Remember When Reading Was Fun?

In chapter 2 of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller writes,

“Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them.  It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control.  Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated.”

I mean, let’s just pour out some of our drink in honor of Ms. Miller right now, shall we?  Because this is the point in my nerdy reading where I shouted, “Hell, yeah!” and may have scribbled several furious notes in the margin.  I know.  I am such a dork.

For me, the most salient parts of this chapter focused on the joy of reading and the need to be positive when talking or thinking about the readers in our classrooms.  I LOVED her emphasis on allowing children to choose their own books and her focus on igniting the joy of reading and sharing books.  That is her first goal.  Matching books to readers remains essential, but first comes instilling the love, the joy of reading.  How many students are discouraged as readers because they are told that must only read books at a certain level and only at that level?  Is that truly choice?  Yes, it is key to make sure our students are working with books that will provide them with success while challenging them in appropriate ways, but we must remember that leveling is  a TOOL not a RULE.  Lately, I wonder if, like most things that start out as a good idea in schools, we have abused and over-used this tool.

Another moment that caused me to pause and reflect on my own practice was Ms. Miller’s recognition of three types of readers or reading trends: the developing readers, the dormant readers and the underground readers.  I loved this in comparison to referring to students as “a level F” (if you speak Fountas & Pinnell) or “a 16” (if you speak DRA).  I’m sure that within each of these categories of readers there exist a variety of levels and groupings, but I think her shift to grouping children by their reading behaviors and framing them in a positive fashion is key.  Too often, we reduce reading instruction to a list of skills kids must possess to move level to level because of the test, the data, the SPREADSHEETS!  However, there is so much more to growing a reader than marching through a list of skills – like encouraging certain behaviors and developing an identity as a reader.  I think Ms. Miller has hit the nail on the head that is sometimes hidden under mountains of prescriptive bullshit.

Finally, I am bananas over Ms. Miller’s list of conditions for learning which include immersion, demonstrations, expectations, responsibility (on the part of the student), employment (as in authentic practice), approximations (as in acknowledgement of success), response, and engagement.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the skills and move, move moving to COVER THE CONTENT QUICK, that we forget about the importance of setting the tone of our environment.  While I’m sure most of you out there know that creating an optimal environment for student learning is at the top of your list of things to do in September, I also know that most of you are not in control of your scope and sequence or your classroom time.  So there’s that.

What did YOU think while reading chapter two?  Any take aways?  Highlighted passages?  Moments of reflection?  Ideas you brought into your own practice?  Sharing is caring, my lovelies.

Until Chapter 3…be nerdy!


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1 Comment
  • Although I don't have any comments on chapter 2 at this time, let me say that I bought the audio book, concerned that I didn't have enough time in my day to join the group any other way. Using my time to and from school, I zipped through the book and loved it! Well, of course, I had to purchase the hard copy! I am now starting to read and make notes. Hoping to transform my Advisory!

    October 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm

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