Sunday, July 5, 2015

Book Whisperer Success!

Last summer I fell in love with Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child , and it turned around teaching reading for me. I finally felt like I had permission to make reading for fun the true focus of our classroom. And what a difference it made!

Right off the bat, before the first day of school,  I ditched revised the "required" list (shhhh...) to include far fewer books and focused on only a couple great ones to make room for the loads of free reading we'd be doing.

Then, during that first afternoon of school,  I introduced the 40 Book Challenge. Yes - 40 chapter books. Per student. I expected some groans - maybe even a few terrified faces. Instead?  Excitement!  If there's any doubt to the power of enthusiasm to rub off on people, that day was proof.  Instead of having reluctant kids plodding through school-selected books, I had psyched kids eager to start reading and sharing what THEY wanted to read.

The next morning, we put together our Reading Response Journals. Never was there a group of 18 kids who cut and pasted and planned with more glee. I am a color-coder by nature, so I printed out "Characteristics of a Genre" sheets, "Genre Overview" guides, "Reading Requirements" tally sheets, "Books Read in 5th Grade" recording pages, and "Books I Want to Read" pages in every color of the rainbow.

Each week, they wrote a letter to me (or another teacher sometimes) about their current reading including a response to a standards-based question (compare/contrast, text features, point-of-view, etc...), their opinion of their reading, and answering/asking some conversational questions.  They were all due on Thursdays, and I handed them back by the following Monday. Usually. You know how that goes.  ;-)  Why Thursday?  Because this Dance Mom was stuck in a studio waiting room for two hours while her darling daughters tapped and pirouetted away, so I had ample time to write letters back.

Thursday Night Routine!
My first hint that things were really working was the first set of parent conferences in October.  Every parent brought up the challenge. And every one thanked me for it and said how much more their child was reading at home. Every. Single. One.  I cried that night. (Heck - I'm tearing up now just thinking about it. How often do we teachers get that much unanimous feedback from parents about something?)   Here is a sample conversation:

Me: Do you have any other things you want to discuss today?
Dad (looking stern): Yeah - that book challenge you're doing this year.
Me (bracing myself): Oh - yes?
Dad (nodding): That is simply great. John is reading so much more this year - I think he's actually starting to like reading!  Thank you so much for pushing him.

I'll tell you though - there's no way I could have kept the ball rolling with even the small class I had this year without lots of help.  The teaching assistants in my room were constantly donating new books to our class and modeling good reading.  The reading teachers were the first to jump on board to respond to a handful of different kids each week so I wasn't going nuts. Our reading specialist constantly supported me with examples of responses. The lunchroom staff kindly let my kids read in the cafeteria when it technically wasn't allowed (due to some library book mishaps in the past), and most of the staff offered to write back to them in their journals when I asked for some volunteers one week to change things up a bit.

Yes - there are some things I am going to change next year (more on that later), but overall - a total success!

12 of 18 got to their 40 goal. And let me tell you - those that didn't quite make it to 40 blew their reading from the year before out of the water!

I'll leave you with some feedback from my students:

"The 40 Book Challenge made me nervous at first, but I came through." - GC

"I ended up reading 27 books but that was GOOD for me!" - CP

"At first I thought 'Ugh!', but now I'm really glad we did it." - GH

"At the beginning of the year, I was scared of the 40 Book Challenge. Now, I'm like - that was so easy!"

And since a picture speaks more than words, I'll share a little hidden message in a journal from one of my developing readers who got to a personal best of 19 books this year:

Want to get started with The Book Whisperer?  Grab your copy right here:

Have you used the strategies in The Book Whisper with your class?  I'd love to hear about it!

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