Friday, July 12, 2013

The Book Whisperer Chapter 7

I am so excited to be able to host the final chapter of The Book Whisperer book study!
 I first read this fabulous book last summer and fell in LOVE with the philosophy behind
Donalyn's Miller view of reading.

My name is Lynda and you can usually find me over at my little blog, Curls and a Smile.
I have taught both first and second grades for 14 years and am very excited to be teaching fourth grade this coming school year.

When I reviewed this book again this summer, I saw it with a whole new perspective. The readers that I will be working with will have more experience and know themselves better as readers. Unlike my little ones in the past, I won't be as focused on the "how to read" but more on the "why we read"and this will enrich our paths as we look at becoming life long readers.
I know this and there will be some growing pains. It is not a simple transition and I am the first to admit that I am a work in progress but I am committed to making sure that the joy of reading is first and foremost in my classroom.

As Ms. Miller suggests, I believe in giving my students as much book time as possible. They keep books as their desks, they have access to any and every book in my classroom (including the books I have read to them in class) and I have a classroom library available to them. I work to give them a variety of reading materials including several genres and access to electronic books and audio books to use alongside their written books.
I read in front of them. Oh yes! I read all the time and I share my reasons and purposes for reading whatever book may be in my hand. Whether it be a professional book to a magazine to the latest book in a brand new series, I talk to my students and engage them in conversation. I explain that what intrigues me to read certain books and even tell them about the times that I just couldn't get into a book and had to put it to the side. Some may wonder why....others understand that for my students to develop their ability to understand themselves as readers, they have to have a model. For some students, we are the only models they have and that is critical. Our students need our ENTHUSIASTIC ENCOURAGEMENT to discover themselves as readers.
Reading for enjoyment and interest are encouraged in my classroom and choice for their independent read is theirs alone. I lend my assistance to my students to encourage reading different types of books and make recommendation to them based on what I know from about each student. I take every opportunity I can to make connections to books they might ignite that fire to read. 
One of the most striking sections of this chapter is when Ms. Miller discusses connecting with her students through books. She discusses how reading and book recommendations can be implemented as a way of building relationships with her students. I love the thought of reading becoming entwined with deep understanding of each child in her class and not only feeding them academically but emotionally as well. Building trust with her students. When you connect with your students, you give value to their opinion, their thinking and their understanding of the world around them. Providing a safe environment will nurture life long learners and readers.

I, like some of you, have struggled with the transition of grading and assignments and I completely understand that integral piece of this conversation. We must each figure out how best to work these teaching practices into out daily routines, classroom lessons and learning environment to help foster and grow life long readers. Finding, building and valuing a love of reading is what we want for all our students.

Throughout the journey with Ms. Miller and her students, we have experienced them grow and develop into true and sincere readers but the question remains...what happens when they leave our classrooms?
We will question ourselves because of the culture of teacher centered instruction and standardized tests and we know that there is a chance that the next teacher may not have the same environment to continue to foster our students reading in the same way.
But as we learned from Ms. Miller, we have to find ways to give joy to reading and know that when we let them go, we have opened their eyes to the beauty of being a reader. Her students returned, looking for her to discuss, share and talk about books.
Once the fire was lit, the flame could not be put out.
Ms. Miller's The Book Whisperer is an amazing read and challenges each and every one of us to awaken the reader that is in every student that enters our classroom.
Thank you so much for reading along with me and all the teachers here at
We Read, We Teach, We Blog.
It has been my absolute pleasure to be part of this fabulous book study!
I would love to see you at my blog!
Come by and visit me!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Book Whisperer, Chapter 6

Hi guys!
I am so honored to be hosting chapter 6 for this book study!
My name is Daina and I'm currently a 1st grade teacher! You can usually find me over at my blog - Sticky Notes & Glitter! I would love it if you check out my blog once you have read my post and shared some thoughts on Chapter 6!
I am loving this book so far and I truly hope you are too! Chapter 6, titled "Cutting the Teacher Strings" is a GREAT chapter. It is BURSTING with great information so I will do my best to highlight most of it. I will tell you this though, if you don't have the book, get it and read it because there's no way I can convey to you in one post the awesome information Ms. Miller is offering in this chapter!
To start off the chapter, there were two quotes. I wanted to highlight one of them because I truly thinks it sums up the whole feeling of this chapter!
I think this is such a great quote because I think it really does sum up how most students feel about reading instruction in school! And that's certainly NOT how we want them to feel about it! We want to create lifelong learners and readers. We don't want to create students who despise reading because of all of the "strings" attached to every reading assignment given or every book that child picks up!
Ms. Miller discusses how an obscene amount of $$ has been spent in trying to figure out why demotivation happens to so many children in regards to reading when they approach adolescence and how the answers are right in front of us. The CHILDREN can answer that question for us so let's see what they have to say!
Seeing the Wallpaper
I love what Ms. Miller brings up in this section. It really struck home with me as I was reading it. She explains that, in a nutshell, teachers are sometimes so influenced by school culture or doing things a certain way because every other teacher does it that way, that the true goals of these activities are not being questioned.
We have to ask ourselves WHY we are doing certain reading practices and ARE they being done for the right purpose and in the right way to create lifelong readers?
Ms. Miller then examines several "tried-and-true" practices to find out if they are accomplishing what they are intended to.
Traditional Practice: Whole-Class Novels
A very popular way of instructing students of various reading components but does it achieve the intended goal? Ms. Miller says no. Now, I'm a primary teacher. I have taught Pre-K for 1 year, and 1st grade for 2 years. I DID teach 3rd grade for 1 year as well so that's really my only non-primary experience. I have to admit reading this whole-class novels part was really interesting because in primary, we don't necessarily do whole-class NOVELS. As I was reading this section, I related by thinking about our typical "Story of the Week" which is a story that the whole class reads and it is the same story for every child. We break it down and go over and over it multiple times... so in a sense, I could see the same points being made with whole-class novels that also went along with doing these weekly stories with my primary students. The problem, as stated by Ms. Miller, with doing these types of studies is this:
1. You are not allowing students to pick reading material from their own personal interests.
2. Not all students are going to end up being English literature majors so what's the point in only exposing the children to the classic literature stories that are typically on the required reading list? (Especially for upper grades).
3. There is no text that will meet the needs of all of your readers.
4. Reading whole-class novels takes too long.
5. Spending a huge amount of time on one novel actually reduces student comprehension.
6. Not enough time is spent reading because more time is spent on "literature-based arts and crafts".
7.Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience for those high students who have already read the pre-determined set of books that are to be read.
Now, with all of that being said, Ms. Miller does agree that students benefit from analyzing literature however she offers some alternative ways to achieve this that isn't so monotonous and demotivating for your readers!
1. Read the book aloud to your class.
2. Share-read the book. This is where you read aloud while your students follow along in their own copy.
3. Closely analyze your extension projects and corresponding activities - if it doesn't involve reading, writing, or discussion, then it could very well be taking away from their development in those areas.
4. Don't try to teach every focus skill and literary element and try to teach it within ONE book. Focus solely on the skills a child needs to be successful in reading and comprehending that particular book.
If you  have the freedom to choose how to teach your standards, then try picking a theme or concept that your students need to have mastered by the time their year with you is over and then select a wide range of texts on that one particular theme or concept. Then, take these texts and form book groups. Ms. Miller forms her book groups by doing something called a Book Pass which was originally created by Janet Allen. This is to help students preview the books for the book groups that you have gathered. Students will each have their own book or if you don't have enough for that, students can Book Pass in small groups. Students will get about 2 minutes to look at the book and record the title and author on their book pass log. They will then preview the book (blurbs, graphics, covers, etc.) and then write down a few notes about the book, and at the end, give the book a star rating indicating their interest in that book. You would call time and students would pass the book on to the next student and then preview the next book and so on. Then, you just collect the book passes and see who wants to read what based on their ratings!
What a great idea! That got my wheels turning about how I could make that work in my primary classroom so I created a little freebie that I would like to share with everyone! If you've stuck with me this far down the post, you deserve some type of reward! :)
I made 3 versions of the Book Pass in hopes that all grade level teachers could hopefully use it!

Now, the advantage of books groups is that you can have students reading various texts thus getting different perspectives. This will call for some lively, valid class discussion where students feel ownership in what they are discussing because they are in a book group where THEY helped choose the book.
So all in all, "old school" whole-class novel studies are probably not the best way to instruct students during your reading time. Try some new and creative ways to still expose students to those types of texts, but don't let it be ALL they encounter!

Traditional Practice: Comprehension Tests
When it comes to comprehension tests, teachers often fall into the pattern of assign it, then assess it. This leaves zero room for learning and teaching to actually take place. If a student is doing something only to be able to pass a test, they are neither motivated nor engaged in that activity. I can think of a perfect example that really jumped out at me while reading this whole chapter. At my current school, there are differing opinions regarding weekly spelling tests with 1st graders. Some think that you must have a weekly spelling test, others say it's not necessary. I'll be honest with you that I'm on the side of thinking it's not necessary to test students every week in a 1st grade classroom. If I have 4 instructional days to teach a concept, test on the 5th day, and then I'm on to something new on Monday, how can students be mastering the material? Students do exactly what Ms. Miller says they'll do. They will cram the information in for that week to get a passing grade and then forget that information the following week simply because a NEW test will be given. The same goes for reading comprehension tests. Forcing students to read and remember something for a test does not foster their love for reading... it unfortunately does the opposite!
I LOVE how Ms. Miller really puts it into perspective with this thought!
I love my TV shows and look forward to them as a "relaxing" part of my evenings. With that said, if I were required to do a test after watching each one, I would quit TV all together. Even though I have always been a pretty good test taker, if I had to take something I do for enjoyment and turn it into a requirement, it would lose all the pizazz! This is what we are doing to children and their love of reading when we stifle them with reading for requirements. Ms. Miller doesn't say to not assess students... instead, she assesses them by having them show their understanding of literary elements by digging into their own books which they can't do if they are reading it only to pass the test.

Now, at this point, I have covered quite a bit of information from the chapter but there is still a lot left! I'm going to quickly highlight the remaining parts because I know my post is already very lengthy!

Ms. Miller goes on to discuss the traditional practice of book reports where she basically sums up that they don't work the way you want them to! Try alternatives such as Book Commercials and Book Reviews!

The traditional practice of reading logs also doesn't work the way it is intended! Instead try expanding your reading time IN CLASS and if you have reading requirements that students have to meet, allow some freedom within that structure!

Another traditional practice of round-robin reading (aka Popcorn Reading) is also one of those practices that needs to be revisited! Why not try letting students prepare and practice those passages or paragraphs for oral reading instead of putting them on the spot? This will build their confidence and fluency as well as comprehension on the passage.

And lastly, Ms. Miller cautions against incentive programs. Rather than focusing on temporary incentives that may cause students to read a lot to earn the incentive, then not read again until another incentive comes along, focus on fostering the love of reading and the rewards that reading can bring you! Those rewards will last a lifetime unlike the temporary incentives.

Whew! That was a LOT of information and I really hadn't prepared to go on forever and ever like that. Despite the lengthiness, I truly hope you enjoyed reading my post on Chapter 6! As I said before, PLEASE read the chapter for yourself! It is so worth it!

I do hope you will leave your thoughts and comments below! I look forward to reading them! :)
Thanks for sticking with me!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Book Whisperer Chapter 5

Last year I was looking all over for advice on how to improve my reading. And a lot of people suggested the Book Whisperer to me. I read it. And I fell IN.LOVE!

Which is why I am so excited that I get to participate in this book study! I'm Gina and you can usually find me over at Third Grade Tidbits. 
Donalyn Miller has some amazing points throughout this entire book. But I want to focus on just a few and give my two cents. Or maybe three cents.

There really were a lot of things that I could have quoted from the first section of this chapter, but I felt this summed it up pretty well. I love how Miller is always engaged in conversations about books with her kids. Even more, I love that she reads books that they suggest to her. I want my kids to suggest books for me to read too. Teaching third, their books wouldn't take me more than a couple hours (with a two year old running around, things can take just a little longer than necessary). Her students even take her recommendations because they trust her as a reader. Why do they trust her? Because they SEE her reading. They know she loves to read and she reads every single day. There have been days where I will intentionally be reading when my students come back from another class or I will have a book out and say "Oh just let me mark my page". A lot of students don't see adults engaged in reading for enjoyment, so they don't realize that reading is enjoyable. Especially my students. I want them to see that reading is a fun hobby. When I teach visualization I always tell them a story about how I laugh or gasp or say things like WHOA when reading and my husband always laughs. When they ask why, I tell them it is because I am imagining that what I am reading is happening right in front of me, like a play or tv show. They start to understand how into reading I really am.  (Can I just mention how much I relate to Miller when she says she staggers into class bleary eyed because she stayed up too late reading her latest book. That is me. All the way. There are days I fall asleep with my book on my pillow, having read the same page over and over because I am exhausted but just want to finish...this...chapter.)

Donalyn Miller also shared some very loooow numbers. Shocking numbers. From a 2007 poll- the average adult American read only four books in an entire year. FOUR. WHAT?! I read that in a month or two (depending on how busy I am). Reading is my hobby. And stress relief. Sometimes, I just have to read in order to relax. Even worse- 25% of the respondents to the survey did not read a single book. Another statistic says that of the preservice teachers they studied 54.3% were unenthusiastic about reading. Ok, I know not everyone loves reading. But every teacher I know loves to read. We are always talking about the next book we need to read or giving suggestions to each other. How can we motivate students to read if we aren't valuing reading ourselves. (If you don't find reading to be the best thing in the world, fake it for the sake of your students.) What happens to the child who has parents that don't read and then a teacher who doesn't value it? They may fall to the side of people that CAN read, but don't. Or can read enough to do what they need to do and that's that.
This is so important for people to understand. We can teach kids how to read all we want. We can teach them all the strategies in the world for comprehension. But none of that makes children lifelong readers. Think about it. I am sure all 100% of those people surveyed were taught all the skills necessary to read- yet they aren't readers. The teachers who do not value reading and do not engage in much "for fun" reading are the ones that will take what Miller calls the outside to inside approach. Teaching the skills necessary but not really showing their value of reading. The teachers who truly love and value reading and want to show students what reading really is teach the inside to outside approach. You will probably find a lot of free reading going on in this classroom. After-all, how can you begin to love reading if you aren't reading books that interest you instead of just the books that are mandated to learn a skill?

Donalyn Miller suggests you make your own reading plan to help you gain back that love of reading that you may have lost (or gain it for the first time ever). 

1. Commit to a certain amount of reading every day. Even just 15 minutes a day. You can make time for something you love. Read on the treadmill, read while blowdrying your hair (yep, I do this one), read while waiting for dinner to cook. Just carve out some time JUST for reading.  I try to read every day. And when I get so busy that I forget or just fall asleep, I end up feeling upset because I missed out on that time.

2. Choose books that are personally interesting to you. Not everything you read should be for work. Find what you love or are interested in. Reading for me is my thoughtless time. I don't like to have to think too hard about it. So I read a lot of light, fluffy chick lit. I know what I like and I stick to it. I like to laugh when I read. I have only read one book in the past year that wasn't fluffy but it was given to me and had some amazing recommendations, so I went for it and loved it. (Gone Girl if you are wondering.) Now, I have read a few "deeper" books. Still girly, but not as comical as most that I read. Just more of a deep, twisted, love story. (The Opportunist is the one I refer to here.)

3. Read more books for children.  There are a couple reasons for this. Children's books usually have happy endings and the story lines and characters are pretty innocent. I will admit I do read some Young Adult books still. I read the entire Gossip Girl series and most of It Girl (spin off from Gossip Girl) and have some of the Pretty Little Liars books sitting on my shelf. Why? Why not? ANother reason is because you may remember loving reading as a kid, and reading these books may get you back there. And last, you can then suggest some books to your students. 

4. Take recommendations from your students. You can find out a lot about your students by reading the books they suggest. It will also help you not in teaching them reading but every other lesson too. You can use these interests to get them engaged in any area.

5. Investigate recommendations from industry resources. I don't really use book lists (because as I said, I stick to one or two types of books) but what I do use is the recommendations from amazon and goodreads. If you purchase a book from amazon, they will give you suggestions of other books that are similar. And if you are just browsing and scroll down, you will see the same idea. I have a lot of wishlisted books because of that feature. 

6. Create your own reader's notebook. Making a list of books you read or abandoned is a good idea. Especially for people like me who end up buying books you already have or have read. And if you abandon a book, you might reconsider and revisit it later on when you might be able to put your focus into it. 

7. Reflect on what you are reading. No you don't need to write a journal. But just think about it. What did or didn't you like about it? Would you recommend it to a friend? Why or why not? It will help you gain an insight to what types of books you really want to read. I used to have a feature on my personal blog What I'm Reading Wednesday and I loved being able to post those updates. It was my own way to write a book review and give others some ideas on what to read. It was always a new book. In fact... I may just bring that feature to my teaching blog... be on the look out!

Make sure to share your thoughts and hop on over to visit me at my blog!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Book Whisperer Chapter 4

I hope that you are enjoying our summer book study of the Book Whisperer.  I know I am!  I am Jana from Thinking Out Loud and I am thrilled to bring you Chapter 4: Reading Freedom.

Thinking Out Loud

This chapter is so full of information that I thought I would share the three topics that really made me think and reflect on my teaching.

Choosing Books

The first step to reading freedom is choosing the right book and feeling comfortable being able to abandon a book that isn't the right book.  Donalyn has a honest conversation with her students about how to choose books.  At first they give her answers that they thinks she wants but really don't describe how they choose books.  She has to help them with questions like, "Who has chosen a book because it is short?  Who has chosen a book to read by checking how long it is?"  Before they will be honest with her, she has to be honest with them.  Thinking about how I conducted this lesson with my students, I accepted the answers they gave without digging.  We went with the standard answers the students knew I was looking for.  However, that is not how many students choose books.  Donalyn builds trust with her students by being honest and admitting that she has chosen books by the length when she was not in the mood for a longer read.  I was never this honest with my students, but I can't wait to have this lesson again and really dig deeper with them.

Reading Requirement

When I first read that Mrs. Miller required her students to read forty books, I stopped reading for a minute and went, "WOW, that is a lot in a year!"  I started reflecting on what I required my students.  Before I became a lower elementary instructional coach, I was a seventh and eighth grade reading teacher.  I required my students to read 25 books each year.  40 books just blew me away.  Then I started thinking, "Were my expectations not high enough for my students?"  Honestly, I am don't know how I feel about forty books.  I am still struggling with the concept because many of my students had trouble meeting the 25 book goal.  She was honest also and not all of her students meet the goal.  However, she did something that I wish I would have done.  She celebrated with the students who didn't meet the goal by having them compare how many books they read this year compared to last year.  Why didn't I do this?!  I was so stuck on the goal that I didn't think about how many of my students accomplished more reading in the year they were with me than they had ever before.  Celebrating any milestone is more motivating that harping on missing the goal.

Reader's Notebook

"Readers whispering back and forth about their reading experiences - this is how reading should look. (p.102).  Once my students are feeling comfortable with choosing books, I wanted ways to have conversations with all of them about what they are reading.  I taught in a small school but still had eighty students that I wanted to talk to.  How do I do that?  I implemented a reading notebook that has some aspects that Donalyn Miller has in hers.  Mine was a bit more complicated, but I really liked it and it helped me to keep up with my students and their reading.

In Donalyn's reading notebook there were four sections:  tally list, reading list, books-to-read list, and response entries.  My notebooks had a reading list, books-to-read list, response section, notes, and vocabulary.


The response section was the largest section.  Students wrote literary letters to me (and I back to them) about what they were reading.  I required a response once a week to get an update on where they were in their books.  This helped me with conferencing and determining if they were actually making progress in their books.


When we had mini-lessons, I had students keep copies of the anchor charts we made together.  I used this section as a reference section during our conferences.


The vocabulary section was like a reading glossary for each student.  We kept the word, definition, and example.  When we had mini-lessons, we would add vocabulary in that section.


What were your big take-aways from this chapter?  How do help students choose books?  What do you think of the reading requirement?  Do you have students keep a reading notebook?  What does it look like?
I can't wait to hear from all of you!!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Book Whisperer, Chapter 3

Hi everyone! It's Lindsay from My Life as a Third Grade Teacher. I am so excited to be here today to share Chapter 3 of The Book Whisperer with you.
My Life as a 3rd Grade Teacher

Can I just say that I love, love, love this book? From page one, I found myself agreeing with Donalyn Miller. At the heart of Donalyn's class is reading, and at the heart of my class is reading. Although I didn't start my career that way, my classroom has certainly turned into one where kids love reading and as a result, they flourish and thrive.

A few years ago I taught 5th grade at a Title 1 campus. I found in my first few years of teaching that I was trying to do too much-- get through the scripted lessons everyday irregardless of how long my "mini-lesson" (more like a maxi-lesson back then) took up. And since I was doing everything I was supposed to do, I ended up eating away at what should have been time for the kiddos to read, read, read and improve their skills the "old-fashioned" way.

Somewhere during my 2nd year of teaching I figured it out: I needed to spend less time in the front of the room sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher, and the kids needed to spend more time genuinely engaged in authentic literature of their choosing. I have done countless research on this through my graduate program, and I have just seen it "work" first hand. I've had kids enter my room on day one proclaiming they hate reading become the kid with his nose in a book every time I am up at the front trying to teach!

This past year as a 3rd grade teacher, I had both of my classes reading 45-60 minutes of independently chosen books by the end of the year. Everyday. And.... any of my students would probably tell you that this was their favorite part of my class.  One could argue that that is a lot of time to be spent reading. And yes, it is. But it is time well spent.

Because folks, above the test scores we all desperately want at the end of the year, I would much rather see a kid learn to love reading and turn to books for information and pleasure. I think Donalyn Miller would agree with me, and that is why she is my new favorite author. :)

Anyways, onto chapter 3....

In this chapter, there is section called "Time for Reading Is Time Well Spent" in which Miller describes reading as the crux of her classroom and not as something that is "in addition to" the other stuff. This is huge. I think there is a distinct difference between teachers who use independent reading time to their advantage in their classrooms, much like Miller has, and those that think, "Oh, kids will just read if we have extra time today." Reading is powerful! I know that when I devote my 45-60 minutes for my 3rd graders to read everyday, that they are practicing honing their skills in the most authentic way possible.

My favorite part of this section:
"The question can no longer be 'How can we make time for independent reading?' The question must be 'How can we not?'"

Chew on that! You would not go a basketball practice and find the players practicing the violin. You will not do to a dance rehearsal and find the dancers practicing their tennis serves. Then why do we think it is okay to walk into a reading classroom and not see the students actually practicing READING?

The first half of the chapter is about "when" to get kids reading. Here are some of Miller's ideas:

One thing that I was glad was addressed in this chapter was how to "steal" reading moments. As teachers, we all know that our schedules are packed tight! A normal day is enough to make my head spin. But then you factor in the interruptions that pop up-- a phone call, a behavior problem that must be dealt with, a coworker needing you, a student needing to go to the nurse, etc. etc. and that adds up to be a lot of time. Then forget about it if there is an assembly, picture day, or guest speaker!! Am I right?

Miller talks about stealing reading moments all throughout the day. She trains her students that if an interruption occurs (whether quick, long, big, small) that reading is the go-to activity. If another teacher enters her room needing to discuss something, her students are trained to pull out a book and use those minutes to read. Students bring a book to picture day, and when they are done being photographed, they sit and read. It is really a simple notion, but I bet if we added up all the minutes that interruptions occur in an average day, and have students actually READ instead of talk, get in trouble, or daydream during this time, they would get in a whole lot of reading.

Miller also has reading as her go-to "warm-up" everyday. She figured that the amount of time wasted on preparing, completing, and checking traditional warm-up exercises in an isolated format does not compare to the value of reading. I tend to agree with her and would love to give this a try in my classroom this year. I have done traditional warm-ups like correct the sentences, write a paragraph about this or that, or even a quick worksheet. But it is all isolated skills and I would much prefer that my students spend that time reading and getting better at that skill!

Another area I am in total agreement with Miller, is that kids read when they finish their work. I COULD spend hours coming up with extension activities and centers, but would they really benefit my students as much as MORE reading time would? I would argue no. This can, however, backfire on you if your students love reading so much that they will rush through their work (and bomb it) just to be able to read. I have had these students before and it is a good problem to have.

The other half of the chapter is "where" about where Miller has her students read:

Since the philosophy of The Book Whisperer is to get kids to be lifelong readers, it makes sense that Miller prefers her students to read anywhere really. I think about the places I have read-- airports, my car, doctor's offices. They are not always "ideal" in the conditions to read.

There does not HAVE to be a designated portion of the classroom to read in with comfy pillows or beanbags to sit on. (This is often times not possible anyways depending on the size of your room and class.) Her argument is that if the only place it's okay to read in a classroom is the "reading corner" than will students learn to enjoy reading at their desk? Probably not. My favorite line, "I have never seen a student who became a reader because of access to a beanbag chair." That is LOL funny.

How can we make reading an enjoyable experience in our classrooms? Let them read wherever! Miller lets her students read at their desk, on the floor, shoes off, shoes on, whatever! The one thing she does is make the room inviting and set the expectation that "in this room, we read!" That one factor alone makes the difference. Personally, in my classroom I like to set the mood with lamps and soft classical or jazz music.

One area that I must work on is about the need for silence during reading time. I think it is good to have silence as an expectation because most people prefer reading in silence and without distractions. However, I am somewhat of a freak about this. If my kids even look like they are about to speak, I cut them off with the look or a quick redirection.

My eyes kinda opened a bit when Miller talked about how she doesn't necessarily get mad or bark at kids if it seems like their talking is about books. I stopped to think for a minute and most of the times I hush kids is when they most likely are talking about and sharing a funny or interesting part of their books. I even see them physically show another kid something in their book. Is it really so bad for them to want to share what they are reading with a buddy? NO! I need to kinda learn to let that slide, especially if the kids are sharing quietly and aren't bothering anyone else.

I also found it interesting that Miller will sometimes interrupt the whole class during a conference with a student asking the class if anyone has read a particular book or author. Basically, she is involving the class in individual reading decisions for her students and building a class community. I thought that was really cool. So the biggest thing I took away from this chapter was that I needed to give up on my "Silence at all Costs" rule. :)

Well I am really enjoying reading this book and the responses and thoughts each week. Like I said, I love this philosophy!!!

Thanks so much for making me a part of your day.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Book Whisperer Chapter 2

I am so excited to be a part of We Read, We Blog, We Teach again this summer. I am even more excited to dive back into The Book Whisperer. The first time I read this book my Reader's Workshop was turned upside down. We're only two chapters in this time, and my head is already spinning with new ideas and understandings.

The entire time I read Chapter 2: Everybody is a Reader, I kept thinking, "Yes!" or "Sing it, sister!" Sooo many a-ha moments - I can't wait to share them with you!

As a longtime inclusion teacher, I have done a lot of stumbling and growing in my reading instruction. I also teach in a very transient area. Kids come in and out of our classrooms all year long. There have been several times in the last 13 years that I've gone to the door to meet a new student and introduced myself as their reading teacher (we are departmentalized) only to hear, "I'm not a good reader," "I don't like to read," or the one that absolutely breaks my heart - "I can't read." I wish I could say that this has only happened a time or two. Unfortunately, it has happened every year - sometimes multiple times per year.

How is it that by 3rd grade our students have already decided that they "can't read" or that they aren't good at it?

Amen, amen, and amen.

Teachers, if we don't counter the "I can't read" kiddos with a smile and the reassurance that WE are going to be the person to turn that around for them - who will? These developing readers aren't just in middle school anymore - they are walking the halls of our elementary schools every day.

When my students come back to my table for guided reading or a reading conference, they know I have taken the time to pick out books that:
  • are just right for them
  • interest them personally
  • I have already read and given my personal "seal of approval"

Here's why:
  • If I don't take the time to read it, how do I know it's going to help them?
  • If I don't take the time to match books with their interests, how am I ever going to get them to love reading?
  • If I don't take the time to read it, why should they?

By doing those things, I create a culture similar to the one Donalyn Miller describes in Chapter 2...

This is not something I actively practiced until I read The Book Whisperer two summers ago. I tried, but I wasn't putting forth the right amount of time and effort. It's hard - especially in the beginning. But when I heard my kiddos begging for guided reading so that we could move on to the next chapter, I knew that every minute I spent digging through my own books or rifling through the guided reading "book room" at school was worth it.

And she's right. We don't discuss "not" reading - we just jump right in. The first few weeks of school are a little hairy scary during workshop time. Some kids have books that they are interested in, but they are waaaay too hard. Others are reading a favorite for the 957th time. It's okay. Because by the time I've made my way around the room to confer and check-in with each kid, they will have learned how to choose those "just-right books" through our mini-lessons, individual conferences, and guided reading.

I wanted to touch on one more thing before I leave you with some thinking to do...

Those developing readers - "they" in the quote above - are my inclusion kiddos. I mentioned earlier that I teach in a very transient (high poverty) area. One of the things that comes with poverty and a transient population is a higher number of students who have been identified with specific learning needs.

I have been so frustrated over and over with the amount of time my inclusion students spend away from me learning strategies they never get to apply! Donalyn's belief that our kids (no matter where they are as readers) need TIME to read is right on point. When my inclusion kids are with me for reading, I usually snag their guided reading groups first so they can 1) review the strategy or skill we talked about in our mini-lesson and then 2) apply it immediately. I never want my developing readers to get the short end of the stick - none of us do. But we have to be purposeful in planning our small group instruction to make sure their needs are met appropriately.

How do you do that? 

Do you set up a weekly schedule or do you rotate groups a different way? 

How do you fit conferring in?

I'd love for us to share the different ways we meet with our students.

I have a schedule that includes 2 guided reading groups a day or 1 guided reading group with time for individual reading conferences. It changes depending on the day - but there is a scheme and sequence to it all. :)

I'll leave you with a final quote and a link to a fun freebie that (hopefully!) you'll be able to use whenever you head back to school.

Don't let your kids leave your room without helping them to discover great books for them.

To help you "get in there" and find out what makes your kids 'tick' as readers, I updated a file that I created the first time I read The Book Whisperer.

Click to snag this FREEBIE!
Make sure to let me know what you think and leave me some love! :) I hope you'll also stop in and follow along with me this summer!

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Book Whisperer - Chapter 1

The Book Whisperer had me hooked from the Very.First.Page.  Donalyn Miller clearly writes from the perspective of a born reader and a real teacher.  When I read that if I am a reader, I already know what it takes to make readers out of my students, I knew I was going to love this book.

I can definitely identify with Donalyn Miller who said she thought she had prepared the most amazing book unit.  It had everything; art projects, vocabulary, comprehension, character development, and all done in what she thought was fun and thoughtful ways using all the best practices she had experienced and had been taught.  That was until her students showed up.  I've been that teacher.  It is disheartening when you struggle to get your students to love the book you are trying so hard teach.  Like Donalyn I want my students to LOVE reading.

In Kindergarten we focus on words, on their letters and sounds.  Word work is the mechanics of reading....phonics, alphabet, blending, figuring out meaning, and shades of meaning.  All important...but not necessary for learning to love to read. In each grade we have a tendency to focus on the mechanics and as teachers we pick the books.  But is that the best way?

I just had to ask myself;   What do I like about reading?    What do I, as a reader, do?

So, what do I like about reading?  I like being transported to another time or place, real or imagined.  I read the Harry Potter books and I didn't want it to end because I could imagine myself there.  When I read the Crazy Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I was on the adventure trying to solve the mystery.  My first memory of reading is laying in bed with my sister and my mother reading to us Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.  One summer as a child, the neighborhood children all gathered and the visiting "older" cousin read to us The Hobbit.  We were transported and it became a favorite time of the day.

I love books with beautiful language.  There is a poetry to just listening to the words.  I love how they roll off the tounge (mostly the voice in my brain).  I love the artwork of picture books...but if the story isn't good, I usually read it only once.

Because I love books this way...what do I do?
I like to talk about them.
I like to read with and to my friends.
I have stacks and stacks of books I want to read.
I am often reading more than one book at a time (although if I am into the story I read and read and don't do ANYTHING else)
I reread books I love.
I read a book that is easy if I loved it.
I slowly work my way through a difficult book if I really want to read it.
I quit a book I don't like.

I have tried a few of these with my students.  I have begun the journey of using a Reading Workshop in my class.

I have LOTS of books.  My kiddos love free reading time.  They ask, "Can we read ANYTHING?"  And of course they love to read with their friends.

They have a selection of books for Reading Workshop time.  I knew they were getting better at picking books when during free reading time they asked if they could get something out of their reading boxes.  That is a start.

One more thought from the last paragraph of this chapter...."Now I accept that I may never arrive at teaching paradise, but as long as I hold on to my love of books and show my students what it really means to live as a reader, I'll be a lot closer than I once was.