The Book Whisperer

click here the listen to The Book Whisperer’s keynote address at NWP

I teach college writing students who are presumably already formed as readers. My own kids are already voracious book devourers; it’s a family thing. So why did I feel compelled to read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child?

Because I was fortunate to hear the book’s author Donalyn Miller, give the keynote address at the National Writing Project annual meeting and even though she was speaking about writing, Miller’s voice was so entertaining, so gripping that I wanted more. . .

And more I got. Miller is a sixth grade teacher whose classroom, which requires students to read forty books a year, births a startling number of avid, lifelong readers each year and even though The Book Whisperer is a positive chronicle of how she leads children, pied piper like, to drink at the well of words, it could also be read as something else.
As an utter indictment of the way reading is taught today in American schools, as if the overall goal was to discourage reading in America. I am not cynical or suspicious by nature but when one considers the effects of No Child Left Behind and other mandated educational policies of the last ten years, especially the previous administration, one wonders if a less literate, less educated society of nonreaders actually is the desired outcome.

Just sayin.

Anyway, a few choice quotes:
“Students need to make at least some of their own choices when pursuing learning goals. Learners who lost the ability to make choices become disempowered.”

“Teachers lead the way. If teachers don’t love to read (and many don’t) students won’t love to read either. There is a link between the reading habits of teachers and the reading achievements of their students. It’s an enthusiasm that can’t be faked.” (hmm, works the same way with writing)

Whole class novel reading may be an educational practice that has overstayed its welcome: “Students are not reading more or better as a result of the whole-class novel. Instead, students are reading less and are less motivated, less engaged and less likely to read in the future. . .Reading becomes an exervise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill internal motivation to read.”

“Programs like Accelerated Reader, in which books are assigned a point value and students must complete a multiple-choice test after reading them, are the worst distortion of reading I can think of.”

Amen, sister!

“Endless test prep is the number one reason that students come to my class hating to read. They don’t think test prep is one kind of reading: they think it IS reading.”

And, finally,
“What are we preparing students for? Allowing students to choose their own books and control most of their own decisions about their reading, writing and thinking does a better job of preparing them for literate lives than the traditional—and ubiquitous—novel units, test practices and pointless projects. What are we waiting for?”

The Book Whisperer is an enormously entertaining book, but it should also be required reading for anyone who cares about the education of this nation’s children, especially the policy makers.

Speaking of books, the book fair this year was, as usual, an absolute delight, a splendor of books; I came away with a delicious rolling bag ‘o swag that will keep me and mine reading happily for the foreseeable future:

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