find the books that students really like to read.

All bets are off for book number 366.  It’s not a children’s book, and it’s not new, it was published in 2009.  I have included it because a friend of mine mentioned it, she’s a school librarian, and it sounded like the book that everyone who has anything to do with children and books should read.  As I was reading this book, I did think there was no way I could include it, mainly for the fact that I knew I wouldn't know where to stop when it came to raving about it, so I apologise in advance for that, and I really did try to only highlight the parts that jumped out at me.

Uses Interest Surveys  to get to know her students.  It's such a simple thing, but if you want to be able to recommend a book for a child you do actually have to know something about the child.  In my personal experience there really isn't really a one book fits all.  Working in a retail bookstore I am often faced with a customer who wants a book for a 10 year old girl, when I ask what sorts of things does she like, what was the last book she read that she loved, they can't tell me, but they still want that perfect book.  and that's one of the reasons I find Donalyn's approach so interesting.

Donalyn Understands that students home lives can be busy, with little free time, so she makes sure that she allows time to read in her class every day. She has a classroom library of over 2000 books, but she still takes her students to the school library on a regular basis.  She says, 'Part of wearing a reader's clothes is learning how to navigate a library and feeling at home in one.  Poring through the stacks alongside my students is a great opportunity for me to show them how to find books, expose them to a larger collection and teach library etiquette.' (page 59).  With the alarming trend of school getting rid of their libraries, this attitude 

One of the key reading requirements in Donalyn's class is that her students will read forty books a year.  As she says, for many people who only read a book or two a year it may seem a hefty requirement, but her argument is that is she set the target of say 20 books, then they will read 20 books, if you set the target of 40 they will read 40 books.  She believes that the 40 books is enough to instill a love of reading and help the students catch the reading bug.  There are guidelines within those 40 books, she sets a specific number of books that students must read in each genre, but the specific number is not set, and may change from year to year depending on the students in her class, or it may factor in any curriculum requirements.

The book contains many examples of Donalyn's students, and even how to deal with students who may not complete the task, but not reading the required 40 books doesn't have to be a failure, as she mentions, one of her students who had read one book in his entire life, read 23 while in her class, so that can't be considered a failure.  She also tries to get away from terms like struggling readers, using the terms Developing Readers, Dormant Readers and Underground Readers instead.

Another point that I really like is in regard to reading freedom and encouraging students to make their own reading choices...even if that choice isn't the most literary one.  If, as a teacher you support that choice and the child feels validated, they are more likely to take your advice when suggesting more inspiring reading material, and then hopefully move readers on to something more substantial.

The way in which Donalyn connects with each student and ensures that they are reading is to hold regular conferences.   Each student has a reader's notebook that shows a tally of what they have read, a reading list where they record what they've read/attempted/abandoned, a books to read list and Response entries, in the form of letters where the students reflect on their personal reaction to books. There's even a section for teachers/educators who may not be readers themselves, and a Reading Improvement Plan which will hopefully get teachers back on track as readers.

The author of this book is American, so her Ultimate Library List (It is worth noting that this list has been created by her students) is pretty much all US authors with a handful of UK authors thrown in such as JK Rowling, Anthony Horowitz and Eoin Colfer to name a few.  There are no Australian authors included at all, so for Australian teachers and librarians it might be useful resource when looking for some great US content, but you would need to use your own favourites or consult other lists for Australian content.  There is however a mention of The Day My Butt Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths on page 85!

The author makes a point that the book could do two things.  It could either open educators eyes to the possibilities of books in the classroom, or it may reinforce what teachers and librarians are already doing.  Even if you have a class/school full of readers, it’s an interesting book and it’s full of useful and easy ideas. She has even included a number of appendices at the back of the book.  She explains how she set up her own classroom library, there's the Ultimate Library List (mentioned above), and her Student Forms which includes Reading Interest-A-Lyzer, Characteristics of Genre and an End-Of-Year Reading Evaluation.

Who will like this book: Anyone who want to make sure there will be a next generation of readers.
Read it if you like: to feel inspired

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your fantastic achievement! 366 books for the year just gone. Thankyou for your dedication and inspirational comments.