The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, originally published in 2009, Donalyn Miller explains her philosophy of teaching, and how she creates a rich reading environment in her classroom with structures, practices and support for independent reading with her students. I appreciated her long-term view of the importance of developing students as readers for life, not just for a test. I respect that the author has endured the test-happy environment in the great state of Texas as a Language Arts teacher.
Miller shows an obvious interest in her students through her support of their interest-based reading. She challenges students to read 40 books in a school year. There is precious little talk of this kind from most pedagogues. It seems everywhere in education the dominant mindset is that students have to prove everything through skill-based activities and multiple choice tests and that we have to hold their hand and spoon-feed everything. Sadly, this is the lowest common denominator and has not improved society’s literacy at all. It’s as if, “If it ain’t on the test then it doesn’t exist.” Getting kids to love reading in this environment is rather like trying to get someone to savor the flavors, scents, and sights of a gourmet meal while the chef is quizzing them about their daily calorie intake.
I recognize that if I am to embrace this kind of approach, then my first step is to contend with my own life as a reader and step it up a few notches. I love non-fiction, and am a self-professed nerd when it comes to reading. I have my own “Miller Mountain” at home of books I want to read. I also like to write, blog and write songs. I primarily “read to learn,” read/write poetry, love philosophy, ancient mythology and stories that connect to the great mysteries of life. But mostly, I love to read non-fiction.
I love books like The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Malcolm Gladwell’s other books. I love Shannon Lee’s biography of her father, Bruce Lee, titled, Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee. It was a blend of philosophy, life wisdom, and biographical accounts.
I do want to connect my students with books they love too though, and in order to do that I need to be reading more of those books myself. I have to admit, she shamed me into reading more. My goal this year already was to read 25 books, which I think I will make this goal. But I set that goal before I read her book. To be a better language arts teacher, Donalyn convinced me I need to read more of the books my students will want to read, which I tend to avoid doing during my free time because it feels like “work.” So yesterday I pulled 4-5 titles from my classroom bookshelves that I want to read and who knows, I may make 40 books yet by December. I have convinced myself that it isn’t really “work” if I choose titles I am interested in. I hope I can convince my students of the same.
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