The Book Whisperer-Ch 6

“Reading has become schoolwork, not an activity in which students willingly engage outside of school.”

“I think my worst nightmare was last year, when we all had to read the same book, and do worksheets, and make journals after every chapter.  – Christina”

“Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. -Augustine Birrell”

From the end-of-year evaluation: Circle which factor was most important to you.  Teacher who reads.

These quotes hit me hard.  As I mentioned before, I couldn’t wait to do novel studies once the reading skill lessons had been taught.  Novel studies were like dessert after getting through a distasteful meal.  But were my activities and assessments I used accomplishing my intended goal of producing life readers who read avidly?  Were these activities even preparing my students for the test?  Unfortunately, probably not.  I apologize to all of my former students for “hijacking” reading from them.

As I think back to my years in high school, reading instruction hijacked reading away from me too.  I remember dreading reading class in 9th grade because of the fact that the assessments and discussions ruined the enjoyment of reading the classics.  In 10th grade, the teacher gave us a list of assignments for the week.  When we finished, our time was our own to do whatever we wanted as long as we didn’t bother him.  He sat at his desk behind his open briefcase doing who-knows-what, but never teaching.  I have no memories of 11th grade; I guess there is nothing worth remembering.  However,  I do remember my senior year.  At the end of the year,  the teacher asked us to choose an author from a long list.  Choice.  I chose Agatha Christie.  We had to read a certain number of the author’s short stories and novels, and then her biography, followed by book reports.  I loved the reading but dreaded writing the reports.  I even missed the deadline.  She pleaded with me to finish and gave me an options of a shorter assignment.  This teacher was probably the best reading teacher I had.   I would have loved to have been a student in Ms. Miller’s class, wouldn’t you?

Here is a list of things I love about her class:

  1. Book Commercials
  2. Book Reviews:   I really liked how students read professional book reviews to determine what elements and vocabulary were needed for their personal reviews.
  3. Not using reading logs:  Logs are a sign that you don’t trust the students.  As a parent, I even disliked keeping track.  (Loved the frank discussions she has with her students.  They feel safe with her to be honest.)
  4. Expanding reading in class: “The only way to make sure that your students are reading every day is to set aside time for it in class”
  5. Integration of reading & social studies:  Loved the example of book choices that showed different perspectives of people/characters during WWII.
  6. Prepare & practice for oral reading:  “Reading aloud on demand is just torture.”  Had a knowing laugh when I read this.
  7. Not being bound to Accelerated Reader:  She calls AR the “worst distortion of reading” that she can think of.  It sends the message that a “book’s value lies in how many points it is worth, and reduce comprehension to a series of low-level trivia bites gleaned from the book…(it shifts) the purpose for reading a book toward the memorization of plot details and away from an overall appreciation for the book.  These statements may be offensive to some, but I feel a sense of urgency for teachers to hear her out.  AR may have its good points, but it may be another “slippery slope.”

This chapter is filled with so much valuable insights and alternatives to traditional reading instruction.  What were some things she addressed that you see yourself “cutting” from your lesson plans?



Filed under The Book Whisperer Discussion

11 responses to “The Book Whisperer-Ch 6

  1. Katie

    The librarian is Ms. Taylor! 🙂

    From adult literacy classes, I completely relate to the round-robin reading discussion. Why did we do so much of it? Developing readers do need chances to read aloud, but how can you do this in a classroom setting without boring everyone else? I like the pairs idea. I wonder if I could have incorporated more independent reading time even with these beginners. They did seem to really enjoy the time when we’d go on the computer and independently read stories,.

    I find myself “compelled” –ha!– by many of her suggestions. However, I am still skeptical about how to apply these to seriously low-literate students like English language learners and undiagnosed dyslexics and others for whom reading is still very basic. If you really don’t know how to sound out words, how could you do a reading project like this? But the success stories I saw most in adult literacy were the students who took books and stories home and learned to love reading. And I myself learned the very basics of reading by going through the same Dr Seuss books, again and again. So it could work! I’d love to hear thoughts from anyone who has worked with really low-literate kids.

    • Mollie

      I understand where you are coming from in a way, Katie. I teach special education students that have reading disabilities and read well below grade level. I think I could incorporate some of her ideas but I still need to teach basic reading skills.

  2. Scarlett Perry

    I was most intrigued by Miller’s approaches to Rethinking the Whole Class Novel on pages 126-127. Often times, we/educators get caught up on the book-rather than the success of the reader. As a SPED teachers, I always struggles with ensuring that students learn vocabulary with their assigned readers. However, this year, my student s will have a choice of their own free will and interest.readers and locate interesting words on the

  3. I do like the idea of them coming up with words but I tried that last year and my class buried us in words!
    I have dealt with the issue of how to do reading in large groups and started a new idea last year that was very successful. When we read something together in a group or as a class, we do “everybody read.” I start the first few sentences and then everybody reads to the end of the page out loud, in a quiet voice. I walk around and listen and students are encouraged to help others who need help with a word.

  4. Lori Yelk

    I enjoy reading and did as a child as well. I did not however enjoy book reports while in school and often got points deducted in class because I would not complete them. I did like to write; however I didn’t understand, even as a child, what the purpose of a book report was. I thought it was kind of silly to rewrite a book I just read. It took the fun out of reading. I am not an educator; however I believe the alternative practices shared in this chapter would have been ones I would have enjoyed in school and believe they will encourage students today to “awakening the inner reader” and get them excited about reading, sharing and learning.

  5. Donna Beck

    Wow, what a chapter! Lots of info! I liked Renee’s idea of reading quietly altogether, at times, and I can also relate to Lori’s viewpoint on book reports. I felt like I was just writing what the teacher wanted to read, even if I hated the book! As the new school year approaches, I am really excited to set aside a reading time. I already have an extensive classroom library, and am fairly familiar with various books and authors on this grade level. I liked Miller’s quote that “there needs to be a balance between the need to teach students about literature and the need to facilitate their growth as life readers.” I am wondering about using AR in the classroom,especially since our school seems to be encouraging it. Thankfully, there are few books in our school that are not on the AR list. I liked the idea of teaching test-taking skills as its own genre. I realize that this is scary for teachers, as we are assessed by the students’ test scores. Miller says her students naturally do better, as avid readers, but it is still scary to me, especially since the tests are often non-fiction and boring! However, reading for extended time everyday will greatly help students read for long periods of time for the test. I have been guilty of sending home weekly reading logs every Monday, and collecting them, every Friday, with rewards! I knew that many parents filled the paper out Friday morning, (same ink and handwriting), many were lost, and the same students never turned them back in. Some parents even left work on Friday to run the log over to the school when their child left it on the kitchen table, thinking this would help the child’s reading grade. I, as a student, hated book reports, reading out of textbooks, and being called on to read in class. What makes teachers’ think this group of students doesn’t hate it? I want reading to be fun, motivating, and endearing. Hopefully, I will be on a better track this year!

    • I think AR can have its good points. If students want to take a test, great. But my fear is that many teachers focus too much on it becoming “bound” to it. I worry that that is where our school is heading. I have seen many students come to the library stressed as they search for books that have to fit their AR goals. These students are being robbed of the joy of reading.

      • Mollie

        AR should not be our focus! It should not rule the reading our students do. So they take a test, fine. But it is not the end-all, be-all of reading for students. It limits books that students can read and makes some students give up or quick reading because they can’t find specific books on the AR list or like my students, can’t read many of them that are above their reading level. We need to rethink how much emphasis we put on AR tests.

  6. Here is a link to a blog by The Adventures of Library Girl. It discusses her view on an article that references a report by Renaissance Learning (AR) as well as reading with choice and for pleasure. It is interesting, but I will pass along her warning that it is a “grumpy post.”

  7. Mollie

    As you all have said, there was a lot of material in this chapter. I liked how she took each traditional reading practice and discussed the negative aspects. Then she gave an alternative practice that she used. I am like many of you and many teachers, who has done the traditional novel studies. I have also done text sets and student choice reading groups. Her main focus is that everything we do as teachers should encourage and support our students love of reading. We get so focused on teaching skills to pass the test, that we sacrifice our students’ feelings and needs. I loved how she taught test-taking as its on genre. That is so smart. There are certain things students need to know to naviagate the test that doesn’t occur in any other type of reading. I love her quote, ” I teach students how to read a test, but I don’t teach reading through the test.” I was also struck by her candid comments on take home reading logs and AR. I have had the same thoughts, but continued to do them. I guess I did because I thought I had to because that was what everyone else was doing. I wanted my students to read at home because I thought, and still do, that’s it’s good for them. That was the wrong thinking. I hope and goal as a teacher is to encourage my students to do their best. I will use many of her ideas to do this. I did round-robin reading. I like her idea of prepare and practice for oral reading and using recorded books. I will definitely use these.

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