Category Archives: The Book Whisperer Discussion

Book discussion on Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.

The Book Whisperer- Ch 7

Miller has convinced me of the benefits of implementing a free-reading classroom- “allowing students to choose their own books and control most of their own decisions about their reading, writing, and thinking (which prepares) students for literate lives” better than traditional instruction.  I agree that “actual reading is the most valuable classroom activity.  No matter what intervention strategies you employ to support developing readers or what enrichment projects you provide to your most gifted ones, none of it is going to affect the reading achievement…the way hours of time spent reading will..”  Are you convinced?

Even though it is hard or scary to give up the control, I’m ready to let go.  By doing this Miller has not only inspired all of her students to love reading but she has developed such special relationships with them.  Even years after leaving her room, students return to talk books.  Priceless.

Yet it is sad as one student stated, “No on promotes reading like you.”  Miller writes, “There needs to be more of us, and we need to get a lot louder about telling our administrators, colleagues, and parents what we believe…Students will read if we give them the books, the time and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so.”

Who else is ready to join Miller and to get loud?

I hope as you implement her approach in your classrooms that you will take time to share the books that you and your students are reading.  Please feel free to leave a book recommendation so we can continue to chat about books.



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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?


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The Book Whisperer- Ch 5

It is time to walk the walk.  The statistics presented were appalling.  The average adult only reads 4 books, really? And more than half of teachers polled were unenthusiastic about reading.  That is unbelievable!   “Even parents who read to their children, take them to libraries, and model good reading habits at home have difficulty overcoming a reading wasteland in their children’s classrooms.” Now that scared me.

I began to think of my own two daughters.  They both attend immersion school where they speak, read, and write in Cherokee.  My oldest, entering 4th grade, loves books but struggles to read since she did not have formal English until this past year.  My other daughter, entering first grade, has had Letter Land this past year and reads everything in sight.  I worry that they do not have enough books at their school because of the lack of resources to get books translated.  Evenings are so short between commitments, homework, and their mama being back in school too.  Reading books together does not always come first.  I feel so guilty.  Then, just recently, my youngest has told me over and over how she can’t wait to go to Grandma’s (in Florida, 10 hours away) to go to the library.  We had gone to the local library for a book activity.  I had no idea she loved it so much.  Now I really feel like a bad parent who is an educator that should do better.

Feeling convicted, I am determined to be a better reading role model.  In the midst of my studies where I must read with an “efferent stance,”  I need to make time to read for pleasure, too.  I want my daughters to have fond memories of reading as children, like I do.  I do love to read, but have just lost my way.  I am ready to reclaim it, and start my notebook.

Is there anyone else feeling convicted with me?  (Maybe we can start a support group.)  Or anyone want to share any fond reading memories or their latest read (besides this book)?


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The Book Whisperer- Ch 4

In this chapter we begin to learn the nuts and bolts of Miller’s approach.  She begins with a candid class discussion of how to choose a book.  She lays the foundation of trust with her honest response to the student who claimed that books are boring.  (Haven’t we all read boring books?)  Furthermore, she stands by her beliefs of empowering her students by giving them as much choice as possible, even if that means honoring the more cultural trendy books that aren’t going to win any awards.  Her students have to be in shock and disbelief the first few days of her class, especially  when she gives the 40 book requirement.  Using the reader’s notebook (both hers and theirs) make conferencing and checking on progress so personal, effective, and productive.  I love that talking about what the students are going to read next is part of this.  She neatly integrates the necessary reading elements while nurturing the love of reading.

“Readers whispering back and forth about their reading experiences- this is how reading should look.”  I’m ready to be a book whisperer!

Do you agree?  What are your thoughts at this point?  What is your favorite aspect?  Do you believe it can be done?



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The Book Whisperer-Ch 3



Donalyn Miller certainly proved there is a time and a place for reading, for free voluntary reading.  Better writing, richer vocabularies, and increased background knowledge in science and social studies are just a few reasons, not to mention the easy planning.  But how about the fact that when students are talking in class it is about the books they are reading and when they are asked to “come to a stopping place” there are moans of disappointment.  How exciting that her students steal reading moments (class interruptions) and find any place to read (the shower).


“Ah, libraries.”  I love them too.  Even with her classroom library of over 2,000 books, she makes a point to bring her class regularly to the library.  They need to know how to find book, be exposed to a larger collection, and be taught library etiquette.  “Part of wearing a reader’s clothes is learning how to navigate a library and feeling at home in one.”  She prepares her students for library day by talking about it, posting it, and giving it purpose.  Students must have a book to return, renew, read, or a plan to get one.  Then, while at the library, they are purposefully looking for a book and checking it out or they have found a place to read.  And she is working with her students to find books.  She stays with them, and it reinforces what her students already knows…reading is important.

Hopefully, at this point in your reading, there are points that you embrace and are ready to implement in your classroom, or there are practices that you already have in place.  Please feel free to share your thoughts.





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Book Whisperer-Ch 2

Everybody is a reader!  Don’t you just love that statement.  But, do we believe it?  Miller certainly does.  To acknowledge gives merit.  “The idea that they can’t read or don’t like to read is not on the table.”

As I read this chapter, several things hit home.

1.  The importance of CHOICE.  It empowers, encourages, strengthens self-confidence, rewards interests, promotes positive attitude, MOTIVATES.

2.  I was able to picture faces of former students that fit into each type of reader: developing, dormant, and underground.  Since labeling is a reality, I love these labels so much more.

3.  Developing readers have the ability to become strong readers, need real reading experiences, and need to feel success.

4. Dormant readers are just as unmotivated and uninterested in reading because they have not embraced reading that allows a person to escape to other worlds and live vicariously through the characters.  Many  of these readers are ignored because they can pass the test.  What a crime!

5.  Got to love the underground reader who are just waiting for the teacher to get out of their way so they can just read.

Now that I am all for choice and want my students to read all the time, there are questions.

1. “If I am not going to quiz them on every book and monitor their every reading move, how will I control reading for them?”

2.  According to the “Conditions of Learning,” I need to teach daily reading lessons using authentic texts, conference & discuss students’ readings daily, and require written response letters.  What should these lesson cover?  (In other words, where is the manual?)  How do you find time to do this daily?  What are written response letters?

3.  I was so impressed with Miller’s ability to recommend books on the spot as well as having books on their desk to preview on the second day of school.  One word.  How?  How can I be even somewhat knowledgeable about books?

What are your thoughts and questions?


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Book Whisperer-Ch 1

I can relate to Miller’s account of her first year of teaching.  I would rush through the first part of the quarter using the reading basel to ensure that the different skill got covered.  Then, I would enjoy the remainder of the time in novel units.  I couldn’t wait to share favorite books, like Stone Fox or Because of Winn-Dixie, that always brought tears to my eyes.  But, like Miller, I was frustrated when students failed to match my excitement.  They would struggle to answer questions, write detailed opinions, or even complete the “fun” culminating projects.  What more could I do?

Then I remembered. When I was in elementary school, our television broke.  My parents decided no more television.  It was probably one of the best decisions, because I discovered my love for books.  I read The Little House on the Prairie series over and over.  I knew I’d grow up to marry a man like Almanzo.  I always had a book in my hand and enjoyed spending time in the library to browse.  I should have been the perfect reading student, but I wasn’t.  In fourth grade, I would hide out in the bathroom as long as I could during reading class.  In ninth grade, I distinctly remember thinking if only Mrs. Charkin would just leave us alone to enjoy the books assigned.  I loved the books, but the questions and essays killed me.  And here I was doing the same thing.

When my school started to emphasize self-selected reading for 30 minutes, I was on board.  This was the answer, and it was going to be great to see children with their noses deep in  books.  But it didn’t happen.  Students spent too much time switching books or hanging out at the shelves.  Others just went through the motions or stared out in space.  Why didn’t they want to just sit and read any book they wanted?

Can you relate?  Do you have similar frustrations?

I can’t wait to read more about Miller’s experience and how her program works.


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