Four years ago, my summer reading included The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It changed my life. It also changed the lives of over a hundred students, so far, that have passed through my classroom. Simple truths in Miller’s book brought me to tears because of how deeply they resonated within me. Students don’t learn to love reading by doing worksheets. I know that. So why was I still assigning them? The books students love forever are not the books assigned by teachers. True. I don’t know anyone who has Billy Budd or Candide or (what else did I read in high school and college?) on their all-time favorite reading lists. Not books you admire, not books that made you think, but books that you LOVE and reread and must have on your bookshelf in real paper. The Book Whisperer validated everything I knew to be true about my own love of reading, and it gave me the courage to change.
In July of 2011, I began talking to fellow teachers about it and found others who were just as excited. That summer, a handful of us from a few schools in our district formed a secret club on Facebook. Everyone read the book. Spilling over with ideas, we met to discuss implementation. Doing a good job with Reader’s Workshop meant throwing out the district-approved textbook and workbook. That caused me some trepidation, but I had already seen the power of the workshop approach in writing. So our secret group continued to meet after school started and we began to try this new style of reading instruction.
I developed short lessons that taught the concepts students are required to master: connecting to ideas in the text, identifying main ideas and details, using context clues, etc. Students take these lessons and apply them to their self-selected silent reading books. Every day in class, they read. Once a week, they write me a letter about their reading that shows me how they are applying the skills learned. I continue to be blown away by how their literature analysis grows throughout the year. They now read their textbook only if they choose to. We never open the workbooks.
Parents always ask what they can do to help. It’s much easier for them if there’s a worksheet! The best thing parents can do for their children is to read. Read to the younger ones and with the older ones. I remember sitting with my sons and reading, each of our own book, but together and engaged. Read the same book as your child and discuss themes. You might be surprised at the depth of some of the themes in Young Adult literature!
Not yet convinced? Read this article:
I’ve been very successful at getting my students to read. New challenge: get the parents reading for pleasure!