Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Book Whisperer

My mind is completely blown. How can everything that we are taught in college be so drastically different and yet still get test results? I have spent this summer pouring over Laura Robb's Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach and Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey. I have been reading so many research based articles on reading I think my mind can't handle any more.

Last night I finally picked up The Book Whisperer by Donalynn Miller which has sat on my coffee table for 6 weeks now. I dusted off the title and grabbed my pad of paper ready to read.

I couldn't put it down. Just like everything else I have read this summer she talks about the exact same things. Her book is an easy read--I stayed up until 5am to finish it. She doesn't give you a bunch of research and methods practices like most of the other books but instead gives us a window into her classroom to peek into as she tells us about books and conversations with her students.

I love Laura Robb, Stephanie Harvey and Nancie Atwell because they DO give you the research support to differentiate this kind of reading in your own classroom. However, Donalynn Miller practices all of these same concepts.

I still have a few questions to help wrap my mind around some of this thinking. How is it possible that this will not only make my students readers who enjoy reading but also get the test results on standardized tests? I have to say, it will take time to implement.

Laura Robb stresses that you do  not have to read the same books at the same time as your kids. You can tell when they know what they are talking about or not..I like that Donalynn Miller does read many of the same books. It helps to get the "reading bug" and to make it contagious.

I talked to my students one day last week about how we are going to do book talks this year and they will be reading different genres of books.

"But I don't have time to read. I have football practice after school and then homework for other classes," complained one of my students."

"I promise, I will give you time in class to read your book. However, you will have to do some of the reading at home too," I said.

He looked at me like he thought I was crazy. He was an advanced Language Arts student that was not reading?

"I'm just going to read Dr. Seuss," I heard him mumble.

I came home and poured over my students reading/interest surveys. A few things stood out to me about my kids. One was that they DO have time to read, they are just too busy doing "other" things. The student mentioned above was spending 3 hours a day watching TV because "I'm bored" he wrote.

I was just the start of my "ah-ha" moment. I made my students some guidelines for our book talks in our classroom, just some basic ones that Laura Robb has shared and a combination of some of my other reading this past summer.

I spent hours this past week looking for books that fit into the Realistic Fiction genre. I put them together into a PowerPoint even finding some awesome book trailers.

The kids seemed a little stumped when I told them our first book talk was on Realistic Fiction and I noticed they were looking at me like I was just adding more onto their plates. The student that said he wanted to just read Dr. Seuss looked like he was even defeated trying to figure out how he could get out of my project and reading every day since he was so busy doing other important things.

How could they go through 7 years of school and not find reading enjoyable at all? 

The next day at school I gave my students a paper to keep track of titles of books they wanted to read in the future. I called this the To Be Read "TBR" list. I told them that today all we were going to do was discuss books and they needed their TBR lists.

I then started discussing books with them going through my PowerPoint where I had collected "cool" books that fit into the Realistic genre category. They quickly scribbled down all the books they wanted to read.

At the end of the day I looked at the same student who told me he didn't have time for reading due to football, other homework, etc. He wrote down every book I mentioned in class as one he wanted to read!

I had an ah-ha moment. It is not that my students do not  want to read, it is that they don't know how to find books on their own. No one has taught them this before.

If I can get them to first trust me and trust that I can help them find "cool" books I feel that when I do recommend other books that will be more "classic" or harder in complexity they will be more willing to give it a try.

On Friday, I had five students tell me they went out and purchased one of the books they saw in my PowerPoint because they wanted to read it so bad. One even shared he was almost done with the book! Lucky me, most of the books that I showed them are part of a series so they will have to read the next one to find out what happens. :)

To put the icing on the cake I got an e-mail from a student Friday night. "Mrs. Finley, my dad is going to get me _______ book this weekend. Is it okay to read it for my realistic fiction book talk? What do you think about the book?" I quickly responded back that it was absolutely okay to read the book and left off with a comment that said, "Happy reading!"

I think I've already got my high kids hooked--even those that were maybe a little reluctant or needed some high interest books to show them that reading is cool.

I'm about to flip my classroom upside down.

Stay tuned...

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  1. That's such an awesome story about the students. My cooperating teacher uses a lot of the strategies from the Book Whisperer too. I love, love, love that book!

    My cooperating teacher likes to do book frenzies with the kids too. I think it's another good way to expose them to a variety of genres. After the frenzy, all of the students had added at least one more book that they wanted to read to their lists. I'm excited to read more about how your students learn to love reading. It sounds like you're off to a great start. :)

    Funds of Knowledge

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Dawnn! The kids are loving my read aloud at the beginning of class. It is really getting them hooked. :)

  2. Hi, Amy! Thank you for posting your experiences with your students about reading. Do you happen to have the PowerPoint for the Realistic Fiction that you presented to your students? I was hoping that you would post a link to it. I teach 7th and 8th graders, so I am always looking for ways to get them hooked on reading. :)


  3. Hi there! I'm a pre-service teacher only a week away from beginning my student teaching. As I read your post I began to see how everything I've learned in college is finally falling into place. I've read the other two books but it looks like I'll need to find the Book Whisperer and read that as well! I was always a reluctant reader until high school and now I want to be an English teacher. Thanks for the post and the book recommendation! Can't wait to try it out in my future classroom.


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