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Donalyn Miller's passion for reading is quite obvious when reading this book. She reminds me of myself: I am an avid reader who carries a book wherever I go just in case I can "steal" a few minutes reading while waiting for an appointment, a traffic jam to unwind, etc.
She also loves being a teacher. She loves her job, respects her students and shares her love for books and reads with her students. She learns her students' personal reading preferences by making them fill out surveys at the start of the school year. Those who don't like to read learn to love to read by the end of the school year.
Her tips make a lot of sense. She suggests the reading teacher do the following: develop a personal library, create reading workshops, initiate book groups, allow students to read books they enjoy and don't demand book reports, have a reading corner with comfortable furniture available, and give the students some empowerment by working with their personal reading interests. If a student can read at least 30 minutes a day then the student is on its way on becoming a book whisperer.
One good tip for teachers: read more children's books and take recommendations from your students on what you should read.
According to Miller, there are three types of readers: the Developing reader, the Dormant (reluctant) reader and the Underground (gifted) reader. All can overcome their hesitance to read if teachers allow them to choose their own books to read. Her class day starts every day with fifteen minutes of "Independent Reading" where students can read whatever they want, a book, a magazine, a picture book, silently. If a book doesn't interest them after a few minutes, they can try another book. If they want to read an old favorite they have already read, they can read it again. She is there to mentor the students. And she reads in class as well, to be a role model.
Although the students chose the books they want to read, Miller does have a few requirements that they must follow: of the 40 book requirement, five must be poetry anthologies, five must be traditional literature, five must be realistic fiction, another five historical fiction, four must be fantasy, two must be science fiction, two must be mysteries, four must be informational, two must be autobiographical, and nine must be chapter-book choices. She then discusses various genres and lets the students define the individual terms. This is how she adheres to her state's required curriculum standards.
What works for Miller is that she also teaches social studies. If her class is studying a time such as World War II, she suggests reading books that deal with that war. This helps students become more engaged in all aspects of literature and history.
But there is more to just silent, independent reading. Instead of dreaded book reports (She prefers book reviews); she has her students discuss the books they have read. She discusses genre, writing styles, themes, content. (Is there a book she hasn't read?) Students are also required to maintain a reading notebook journal.
All these tips make sense, but my question as an educator is how can these tips work for the middle and especially the high school student? I taught six grade once and the students were still in love with reading, but a few grades later, plagued with hormonal overdrive, reading got replaced with texting, iPoding, and emailing.
One thing that is crucial to implementing Donalyn's strategies is having a principal and a school district that will support these reading endeavors. Yes, reading what one enjoys reading does develop a stronger reader and a more compassionate and civic-minded citizen, but this is harder to implement when most class hours are 60 minutes or less. In Miller's instance, classes were 90 minutes long; long enough to have independent reading before marching on to other requirements.
My two questions, however, didn't get answered. Can a teacher make a student who has poor English comprehension, become an avid reader in an English-speaking classroom? And how can we get teenagers in high school to learn to love reading?
No doubt Miller is an excellent teacher and her school should be proud of her, but I go away from this book resigned to the fact that her style and her advice are best for elementary school teachers. For someone like me who deals mostly with high school kids, this book is not quite helpful enough.
Still, her book was a great read. Her love for her students is very obvious.