I just finished reading Donalyn Miller’s book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Jossey-Bass, 2009)–and am enthralled. As a librarian, a major part of my job is to put the “right book” in kids’ hands in order to instill and foster a love of reading. That is, a book that will appeal to them–as individuals. To connect kids with the books that they will love, uniquely. And we all know, of course, that reading is fundamental. But despite its simplicity and common sense, Miller’s approach to “awakening the inner reader in every child” seems revolutionary: provide every child with a good book and time to read it, because “everybody is a reader”. Miller’s text is required reading for all language arts teachers and school librarians alike.
Tools for Awakening Readers
Daily Reading: The “cornerstone” of every classroom, a daily habit. In Miller’s classroom, students spend about one third (30 minutes) of their language arts block reading each day.
Student Surveys: During the first week of school, students complete two surveys, the “Reading Interest-A-Lyzer” created by Sally Reis and based on a form by Joseph S. Renzulli, about student reading habits and student visions of a perfect language arts class. The other is a general interest survey about book, movie and television preferences, hobbies, collections, preferred activities, and more. The surveys serve to assist Miller in making personal reading recommendations.
Reader’s Notebooks: Students maintain a reader’s notebook as a record of their reading. The notebooks serve as a tool for student-teacher conferences and for book recommendations. Aside from listing books read and to-read, it also serves as a space for reading responses.
Teacher Modeling: In order to instill a love of reading, teachers must be readers as well. “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” (110). And so during the designated class reading time, Miller also reads rather than busying herself with administrative or other tasks. Like the students, she also keeps a reader’s notebook.
Classroom Libraries: Miller believes in the importance of surrounding students with books. Her classroom is a library with shelves lining each wall. Rather than investing in classroom decorations, she invests in books.
Year-End Evaluation: Students complete an end-of-year survey to document their growth as readers. It shows not only how many books and the different genres students read, but also which factors contributed to their reading interests and motivation. Moreover, “through this survey, students celebrate their reading accomplishments, express their opinions to me one more time about the structure of our class, and set future reading goals” (156).