I received an email from a parent about a week ago. This was an email that literally brought tears to my eyes, because it was one of those moments of elation where you know you’ve helped to create a lasting impact on a child. The title of this post, “Mrs. Palmer has changed my life” was a statement one of my students told his mother in reference to reading this year. I am a big believer in giving credit to those who help me, help my students. So, thank you to Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade teacher in Texas and author of The Book Whisperer. I also have to give a shout out to two of my colleagues who read this book before I did and encouraged others to read it as well.
Back to the email from a parent. The parent told her child she had noticed that he had taken a much bigger interest in reading this year. The parent said she was taken aback when he said “Mrs. Palmer has changed my life.” He went on to explain that he loves reading because of the new approach we have taken in our classroom.
So, what is this approach? It is the one suggested in the book The Book Whisperer. The basic premise of this book is that we are killing the love of reading in our kids with so much skill and drill. Because of this, we are not creating life-long readers. Miller also discusses how our job needs to focus more on facilitating the love of reading. If we can create an exciting, encouraging and supportive community of readers, our students will be much more likely to become life-long readers and those pesky standardized test scores will take care of themselves!
I have to admit, after reading this book last summer, I asked myself this: “Really? Does this approach make that much of a difference?” I have never been a fan of book reports and had already decided to stop assigning them. But, I also knew something was lacking in my classroom. What was lacking was an exciting community of readers. So, I decided to give Miller’s approach a shot. (I’m aways willing to try anything that may benefit kids). I declared an official end to any and all types of book reports in my classroom, which was met with LOTS of elation from students and parents! In place of this, I am requiring my fifth graders to read 18 books this year, 14 of which are chapter books. There are specific genres they have to read, but there is still room for lots of choice in what they read. I started off the year spending lots of time talking about books, sharing my excitement about books and teaching the kids how to be independent readers. The excitement was balanced with a little nervousness from the students as they were used to being told what to read and to do reports after reading. One student even exclaimed “Wow, I have to do 18 book reports!?” I said “No, you just have to read.” The students were amazed at this and got right to work on their 18 books they have to read.
I am not going to explain all the ins and outs of this new approach. I will say that on 90% of our days, the students have independent reading time in class (15-30min. per class period). They have learned to be self-sufficient readers, they are in the habit of responding to their reading via reading responses and they absolutely love to share what they’re reading. (And, I love hearing about it!)
I used Survey Monkey to get feedback from my parents mid-year. I received an immense amount of support for this approach. About 75% of my parents said their child is reading more than they did last year. (Some of the 25% said their child had always read a lot). They had a place to leave comments and thanked me repeatedly for no book reports and for letting their kids “just read” this year!
So, I am happy to say, I was proven wrong. I really did not think Donalyn Miller’s approach would make that much of a difference. But, it has. I see a consistent excitement in the eyes of my students as they daily share about the books they’re reading, I receive emails and comments of support from parents, and I witness a motivation to read like I have never seen before.
If you are an educator or parent, I highly suggest you read The Book Whisperer, and help re-ignite a passion for reading!