Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Book Whisperer

I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  I heard about it here in blog-land during the school year, finally ordered it about half way through summer, and just got around to reading it.  If you teacher upper elementary or middle school language arts, you really really should read this book.  It was a super quick read because so much of it is written as a narrative of the author's experiences.  It read like a story!  

The picture she painted of how she runs her classroom, with so much independent reading and kids so engaged, made me want to be in her class!  I'm starting to force myself to think about how I am going to structure each part of my day this coming year, and this was a great jumping off point for language arts.  I'm not making any for sure decisions yet because I'm still going to read Daily 5 this summer (I know, can you believe I haven't read it yet?).

Here are some things The Book Whisperer made me think about:

  • I need to put in more choice independent reading time.  Last year, my kiddos "read" first thing in the morning.  I put read in quotes because so many of them didn't.  It was definitely a "let's see how long we can hang out by the classroom library before we get in trouble" time for many of my students.  I occasionally gave them choice time to read during our Reading Workshop, but not often enough.  I remembering now how excited they got when I told them they could choose what book to read.
  • How will I have them respond to what they read?  I like Donalyn Miller's idea of letters, but I'm not sure how often I would have them write letters.  Lisa at Fourth and Ten posted questions she has her students answer on the home reading logs, so that might be a good way to go about it too, maybe in class, maybe at home.  I like giving the kids some choice in how they respond, so maybe they'll have the choice between the two!
  • Donalyn Miller talks about how Book Reviews worked okay, but not great for her.  I think I might try them in conjunction with the Book Commercials she talks about.  I think I will spread the Book Reviews out, like maybe 8 kiddos had them due each week.  That means each kiddo does one per month.  I like the idea of book reviews because one of our writing genres we do in 4th grade is Response to Literature, so we could practice that all year long!  (That would be good because my district says we should teach it April-June, but we have a state writing test in March that could ask the kiddos to write a response to literature!)
  • I want to really make expanding vocabulary a big part of my class this year.  My school has a lot of English learners, though most have been reclassified as English proficient by 4th grade.  These students were some of my top readers and could often use sentence structures way beyond the 4th grade level, but as they got into their middle-school level books, they stumbled over vocabulary.  The books that had vocabulary they understood were too easy for them.  I'm thinking that I will make a word wall that each student contributes to on a regular basis (not sure how often yet ... maybe a word will be part of their Book Review?)
  • Recording What They Read:  I loved how Donalyn Miller set up her students' response books.  I like the idea of having them tally the genres and list and rate the books in the front of their response journals.  I also loved the idea of having a "want to read" list in there!  I'm thinking about setting the 40 books in a year with the genre requirements like Donalyn Miller sets it out.  
  • I'm trying to decide how to/if to incorporate AR in this.  My school is big on AR.  I'm indifferent.  If the kids wanted to, I let them.  I didn't push it.  I had only 1 computer in my classroom for most of the year, so those who were into it took the time on the computer.  I think I will approach it the same way this year.
  • I'm definitely going to be doing more read-alouds for strategy lessons and conferences.  The Book Whisperer touches on these and, as I posted about before, I read and started to implement CAFE last year.  I like that it fits in well with students doing a lot of independent reading.  I will definitely be using it more this year!
  • I'm not sure how to fit grammar lessons/practice into this structure.  I'm thinking that when I read Daily 5, I might get more ideas for this.  I could probably incorporate grammar into Word Work. My other thought is to move grammar into more of my writing time, since really, that's when they use it!
  • And last, but not least, where does our curriculum fit into all of this?  My old principal didn't really care how much we used the curriculum.  We're getting a new principal this year, so we'll see what her stance is on this.  Some kids seemed to really enjoy the anthology stories, others certainly didn't.

I'd love to hear how you structure your reading time!

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