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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  1. I am going to download The Book Whisperer on my kindle right now. Thanks for sharing.
    Carol from Lines of Literacy

  2. I really need to ponder this. I teach K and I will blame it on that....I am not so sure I am ready to give up that much control, especially at the beginning of the year. I let my kids read anywhere except during my reading workshop time. All of a sudden that doesn't seem right. I try to get them to read silently during that time too. I know the need for time to chat...but I give them Friendship Friday for that and then "free" reading time (when work is finished). I'm still feeling the need to control noise and where the students are sitting to help me teach expectations. Maybe once they have some stamina and reading experience, I can lighten up on where they sit. And maybe after so many minutes of silence I can let them be with a partner on purpose some days, and if they choose on others. Is that close enough?

    Terri Izatt

    1. I mix the structure of the daily 5 with teaching my students what independent reading should look and sound like. As the students become more engaged in their reading I slowly allow them more choice. If you are not familiar with the daily 5 I highly recommend it.

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    3. I think you have to do whatever works for you, Terri. This book was written from a 6th grade teacher's experiences. I have taught 5th and 3rd.... I think there are bits and pieces of things from The Book Whisperer that you can use in Kinder... like stressing reading! But you are right, those little babies need structure. Make it work for you!

      My Life as a Third Grade Teacher

  3. After reading this chapter, I decided I also needed to reevaluate how I was spending time as an adult reading (or not) as well. If I want my students to find pieces of time to use throughout their day to read then I should too. I know that if I read before bed for just 15-30 minutes I can get tons of reading done. I don't NEED to watch The Real Housewives of Whatever marathon.

    I also like how she discussed the silent reading. My students do silent reading at the beginning of class. I've often shushed students from talking. Then they say, "But we were just talking about books." Yeah...that's when I think maybe I should lighten up a bit. As long as they're spending more time reading than talking and they're quiet it's not so bad. I want them to talk to each other about books! I don't want them to not have great discussions because they can't talk for 15 minutes.

  4. I love so much of what you have to say, in theory. It makes perfect sense that we should expect students to read as an early finisher activity instead of coming up with extension ideas. Duh! And I would LOVE to give my students copious amounts of time in my room for independent reading, but time is so limited in the middle school setting. Even when I give my student 15-20 minutes, I feel like I'm being judged for not using my instructional time well. I feel like this book gives the defense I need to feel justified for incorporating reading workshop into my DAILY plans. I'm getting it from the library ASAP!

    1. Yes, I think middle school could be a challenging setting, but if you can "squeeze" out a few minutes here and there in your class, it would probably add up. I think that is exactly what the author was saying! You will LOVE this book.

      My Life as a Third Grade Teacher

  5. I loved reading your thoughts and feelings,Lindsay, because they so closely mirrored mine. I'm determined to move away from the misc. worksheets I've been giving my students for morning work and have them read instead. If I truly want them to become better readers (and hopefully become lovers of reading) then I must provide the opportunities for them to read, read, read! The Book Whisperer has given me a kick in my pants to revamp my teaching routine and opened my eyes to do what's best for my kids. Looking forward to following the rest of this book study!

  6. I agree with the others, your thoughts were so close to what I was thinking as I read. I love the idea of reading for morning work instead of skill sheets! This past year I was so fortunate to have a group that went right to reading every chance they had. Of course, that is a huge benefit of having a group two years in a row - I had looped with them from second to third, so by this year they had routines ingrained in them! Wish I had thought of taking their books to get pictures made - I always hate that wait!

  7. I love the stealing time to read idea . . . there have been many moments (especially last year), when I was having to deal with difficult students and I wish that I had taught my kiddos to read during those times!! I love the stealing time to read during pictures . . . I hate that time!! Seems like I could have thought of that on my own!! Loving this book!

  8. Loving this book! Our morning work this year was either unfinished work or read quietly. Not a lot of kids would check their unfinished work and chatting was still sometimes an issue, so I might just switch to read quietly so that our day can start relaxed and calmly.

    I also used Daily 5 and made sure that Read to Self was a required choice of the 3 rounds we did. They were allowed to do more than 1 round of that if they wanted. I am debating about changing that a little and having Read to Self as a designated whole group activity. So many kids seem to focus better when it's quiet but I'm not sure if that's the way to go since the whole point of Daily 5 is to give students choices.

    1. I did read to self, then other rounds were student choice. It worked well for us and in the book the point is made that you have to make daily 5 work best for you and your students! :)