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!!!


  1. I am a huge fan of the Book Whisperer and I feel that the big picture take away for me, each and every time I read it, is the reading environment she creates. Through the goals, conversations, notebooks, etc., there is a sense that books are to be enjoyed and eaten up, and the kids buy in. It is a beautiful thing. :) Great post.
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  2. I read this book last summer and really enjoyed it. I hope you don't mind me joining in the conversation even though I am not currently in the book! I love the honest conversations she had with her students around how to choose a book because there are times when, even as an adult, I pick a book up at the library and open it and think to myself "I just don't have the patience for thick dense text, I was looking for an entertaining story". In my state (NY) we have a website that discusses implementation of the Common Core. It is a big push to have students reading independent books that mirror the topic or genre of the texts being closely read as a whole group to deepen understanding. I am having a hard time with this and how to create an atmosphere where students are developing a love for reading while staying true to the CCLS.

    Polka Dots & Teaching Tots

  3. I'm so excited that I read these blog posts! I'm totally going to go get this book and read it. Just by reading your summaries, i can tell that parts of it really align with the Literacy Collaborative framework that my district uses. Thanks! :)

  4. I had posted this following our discussion of chapter 2, but it seems more appropriate for chapter 4:

    I was hoping that someone could share the methods they use for successfully helping students pick books that are both a good fit and also of interest to them. This is something that I struggle with each school year. It takes awhile to get to know each student and I'm never sure how and where to begin. I also noticed this past school year that by allowing my students the freedom to choose their own books, they'd also continually choose graphic novels or comic books. I'd like to get them reading more novels... Maybe this is something that I can correct during conferencing (i.e. "I've noticed that you're often choosing this certain type of book...maybe I can help you find something else that you would enjoy", etc.). Do you limit the number of certain genres of books you allow your students to read? How do you get a student to stick with a book (I like the 2-chapters "deal" strategy)? How do you have your students keep track of the books they are reading and have read?

    Yeesh! That was a mouthful...

    :-) Stephanie

  5. I have a question . . . seems like a silly one . . . but I need the answer. So are the books the kiddos challenged to read (the 40 book challenge) supposed to be chapter books or just pictures books as well. I teach 3rd grade. I love the dividing them up into the different genres though . . . we are focusing on genres this year so it will be an interesting thing to work through!

  6. I don't have it right in front of me but I'm pretty sure I had picture books on my directions page and lengthier books can count for two.

  7. I do use reader response notebooks. Mine are similar to Donalyn's, but I also include a page for students to keep up with the various genres they are reading and a place to rate the book they've just read. I believe that students should evaluate the books they are reading and that its okay if they don't particularly like some that they've read.

  8. I love your post!!!. I finished the book and I totally love it. It is sooo interesting. I teach 3rd grade, and I would love to know if anybody has a number goal of books.

  9. I teach second grade, and I am curious how some primary teachers are interpreting the book requirement. I want to keep track of the books my students have read as an accomplishment list. I am also thinking of a different reading log for my developing readers and avid readers. I want to use a genre list for my avid readers. Anyone up for a primary adaption discussion. Maybe ongoing through out the school year?