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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 6

Cutting the Teacher Strings

We're coming near the end of my 7 week book study with on "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.  Myself and others have been providing our thoughts on each chapter, week after week.  Today, we're looking at the second to last chapter "Cutting the Teacher Strings".
You can read my previous posts here:

And, as always, links to the posts of others for Chapter 6 can be found at the bottom of this one.

This may be the most lengthy chapter, but it also was the most thought provoking chapter.  As I read Chapter 6 I really critically looked at my teaching practices and assessed why I do what I do.  I must confess I am guilty of what Donalyn describes - at times, I think I have taught a certain way simply because that's how others have done it.  As I progress through my teaching career I feel this happening less and less as I come into my own.  It really is so important to think about why we are bringing each and every lesson into our classrooms!

This chapter starts out looking at "tried and true" language arts standbys.  The first item looked at it the whole class novel study.  I felt some assurance reading this part.  Donalyn argues that whole class novel studies take too long, don't meet the needs of all readers, ignore student interest and devalue prior reading experience.  I agree 100% with each of these points!

I've always started the year with guided reading and worked to more independent reading around Spring Break.  As the year begins we work on the items I'll be looking for: connecting, questioning, inferencing, book talks, response journals.  We do this through guided reading small group sessions and through modeling with a whole class read aloud.  When spring rolls around we move into literature circles, fairly closely to what Faye Brownlie describes in her book: Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses.  (This is actually pretty similar to what Miller describes on pages 128-129.)

What I like about Brownlie's Lit. Circles is that the students do get choice, but the choice is limited.  I usually pick 6 books, present each one, and have the students pick their top 3.  From there, I put them into groups and can usually put them in the book that best fits their reading level with the bonus that they chose it!  Being that I teach grade 4, I think that the students do need the structure of a system like this, with classmates they can work with on the same topic.  Miller is writing about her experience with grade 6 students, and I think that for them, it's fine to have everyone reading different material.  In grade 4, I'm just easing and transitioning them into that model.  Maybe Miller would disagree with me, I don't know.

I've recently learned more about independent reading the Smart Learning way.  I'm really excited about adding more of this to my classroom.  The gist (as I could easily write several posts on this alone and hope to in the future) is that students are talking to each other more during quiet reading time.  (Talking and quiet, I know.  That's why it's independent reading.  Not quiet reading.)  I don't mean the whole time.  At the beginning and at the end.  Students are forced to put their minds on text by explaining what they already know in their book, answering questions about it and thinking about personal goals for their reading.  After reading, they will reflect on their goals.  There's much more to it than this, but these are the elements I hope to start in my classroom this week!

So, back to the book.....

Donalyn warns of standardized testing and comprehension tests after reading books.  I'm really fortunate that in B.C. we don't have standardized testing as many describe in the United States.  In grade 4, we do have the FSA (Foundational Skills Assessment), which tests literacy and numeracy skills, but it's not the same.  My heart goes out to those teachers who must teach to a test and then be rated on their student's achievement.   I feel that I can meet my prescribed learning outcomes in a fairly flexible way, and that by encouraging students to read more often and from a variety of genres I have no problems doing that.  This again is why I am so excited about her book challenge.

Other items cautioned against are book reports and book talks.  One time (and one time only) did I have my students complete a book report.  The process was so painstakingly long!  The quality I wanted just wasn't there, and many of them really were not motivated.  The task was too large and drawn out.  And, it sucked to mark.  I won't be doing another, that's for sure.  I've seen book reports on Pinterest done up on science fair boards, and although that intrigues me, I think it would be a similar drawn our process when time could have been better spent else where.

As for book talks, I haven't done them or seen them done in the way that Donalyn writes about.  That too seems really long and drawn out.  I do the "Say Something" strategy from Faye Brownlie's book I mentioned above.  I really like it!  It's quick, fast moving, and can be done in smaller groups.  Now, I do this with students during guided reading or literature circles who are all reading the same book, so there isn't any persuasion to get others' to read the book also.  Which is why I am interested in the book commercials Donalyn writes about on page 137.  It sounds really fun and like something that can be done at any time you have a few spare moments.  This is something I will try to add into my classroom for sure.

Other practices warned against include: round robin and popcorn reading, reading incentive programs, and reading logs.  I don't do any of these in my classroom, and this post is getting quite long, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Chapter 6 sparked your interest?  Click the links below to read some more posts!

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  1. We have "quiet reading time". But it is not quiet. (Not much in kindergarten is!) I think I may rename it Mellow Reading Time. Because, like you, I want them to talk about their books.

    1. Mellow Reading Time sounds like an excellent name!

    2. I like that name, too, Sandi!

  2. The book commercials interest me, too, Angela! I wonder if Grade 1s could handle that?
    Sounds like you're doing lots of fabulous stuff in your room!

    1. Thanks Barb! I'm sure grade ones would do just fine!