Sunday, December 8, 2013

Letting Go - Chapter 7

It was sad to see this book end, because as a future teacher I wanted to learn more and more about her practices and her classroom.  I wanted a day to day detail outline so that I can produce the same type of results.   As Donalyn Miller is close to ending the year with her students you can see the gains she has made in creating lifelong readers.  “I end the year in the same way that I began: sitting in my green chair, reading.  Not reading in front of them as much as reading with them” (162).  Providing her students as a great role model as lifelong reader, her students have began to mimic her, they are reading far more then they have ever read in a class and they are making book suggestions and recommendations to other students.  Reading is beginning to be their life.  So it was very sad to read when she retells of former students coming back to her class to tell about their new classes where they do not get to choose their book, or even have to keep them in plastic bags as if they were small children, and are required to read whole class novels below their reading level. 

“Instilling lifelong reading habits in my students is like trying to hold the ocean back with a broom, a futile endeavor, if they are going to go right back to the same controlling environment they had before my class” (165).  There are so many teachers who teach reading the same way they were taught, where students are not actually reading and they are bombarded with worksheets and sample test questions.  If Donalyn Miller can find books, research and documents proving her method and practice are the best way to teach students to read and become avid readers, why must we follow traditional practices?  I would say a big reason might be change, no one likes to change their curriculum or how they manage their classroom and another reason could be support.  In order to keep with the progression of Miller’s students in higher grades there has to be some sort of shift and collaboration between colleagues and administration.  “The students who read the most are the best at every part of school – reading, writing, researching, content – specific knowledge, all of it (170).  The goal should be for our students to succeed and gain a love of reading. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chapter 6 Cutting the Teacher Strings

Chapter 6 gave me some good insight on what is considered traditional practices we see in the classroom regarding literacy and what she considers alternative practices that we can try and employ to create more lifelong readers.  Here are reasons on why Donalyn Miller feels whole-class novels is not a good approach:

v  No one piece of text can meet the needs of the all readers.

v  Reading a whole class novel takes too long.

v  Laboring over a novel reduces comprehension.

v  Not enough time is spent reading.

v  Whole-class novels ignore students’ interest in what they like to read.

v  Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience. 

Instead of whole class novels Donalyn Miller suggests on making comprises where, either the teacher can read the book aloud to students, or share-read the book (teacher reads while students follow in their own copy), look critically activities and projects that might take away from the student’s development as readers, and limit the number of literary elements and reading skills taught.  Donalyn Miller best said it as “whole –class novel is not the best way to share literacy in a classroom because it disenfranchises students who cannot read the assigned book on their own or who have no interest in the book” (130).   Instead we can select one theme and allow students to pick their text based on the theme.  Another approach is using the short stories we see in our classroom textbooks and teach literary elements or reading skills from these short stores and have students apply this knowledge to their own independent book they are reading for the class. 

Another great strategy we see within this chapter was the issue of the dreaded book reports.  The book report has the goal is to provide proof to the teacher the student has read the book.  If we do not use these then what can we use in our classrooms?  I’ve seen book talks where the student has to share with the class the book and to make the book sound interesting enough that their fellow classmates will want to read it.  The problem was the time frame that was needed to listen to all of these presentations.  She suggested book commercials and book reviews.  I’ve seen book commercials used in younger elementary grades and they seem very interactive.  The student is basically shares a little bit about their book to the other readers in the class and a dialogue is created within this structure.  Book reviews are when students write a small review of the book using a basic format we might see in a formal book review from any magazine or paper.  For instance some of the criteria she includes for her class are, quotes from the book, cliffhanger questions, personal reactions and other books by the same author.  What I really enjoyed about these two alternative practices instead of the traditional book report is the allowance of a more authentic interactive way for the students to convey their like or dislike about their book. 

One more traditional practice within this chapter I will go over is use of reading logs.  The student is asked to write down and record the book and # of pages they read for the night and how much time they spent on it.  I am very familiar with this practice and the issue with this is no one was keeping track and parents were not truly monitoring their children’s progress and were being asked to sign something the morning of when it’s due.  It becomes a job that we as students and parents have to tediously fill out every week.  The log was as Miller says is supposed to “provide us with tangible evidence that our students are engaged in independent reading.  Yet they don’t produce the outcome we are hoping for” (143).  The alternative is providing the students more time to read in class and chapter 3 lists some ways on how to achieve that time.

This chapter had such great information on some of the traditional practices we see in classrooms today and why they are not working and giving us the results we as educators want to see in our students.  Donalyn Millers alternative practices seem to be working for her class and maybe they won’t be an exact fit for everyone’s classroom but we can at least try. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Walking the Walk - Chapter 5

The saying “Do as I say, not as I do” does not apply to Donalyn Miller’s class.  She is very much an avid reader and this is why her students really trust her opinions and recommendations concerning books.  They see her reading along with them and they know she values reading with her whole heart.  This is not something someone can fake either you love to read or you don’t.  In Chapter 5 Walking the Walk, Miller gives us her views on how teachers are such important role models to our students sometimes even more so then parents.  It is popular to blame parents for the students’ lack of good reading habits or disengagement of reading altogether.  Miller’s reminds us that at one point these same parents were once are students as well.  Who then will become the role model for the student?  It is not uncommon to say our students are more likely to spend more awake time with their teacher then their parents.  We are in a society where both parents will have to work to support the household.  They might have had a bad reading experience when they were younger.  They could also be like our students today where they have no good role models of passionate readers.  Miller mention’s Rosenblatt’s transactional theory in which she states the teachers who have no love of reading will usually teach reading as more of efferent style which a more skills based approach.  Whereas teachers who love reading teach it with an aesthetic approach and these are the teachers who will have a greater chance of making an influential difference with our students reading habits.  “If we want our students to read and enjoy it for the rest of their lives, then we must show them what a reading life looks like” (Miller 110).

So how can we become good reading role models to our students?   We have to find our inner reader and self reflect on our reading history.  We have to be honest and share our experiences with our students, the good ones and the bad ones.  This is a great way to connect with our students, show them we once were just like them.  Miller also has a reading improvement plan we as teachers can follow:

o   Commit to a certain amount of reading per day.

o   Choose books to read that are personally interesting to you.

o   Read more books for children.

o   Take recommendations from you own students.

o   Investigate recommendations from industry sources.

o   Create your own reader’s notebook.

o   Reflect on what you are reading.

This chapter was a great way to remind us how much influence we have on our students and ways we can improve our own reading habits.   

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reading Freedom - Chapter 4

How does a good reader choose a book?  Is there a right way or a wrong way?  In the opening of this chapter Miller leads a discussion with her students on ways to choose books.  It is all about honesty in her classroom, so it is nice to see that she does address how she herself chooses book by the length, since most students usually look at length when they are required to read a book.  I’ll admit I do the same thing during my own courses when I am given a selection to choose from.  It’s in this discussion the dreaded comment of “Books are boring” is spoken.  How do you respond to a statement like that in the classroom?  As I think to myself, “Yeah, some books are boring especially that one I read a couple of months ago!” Again it’s all about honesty in her class so it’s refreshing to see that she backs up her philosophy.  Miller agrees to this statement and even shares some of her experiences with her own set of boring books.  Her students have the right to abandon books if they are not a good fit or “boring” and they have a right to explore the different genres and levels. 

Miller also gives some more insight on her 40 book requirement in this chapter as well.  She breaks them up into genres so all students can be acquainted with the different types out there.  Not only does this help the students find their reading niche, but it also helps her design this type of curriculum to meet the states standards and district mandates.  Do all students meet this 40 book standard? Most do but there still might be a few who do not, yet the fewest number of books read was one particular student who read through 22.  Twenty two is still a staggering number of books to be read through a school year.  “It is important to celebrate milestones with students and focus on their reading successes, not their failure to meet requirements, which only serves to discourage students” (Miller 83).

Some of her students would read books about video games, or even comic books.  Are we as teachers supposed to discourage this reading and force them to read books that we feel are better literary works?  “Teachers lose credibility with students when they ignore the cultural trends and issues that interest them and instead design classroom reading instruction around books that are “good for you”” (Miller 85).  Miller has a great way of introducing different authors and books to her students by keeping Read-Alouds in the class.  Another great way she introduces different books is by learning about the different genres.  As she sets out tubs of a certain genre, students use their prior knowledge and notes from previous discussions to better identify the books.  This will help them to learn what is available to them in their classroom library.  These students and even Miller will then use a notebook to track reading progress of each genre, each book read and abandoned, recommendations, and response entries.  Miller uses these to create a dialogue between her and the students when they meet.  This type of communication is authentic and real. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Chapter 3

I have read great books where I will lose track of time and before I know it a couple of hours has passed by.  I will sneak in another chapter when I should be doing homework.  I try to make and find time in my day to get another couple of minutes of reading a good book.  Reading is so important to Donalyn Miller and she tries to create as much time in her classroom for her students to read their book.  The saying “Do as I say not as I Do” is not in Miller’s agenda, when the students are reading she is also reading.  She models the behavior she wants her students to achieve.  “The more my students read, and grow into a community of readers, the more they want to read” (Miller 50).  This is one of our many goals we should be striving for in our classrooms.  Reading is one of the single literacy activities one can do in the classroom to get more positive growth and positive effect on the students’ comprehension, vocabulary and writing. 

In a time where most schools have very rigid curriculum schedules, how can we make time for reading? On a regular class day teachers are bound to get interrupted by other personnel, phone calls, and parents.  Miller recorded in a one week being interrupted enough to lose 40 minutes of instruction time.  In a regular classroom, students see this as a great time to talk, catch up and basically get off task.  In Miller’s classroom her students have been instructed and ingrained to take out their book and start reading.  Using “bell ringer or warm-up” activities are those worksheets or board work that is designed to get students in their seats quiet and ready for the day.  She starts off her morning with some independent reading instead.  This is a time when everyone is reading, and has set strict rules where this is not the time to catch up on homework, e-mails, or cleaning out binders.  Another time for some independent reading is when they are finished early with a task.  Most classroom have these “fun folders” for the students who finish early but when looking at these types of activities usually what it contained was just “busy work”.  Usually picture day is a madhouse, with teachers trying to get their students to line up quietly to take their picture and then to proceed to be quiet while waiting for everyone else to be done.  This is a great time to have students bring their book and read.

There are probably more moments within the day that could be best utilized by allowing the students to read, we just have to look deeper and find them.  I will end this post with, “by setting the expectation that reading is what we do, always, everywhere, it becomes the heart of a class’s culture” (58).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 started with the beginning of Donalyn Miller’s third year of teaching.  I think we all remember the first days of school as a student.  I remember the excitement of starting school and buying new pencils, folders and a backpack.  I know, I’ve always been kind of nerdy that way J.  We would have to endure the grueling first days when our teachers would set out the ground rules and assignments, while we sit patiently at our desk.  It was like all the excitement and anticipation I had dulled a little bit when I had to go through this tedious beginning.  So it was refreshing to see how Miller saw this after one brave student from the very beginning asked “when will be allowed to check out books?” and she said “Now”.  I mean why wait if the students were excited and interested in reading right away. 

Once I had read 40 books were required of her students in the Introduction and the first chapter, I had been thinking of how she was going to address the skill levels of her students or the dislike some might view reading.  It was interesting to see how she never acknowledged these types of issues to the students.  Miller’s answer was “If I were to acknowledge that those excuses have merit, I would allow them to become reasons for my students not to read” (23).  In a society where we are all looking for the excuse not to do something this makes perfect sense to me.  Her statement of “I must believe that my students are readers-or will be readers-so that they can believe it” (23) reminds me so much of another statement where students will rise to the level of our expectations, so we must make our expectations high. 

She also has changed her terms for the different levels of readers we are used to seeing for example struggling readers are “developing readers”.  These are the students who are not reading at grade level.  According to reading policy expert Richard Allington, students who are in a remedial setting read roughly 75% less than their peers in reading classes.  And we continue to wonder why these students struggle with reading?  They aren’t reading enough!  Reluctant readers are those students who only read just enough to pass classes and tests are called in her class “dormant readers”.  They have not found their type of book that engages them or takes them to different places.  Unfortunately, since they are passing through the classes and tests most school officials are probably not showing them how to find that special book either.  She opens my eyes to these particular readers by using a Mark Twain quote “the man who does not read great books is no better than the man who can’t” (29).  Her “underground readers” are those students who want to read and are really gifted readers, who probably read other more interesting books in the classroom and still do well on the tests and class work.  The problem is most teachers’ curriculum does not involve these students and focus on either the students at grade level or below.

The following are conditions identified by the Australian researcher Brian Camboune to foster successful learning:

Immersion – Surrounded by books.

Demonstrations – How to use the texts to learn different goals and how to access info from them.

Expectations – Students will rise to the level of expectations

Responsibility - Students make some of their own choices.

Employment - Practice what they have learned in real life situations.

Approximations – Receive praise and encouragement for what they know and be allowed mistakes.

Response – Immediate feedback on progress.

Engagement – Personal value, view themselves as capable, no anxiety, modeled by someone trustworthy, likable and respectable someone they would like to be.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Book Whisperer - Intro to Chapter 1


When I started reading this book I knew Donalyn Miller was going to capture the meat and potatoes of how to awaken the love of reading in every student.  When I first read how she requires her students to read forty books during the year in her class I first thought “How the heck does she manage that?” but the fact is her students reach this goal or surpass it.  She has also proved her methods by having her students pass the state’s reading assessment tests for the past four years.  We’ve seen so many children read less and less in the classrooms and outside of the classrooms and many of them struggle in reading, as Miller states “they don’t see reading as meaningful in their life” (p 2).  While everyone from parents and teachers scramble to find the magical answer on how to turn this around groups and companies are reaping the profits by special books and programs.


I admire how Miller points out “the only groups served by current trends to produce endless programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests” (p 3).  We have implemented programs and worksheets to help teach reading but ultimately you still need a student to open up a book and read it.  When I read this I thought “oh yeah, this sounds way too simple and surely there must be some type of trick”.  The problem is so many school programs leave out independent reading in the classrooms.  To build lifelong readers has to start in the classroom where they can find great books, and be able to discuss and build their own reading community.  This book will outline the practical strategies on how to implement this type of curriculum in the classroom and how to get that love of reading and connection between self and book in each student. 


In chapter 1 Miller reflects on her first year teaching and what a disaster it was.  This gives me hope as a student teacher that it’ll be ok if my first year teaching is not as perfect as I am envisioning it to be.  It’s during this year and after Miller starts to transform her classroom into a reading workshop.  “Being the best reader and writer in the room is not about power and control instead, I must be a source of knowledge that my students access while learning how to read and write” (p 15).  What a great concept instead of the teacher dispensing knowledge they should guide the students as they come near to their own understandings.  In this workshop students need the time to read and look through the books , students need to choose their own books, respond in natural ways to books they are reading, and students will make a community where everyone will make meaningful contributions.  Donalyn Miller had to become the role of “master reader” in her workshop classroom in order to inspire her students.  She had to inform her students in some way that “reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten…helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education…shows you how to be a better human being” (p 18).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


In this blog I will be posting thoughts and ideas that I get from the book The Book Whisperer Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller.  I will go through and pull practical strategies and applications on how she awakens the love of reading in her students.