Donalyn Miller reminds us all of what it truly means to be a reader, and how we can teach our young ones to love reading. Reading is a magical experience, but too often schools are bogged down by state and test mandates to truly teach a child how to read. When one reads for pleasure, no one is asking them to find the main idea or mark a Scantron sheet. They are simply absorbing the text, and then later articulating what they did or did not enjoy about the text. Miller’s approach was crafted through years of experience, anecdotes of successes and (perceived) failures, and above all a love of reading.
This book is, frankly, a godsend for all teachers who want their students to become strong readers who enjoy reading, can talk about their reading, and steal reading time at every moment. Rather than filling up time with warm up exercises, busywork, or worksheets that will eventually just end up in the trash, she works with her students to implement structured routines for reading. Waiting for line during Picture Day? Read a book. Finished with all of your worksheets? Read a book. Class trip? Read a book while waiting in line for the bus. For many adults, these stolen reading moments can be implicit in their reading practice, but they must be taught to young readers so that it becomes implicit for them as well. Her approach is to require students to read 40 books in the school year, and she uses teaching moments to show them how to make good reading choices, decide what to do when a book simply is not working, and make plans for their reading goals.
Miller provides effective strategies for teachers to implement in their classes to replace some of the traditional teaching that have turned students against reading. For example, instead of traditional book reports, her students write book reviews and letters to the teacher in their reader’s notebooks. Conferences and book chats replaced or minimized tests on the content, and the students engaged in critical activities that showed them how to not only interact with and review a book, but also how to criticize it and make their own choices about their future reading and relationships with books. While one result was an increase in their State Test scores, Miller reflects that test scores are only a small part of her students’ reading journey. More importantly, she believes that every child should become a lifelong reader, and the journey has to start by abandoning “drill-and-kill” methods and simply give the students the opportunity to read.
If you would like to learn more about Donalyn Miller and her work, you can visit her website at bookwhisperer.com.