The Book Whisperer – A Commercial Message   I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller because I’m trying to learn as much as I can about elementary instruction in the new Common Core environment. This was a suggestion from the elementary Principal whom I coach and I recommend it if you are a middle grades ELA/SS teacher or if you like stories about amazing teachers (e.g., Teach Like your Hair is On Fire by Rafe Esquith) or if you love reading. It’s one of those books that makes me think, “Damn, I wish that my daughters had a teacher like that!”   I stole the author’s idea of a “commercial message.” This is not a book report nor is it a book review. In her view these kinds of activities are not only a waste of time but more significantly they counter the main point of an ELA class – encouraging reading passion and life-long habits. Miller rails against everything that makes reading odious, including the ubiquitous “reading log” that parents have to sign but that does not work over 90% of the time. (did you note that I’m practicing my vocabulary, inspired by reading this book?) The author points out that there are many such traditional activities, including all sorts of “arts and crafts reading” and warm-ups and do-nows that can be scrapped.   Instead of reports, projects, worksheets and logs, she points to research which basically says that the best way to improve comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and writing is to get her sixth graders to read more. So she simply asks that her kids read 40 or more books a year and she fills her room with books.   I don’t want to give the impression that the author is overly critical or negative. In fact, the tone of the book overall is that of a love note. While the critiques of typical activities (even read alouds and popcorn reading) made me think deeply, my heart was inspired by her passion. She reads and reads and reads and can share her passion with each kid. She matches books with kids’ personalities. She has a blog entitled, “The Nerdy Book Club.” She is able to give a kid a book like “Wonder” or “The Fault in our Stars” when they need a good cry.   I want my kids to have a teacher who is that passionate. I want my kids to be required to read 40 books a year, and even if they don’t get there they’ll read at least 20. By the way, the average adult reads 2-3 books per year and a recent poll by the Huffington Post suggests that one quarter of American adults do not read 1 book per year.   The book gives enough descriptions of how she does this to make it practical for other teachers. For example, she talks about the importance of reading in school and how to find minutes for independent reading each day. Her kids apparently perform very well on the Texas state assessment (too bad she’s not in a CCSS state because that would make her argument even more powerful), and she shows that she does teach critical thinking and comprehension through individual reading instead of the traditional whole-class novel which she avoids at all costs.   A great teacher can do this. Can a good one? Can a good teacher create an environment which empowers kids to preview, choose, read and discuss books together? I’d like to think so, but I also haven’t seen it much. Instead, I see the whole class novel which maybe interests a few kids, and I see Accelerated Reader which gets kids to read by points and other external incentives. Could you imagine this kind of ELA practice happening in other classrooms and schools? I hope so and I’m on the lookout. I’m also going into schools with a newfound appreciation for independent reading.

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