Friday, January 9, 2015
Importance of Book Whisperers
In my past year of reading books about reading one of the most passionate books I came across was by an elementary teacher here in Texas, Donelyn Miller. The book is The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. The title reminded me of the Robert Redford movie, The Horse Whisperer. The horse whisperer was a trainer passionate about horses, who had an innate knowledge on communicating with horses in training them. That concept fits well with the Book Whisperer. Donelyn Miller is an example of a teacher with a passion for reading and books and passes that passion and love of reading on to her students. Here is a link to her webpage about the book -- http://bookwhisperer.com
Her comment at the beginning, “Anyone who calls herself or himself a reader can tell you that it starts with encountering great books, heartfelt recommendations, and a community of readers who share this passion.” (page 4). That comment reminded me of my journey with books and reading with the Summer reading programs at my hometown, Barberton Public Library starting when I was in second grade. That is where reading caught on for me. Her comments here are in context of the standardized tests that focus on reading short passages in worksheets. Anyone who has had an honest conversation with students knows that is not how to build readers. Donelyn in her book shared how she encourages independent reading and students would read 40 books a year in her classes. That is how you build the process of “Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.”
I just want here to share a few of my favorite points I gathered from the book. First of all her statement of the importance of reading struck me, “ Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human building.” (page 18). Back to my Summer reading programs the books I read opened new worlds to me as I read stories about cultures around the world. As to the thought of making us better people that relates to what I was getting at about two weeks ago with spiritual literacy. Spiritual writings help us improve our lives.
Ms. Miller reveals how reading was an integral part of her teaching time. She made sure the students had time for independent reading of books of their own choosing. This is important to note, that she allows students to read about things they were interested in reading. I over the years have had talks with College students failing remedial reading courses and often it would relate to their being bored or not liking the forced readings the courses revolved around. Her emphasis in taking time to read is a reminder to all of us which hits home from a poignant quote by Atwood H. Townsend, “No matter how busy you think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” (page 49) The quote and her thoughts in the book point to how reading develops the mind. We need to take even a little time during the day to read.
The develop of the mind is brought out by her mentioning the Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen. She states he, “reveals that no single literacy activity has a more positive effect of students’ comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, spelling, writing ability, and overall academic achievement than free voluntary reading.” (page 51). So why do I see parents leaving libraries with their children carrying stacks of videos instead of books? Reading needs to be encouraged by parents and teachers.
Ms. Miller reveals how she tries to be a role model in sharing her love of reading to students. We need more teachers like her. I remember back to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Clifford who would regularly read to the class from books. That also encouraged my reading. On being a role model for reading she states, “When my students think about me in the future, I want them to remember me as a reader with a book in my hand and a recommendation on my lips.” (page 106).
I was glad to see that she also brought up the harsh realities we face in our lazy minded world of passive video watching versus the enjoyment of reading. “We have created a culture of reading poverty in which a vicious cycle of aliteracy has the potential to devolve into illiteracy for many students… They may be capable of reading well enough to perform academic reading and informational reading, but they do not love to read and have few life reading habits to model to children.” (page 107) I ponder often about the truth of this and how this is creating a dearth of critical and creative thinkers due to the lack of well-read fellow citizens. A video based diet for the mind creates lazy passive thinkers. I have observed this experientially and in conversations with college students who admit they watch videos too much and read too little.
Another point I enjoyed in the book is her discussion on “Finding Your Inner Reader”. The concept reminds me of the importance of savoring memories about reading as in my case I can think back to my mother encouraging my involvement in the local Library Summer reading programs. Memories of my first grade teacher who encouraged reading as well as my third teacher, Mrs. Clifford who read openly in class from various literary books to encourage reading stand out as well. Good memories of reading can build future Book Whisperers.
Reflection: What are your memories about reading from your past? If you have good memories share them with others to become a Book Whisperer yourself. If you did not have good memories of reading in your past start new good memories. Visit your local library and pick out a couple of books on subjects you enjoy to begin reading in this New Year.