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!


  1. Daina, thanks so much for your thoughtful was long, but full of good meaty stuff to ponder. I could not agree with you more on the whys behind assessment! I have done book passes before...but that was when I taught much older students. I will have to try out your freebie with my learners this coming school year!!! I also loved the updated approach to book reports! Reminds me of how Ramona Quimby did hers! :) Reading that chapter to the kids to introduce the concept might really get our learners interested in sharing what they have read! Great post!!

    1. Thanks Tamara! I know it's lengthy...thanks for stickin' with it! :) Love that idea about Ramona Quimby!

  2. I read the chapter and some of it kind of bothered me. Last year my class read novels (3rd grade) but they also had individual reading time. I also used Reading counts as an incentive. My kids read more last year than any other year I had been teaching. I believe the things she says are true for the middle/high school students. But I think in the elementary level the students could benefit from a whole class novel by the things she has stated. I do plan to make some small changes in during my reading block, but I am not so sure if I 100% agree with all that Miller has said. Maybe it's just me...

    1. Hi!

      I can totally get where you are coming from. I don't think it's just you! Since she is writing from a middle school perspective, I think it's a bit different than what us, as elementary teachers, are used to. I think as elementary teachers we are ALWAYS more inclined to try different things. I don't think that is the norm in middle school. I can remember doing the boring worksheets and endless chapter study guides in middle school so some of what she was saying did feel familiar. I agree with you however that a lot of it made me think and question it. But I think that's the whole point.. is to get us to think and reflect on our practice. If you are content with how you have set things up in your classroom and your students love reading.. then I say you are SPOT ON! :) I'm sure your 3rd graders have a blast!

      Thanks for weighing in! :)

  3. How do you assess students through a Reader's Workshop model. I'm very interested in implementing this type of practice this school year, but my school district requires a set number of grades each nine weeks. I would appreciate any suggestions. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Theresa,

      THAT is an excellent question! I truly wish I had an answer for you! I'm afraid I don't have any experience with this model therefore I'm really not sure what to suggest. I'm in the same boat as you... we are required to have a certain number of grades per subject area per 9 weeks as well. Makes it difficult to step away from these types of assessments sometimes! Thank you for your sweet words! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  4. I had a few concerns with this chapter as well. I am willing to do away with the comprehension tests and worksheets. The question is how do we assess our students then? I have grades that have to be entered into the gradebook for report cards. It sounds to me like a lot of rubrics will need to be created for different types of assessments.

    I love the idea of the book clubs. This is something I am going to implement next year.

    1. Elissa,

      I completely agree with your concerns. The same questions came up for me as I was reading and I honestly don't know the answer. I think you are right regarding rubrics however that can be very time consuming no matter what grade you are teaching!

      I loved the idea of book clubs also! Glad you have decided to implement them! How exciting! :) Best of luck to you on that!

  5. I read this book along with Daily 5/Cafe last summer and agree totally with what is said, so much so that I jumped right in. I assigned ZERO books last year and it was absolutely liberating!! We did our skill work with passage excerpts and their independent reading and I had conferences and meetings with small groups. I've never had such a community of readers as I did last year!!

    One thing that I am going to try this year for book talks is to have students video their book talks, then I will create a QR code for it, print it out and put it inside of the book in my classroom library. Then for years to come, students can scan the code and watch the "live" book reviews!! I think it will be motivating and I am having one of my former students be a guinea pig for me this summer with the project. He is super excited about it and I'm hoping it will motivate my new students as well. I may also have some of the reviews be recorded with Xbox 360 avatar kinect!!

    1. I love the idea of putting the QR codes in the books and having that link to the videos. All of that is beyond my abilities right now. I know what is the next class I need to take! I bet even my kinders would like to do book talks.

      Terri Izatt

    2. I am so happy to hear that it worked in your classroom! How wonderful!

      LOVE that QR code idea! I think that is a fabulous idea! I bet the kids will LOVE it!!!! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  6. I was glad to hear that I can still partner read with my students. I have to admit, in the earlier chapters when she touched on the no whole group reading, I was upset. Part of the excitement of my job comes in the fact that I spend a lot of time handpicking excellent books that get my students thinking-ones that they wouldn't necessarily pick out on their own. I was devastated to learn that Mrs. Miller didn't like that until I read this chapter!! I was happy to learn that the kids and I could still read together. I had my kiddos in groups and we would read together with me, they would partner read the book so that we could discuss when they got to me, and they got to read books individually by themselves . . . 60 minutes a day if they got to all 3 of those stations!! I loved it. I can't wait to add in the Reader's Notebook!!

    1. Andrea, I'm right there with you! I love partner reading with my kiddos too! Sounds like you have a great system worked out. I wish you the best with implementing Reader's Notebook! Thanks for commenting! :)