Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chapter 1-The Book Whisperer

Can I just say, I L-O-V-E this book!  Of course, I couldn't just read chapter 1.  I kept reading and reading, until I realized I wasn't reading this book like I would for a book club.  I was so lost in the book and couldn't get over how much I could relate to it!  I got all the way to chapter 6 before I forced myself to stop, get out the pen, and start writing down my reactions.  

In the first sentence of chapter 1, Donalyn Miller describes her first memory of learning to read.  She describes her mother teaching her to read the highway signs as they traveled on road trips.  I connected with Ms. Miller immediately.  When I was young, we took a lot of road trips with my parents and grandparents.  This was how I first learned to read too.  My grandmother would let me sit up front and be the "navigator" on the trip for my grandfather.  What great memories...

I like on page 10 how Miller describes herself as a reader.  Although I've always had a love of reading, I don't know that I've ever used it as an adjective to describe myself.  

On page 11, the quote "No matter what else I had to offer them [her students], I could offer my enthusiasm for books."  I have always felt this way...but have I done it?  

Miller's wake-up call was when she had spent an entire summer creating a unit for the book The View from Saturday and it turned out to be a disaster.  I too have spent countless hours, weekends, and summers creating novel units.  Most have also turned out to be disasters.  Though, at the time, I didn't recognize it.  Only looking back now did I realize my students were also robots--just doing the work that was assigned, and not truly loving the book.  I will say, though, that my novel units were for literature circles, and not the whole class.  I knew that there was no way I could teach using one novel with the varying ability levels of my class.  Still, I was removing student choice.  

Another quote that stuck out to me was "teachers teach how they were taught."  Interestingly, I have very little recollection of being taught reading.  My reading memories are at home, reading with my mom.  I do recall reading a whole-class novel about the Australian Aborigines in high school, and I remember thinking at the time, why are we learning this?  It did not connect to our lives at all.  

The rest of the chapter focuses on how Miller got on the right path for teaching reading.  She noticed how students' interests sparked when they were given the choice in their book selections.  We practice Daily 5 and CAFE in my class, and both are centered around student choice in books.  Miller says, "As long as my teaching was about my activities and my goals, students would be dependent on me to make decisions and define their learning for them." (p. 16).  This reminds me of one of the CAFE premises, where students set their goals.  

Miller also talks about spending time with her principal and a veteran teacher, Susie Kelley.  Does everyone have a "Susie Kelley"?  I know I do.  She is our fabulous literacy consultant, and her office is right next door to me, so I constantly pop in to pick her brain!  

In the last section of the chapter, where Miller discusses setting up a reader's notebook and taking on a workshop approach.  She knew she was on the right path, but that it still wasn't working for her, and she was frustrated.  I definitely know this feeling.  All teachers must find out what works for them and their students.  One person's tried-and-true may not work for you.  Although I absolutely love the Daily 5, I certainly don't do it just as "the sisters" do it.  Or, as my teacher-friend across the hall.  We all have to modify to meet our needs and our students' needs.  

The last quote I want to discuss is on page 18, "reading shows you how to be a better human being."  This is my ultimate goal for my students.  


  1. Wow! You said it!! I agree and agree again!! Super observations and thoughts!! Thanks for sharing:) You said everything I was thinking...I just can't say it that well:)

    4th Grade Frolics

  2. I am right with you...I couldn't just stop at one chapter either. I also don't remember any reading lessons happening in school, I also don't remember any novel studies before Grade 7 so maybe my teachers were doing something right?? LOL
    Thinking of Teaching

  3. I am currently reading this book this summer also. Donalyn Miller is right on with what she has discovered works to motivate students to be lifelong readers. I've had the chance to see students excited about writing by giving them choice with their writing and now that I am changing gears from Communication Arts to Reading teacher in 6th grade in my district I am excited to use her ideas and suggestions to create a community of readers.

  4. I read this book in one day this summer. I loved it. Are you still doing this in your classroom? What was your success or failures?