Adventures in Literacy Land: independent reading

Showing posts with label independent reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label independent reading. Show all posts


Volume reading builds background knowledge, increases vocabulary, improves writing, and develops empathy.  Voluminous, engaged reading is the best intervention for struggling, striving readers. Join us as we discuss Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward's book, From Striving to Thriving.
"The best intervention is a good book."

Volume reading is crucial to transforming striving readers into thriving readers, say Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward. They believe that voluminous, pleasurable reading is the key to literacy development. In this post we'll look at Chapter Four, "Pump Up the Reading Volume." The authors discuss how voluminous reading changes lives, reasons to add more reading to our day, how to build in more reading time, and review the research.

5 Reasons to Text in their Hands...EVERYDAY!

5 Reasons to Text in their Hands...EVERYDAY!

Teachers know text is the key.  

Teachers are quick to incorporate Read Alouds, both fiction and non-fiction, into lessons for reading skills, math, science and social studies.  We practice words, but we have to make sure we are practicing words in text. Here are 5 reasons.


If you want a child to be better at piano, you make them practice.  If you want a child to be better at soccer, you make them practice.  If you want to child to be better at dance, you make them practice.  If you want a child to be better at reading, you make them practice.  You would not give them a piece to play on the piano ONCE.  You would not have them kick a soccer ball ONCE.  WHY would you expect a student to become a successful reader with one glance at a book.  Students need to have the books from small group at their disposal to develop comprehension, fluency and expression.  They need practice every day...with new books every day!  I provided each student with a gallon-sized Ziploc(R) bag.  Each day they get give me the oldest book in their bag and they get a new book.  There are always 5 books in their bags.  They need LOTS and LOTS of exposure to text on their level!  Practice makes permanent.

Practice with Known or Familiar Words

Word wall words or sight words CANNOT be learned in isolation.  Well, they can be…but, why would you?  When students are just beginning to connect letters to sounds and sounds to words every connection made clear makes an impact on their learning.  Typically a word or two is repeated in predictable text can not only provide further practice with fluency, students are practicing sight words on every page.  As they become more and more familiar with these books the sight words become easily recognized and 


Responsibility is another key skill for early learners.  Giving them the responsibility of their book baggie allows them to have a part in their learning.  They need to bring the book baggie to the small group table.  They need to make sure their book baggie is put in the proper place.  They need to make sure their books are kept in the baggie.  


Independence is one of the most important skills students can acquire through books.  After a small group lesson students keep the book in their book baggie (a Ziploc® bag with their name).  These bags are kept in a specific place in the room.  When students are finished with their work, they can get their book baggie and sit in the classroom library to read.  They know how, when, and where to read their books and it’s up to them to do it.  


Finally, putting books in the hands EVERYDAY creates a routine of reading.  When the routine is created a love of reading can grow.  Students who know they will read every day and they will be successful every day.  Success feels good…so reading will feel good, too. AND will grow!

Give them the books.  Don't be afraid!  It will make all the difference!


Making Decoding Strategies Automatic: 3 Easy Steps

Making Decoding Strategies Automatic:  3 Easy Steps
Hello, Everyone.  This is Cathy from Cathy Collier's The W.I.S.E. Owl.  I am a reading specialist in a K-2 school.  I do both pull-out interventions and coaching, but have a soft spot for my pull-out kids. Two of my students this year are first grade students diagnosed with a "learning disability." (My undergraduate degree is in special education, so you know I love them.) They are the highlight of my day...and I won't deny I'd love to teach them all day!

When we started in late fall, these two were on a Level B and as of March they were moving into a Level D.  THEN, we hit a wall.  The D to E wall.  E seems to be the time when students are faced with lots of long vowel words, blends and digraphs, and word endings.  Here's what I know:  they can decode almost any word, IF I ask them questions and guide them.

For example, If they come to the word "gate."

     Me:  What do you know?        
Justin:  There is an "e" on the end?
     Me:  What does that mean?      
Justin:  The "e" makes the "a" says it's name.
     Me:  So, what is the word?      
Justin:  /g/ /a-a-a-a/ /t/,  gate.
     Me:  Great job!

What can I do?

My greatest challenge is getting the students to have their own internal dialog when using decoding strategies.  After a conversation with my Assistant Principal, we decided to try and practice the automaticity of the decoding strategies.  What does that mean?  I want them to come to an unknown word and think strategy first.  I have always "taught" and "practiced" the strategies, but I'm taking it one step farther.

1.  Play "Slap Jack"

I created a strip of the 3 strategies they seemed to need the most.  I chose 1 known and 2 unknown strategies.  We had been using CVC Sliders to practice our "slide and sound" with cvc words.   They have gotten pretty consistent with that strategy, so that became their "known" strategy.  The second strategy was the silent e "making the vowel say it's name (most of the time)."  We have talked about this strategy, but they needed concentrated practice with it.  The final strategy was "chop the endings."  We covered up or "chopped off" the endings to look at the base word for decoding.  To begin, I wrote 5 words for each strategy on an index card and when I flashed the card, they had to "slap the strategy" they would use to decode the word.  THEY DID NOT DECODE THE WORD.  This wasn't a decoding lesson, it was a strategy lesson.  We played this game for a week.  I let them sit side-by-side and slap the strategy together, but by the end of the week it was a race.  I wanted the strategy to be automatic.  The video below is Justin identifying the strategy for me.  (He said he didn't want to slap it, if it wasn't a game.  He thought he looked silly doing it alone.)
I hate that the video doesn't show all the strategies, but you get the idea.  By the end of the week, he was pointing to the strategy and saying the name of it.  That's what I want:  automaticity.

2.  Sort 

Part 1, we sorted with the cards from the week before.  I gave them the cards to sort under the strategy mat.  Yes, I should have made the cards smaller.  Lucky for you, I made small cards for you at the end of the post.  They would sort the cards as quickly as they could, then they would "prove" the cards belonged in that column.  They are still not reading the cards, they are just choosing a strategy.  Part 2, was a sort sheet.  This was an independent activity at the end of the week, but the students were still asked to "prove" the word belonged.  I also wanted to send a sample of a competed sort home to their parents.

3.  Read.

Finally, we read sentences I constructed with multiple strategies in each sentence.  As they came to an underlined word, they touched the strategy on the mat and then decoded the word.  They did a great job.  My favorite moment was when looking at the word "running" Justin said, "After I chop the ending, I can see a word to "slide and sound."  WOW...that's a moment, if you ask me.

I made a Decoding Strategy FREEBIE set for this idea.  


A Website Primary Teachers Will Love

Hello Literacy Land Readers! I'm popping in today to share a website that I just stumbled upon and L.O.V.E.  

The Unite for Literacy website hosts a collection of original, nonfiction picture books for beginning readers of all ages.

If you are a primary teacher, teacher of language learners or the deaf, reading specialist, or parent of a beginning reader, this website is for you!

The books feature familiar topics, colorful pictures, and audio support in many languages including sign language.

It's Easy to Use!

Students select a book by clicking on the picture of it. They turn the pages by clicking on the arrows. The left-hand page features a crisp, clear photograph or illustration. The right-hand page features text in an easy-to-read font. Audio support is provided by clicking on the speaker icon beneath the page. You can pre-select the language options.


  • nonfiction (hard to find at the emergent level)
  • relevant topics
  • attractive photographs and illustrations
  • cultural diversity
  • predictable, rhythmic language
  • text that ranges from one word up to a few sentences 
  • audio support (narrated in a real human voice)
  • narrated in English, many foreign languages, and sign language
  • new titles added every Tuesday
  • always free
  • no registration or logins required

Implications for the Classroom

Unite for Literacy is a valuable resource in the classroom and at home. I envision teachers using this to website to support their emergent readers and language learners during independent reading time or literacy centers. I plan to use it with my intervention students and share it with their parents and classroom teachers.

How would you use this website?  


Teachers as Reader Role Models

Friday was my last day of school for this year and I am already thinking about plans for next year.  This school year I started a new role in a new school as a math coach and in an effort to learn more about the math content, I have left many of my reading coach thoughts behind.  However, next year I want to do my part in creating a community of readers in my school.  One of my favorite ways to show students that I was a reader was to show them exactly what I was reading.  I didn't take pictures of how I did this :(  However, I did find pictures of what my fabulous high school teacher/academic coach friend did, and I can't wait to share with you her display.  Her display put mine to shame.

Let's take a look at each part of her display in detail.  At the time, Mrs. Stone taught ninth grade English for two periods to a group of students she had been teaching since the sixth grade.  Each year she looped up with her students.  They had formed a very special bond with her.  She spent the rest of her day being a master teacher (academic coach) to the other teachers in the high school.

She, like myself, was always reading more than one book at a time.  In order to keep up with what was current and be able to recommend books to her students, she read a lot of young adult fiction.  Not mention that we both LOVE reading young adult fiction books!  I love how she printed miniature versions of the book covers to use instead of just listing a title.  Book covers are works of art themselves and I love showcasing them.  They are first impression students have of the book.

Using book covers again, she listed the books that were in her TBR (to be read) pile.  Her students had lists in their notebooks of books they were interested in next and hers was just a visual representation of that list.  The students liked to see what she would be picking from next and the list also encouraged the students to check out the books themselves.

Once she finished reading a book, she moved the book cover from "is reading" to "has read."  She would then give book talks on the books and the line would begin of students wanting to check that book out.

At the beginning of each quarter, Mrs. Stone had a conference with each student and helped them set a personal reading goal.  The goals were set in terms of number of pages read, not number of books.  Students kept this tracking form in their notebooks.  Students were not competing against each other; they were working on meeting their own individual goal.  The student completed the title and page number section.  Mrs. Stone would then initial the completed column after they showed her in some fashion that they comprehend what they read.  I really liked the progress bar at the bottom.  Once a goal was set (hers was 3000 pages), the students divided the goal by four (750 for her) and set smaller goals on the way to completion of the major goal.  As students neared the completion of their goal, they colored in the progress bar so they would have a visual of how far they had come.

This post is dedicated to Mrs. Stone.  She is still working at my last school and I miss working with her on a daily basis.  She is a true inspiration.  She cares deeply for her students and inspires them to take their reading to new heights.

 photo thinkingoutloudtitle.png

Reading Logs: A Parent's Perspective

Hi Literacy Land readers!  It is Lauren from Teacher Mom of Three.  Today I am going to try and take off my teacher hat and talk about reading logs from a parent point of view.   This post is an opinion post to generate thinking and discussion. 

The reading logs that I am discussing are the ones sent home to document a child's reading at home.  They usually are in chart or calendar form and require the parent or child to record the book title, pages read, and/or minutes read, as well as requiring a parent signature. Sometimes they are counted toward a reading grade or homework grade.

Now, a little preface to my post so you know from where I am come.  I have been a teacher for twenty-six years and a mom for twenty-two years.  Throughout my teaching career, I have utilized a reader's log in various forms over all grade levels as a classroom teacher and as a reading specialist.  As well, my oldest son is now twenty-two, and he was required to complete a reader's log throughout most of his school career.

There is no disputing that students of all ages need to read at home to become better readers.  You can call it reading practice, independent, or recreational reading.  We all know that to be a better reader, kids need to read.  A lot.  And they need to read both at school and at home.

Ok, now that I have put my parent hat back on, I will say that from my family's perspective, the reading log does not promote authentic reading, nor does it create life-long readers. But let me get to the why.

Why Reading Logs Should Not be Emphasized
  •  First, many times the completion of reading logs is tied to a reward, whether it is a grade or a prize.  Sometimes students are rewarded for the total number of minutes read.  In this case, the incentive is extrinsic, not intrinsic.  Intrinsic motivation creates lifelong reading,  Extrinsic motivation is short-term and the motivation to read becomes not about reading for enjoyment, but rather to earn an ice cream party or a good grade.
  • The log is usually a form of accountability to document whether students are reading at home for the required daily or weekly minutes.  I understand that teachers need some sort of accountability.  I also understand that not all students will complete the reading or have a log completed. Sometimes even teacher-moms forget.  At least this one does.  We get so caught up in the reading, that many days pass and no one can remember how many minutes Noah read last Tuesday.  All that Noah knows is that he finished his book and he can't wait to read the next one in the series.

        Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, believes that students will read if you give them great books. She doesn't require her students to keep a log for at-home reading. Teachers must help students to find books that they can get totally engrossed in.  Books that the students want to take home.  Books that are of interest to the students and books that the student has chosen herself.  There's two points here that I want to make. 
  •  First, when students must document the minutes read or pages read, this can and does interfere with reading.  It sets up an artificial reading experience. not an authentic one.  Students and parents have to remember to set the timer, reading magically stops when the timer goes off, and someone has to document the minutes.  The reading experience can become tedious and frustrating.

  • Second, many researchers, including Miller and Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide, emphasize that teachers must, must allow time for reading in the classroom throughout the day.  Both understand that for many students they may not have a support system at home to encourage reading or a parent available to sign the log.  When I taught middle school, many of the students came from single family homes with the parent working night shift.  The students had to remember to make arrangements for parents to sign the log before the due date. Seems like they should be responsible, but these same students were the ones caring for younger siblings and in charge of making dinner and other chores.  Sadly, reading was not a priority in the home.  Staying safe in high-crime neighborhoods and caring for younger siblings was the priority.  Reading logs aren't going to change that.

  • The goal of education is to create life-long learners and readers.  The log isn't going to do that either.  For my sons, they read because they find it interesting and enjoyable.  The reader's log gets in the way.  We end up estimating exactly how many minutes they read because I will not have them or me running to the timer.  I do not want to communicate to them that reading stops when the timer goes off or when you have read 10 pages.  It's unnatural in this setting.  Real readers don't set the timer.  Real readers read in bits and chunks throughout the day. I don't document every time my boys read.  I can't.
  • And the reason I can't is because very early in the school year, they got the impression that reading is about completing the log and racking up the minutes.  "I want to go the ice cream party".  "I want the special tickets".  No, I had to gently remind them.  This is not what reading is all about.  I want my discussions with my kids to be about the book, not how many minutes or pages they read.  We read for enjoyment and to learn not for recording minutes.

So in my house, the boys logs are completed each month, but I don't emphasize them.  My boys read much more than the required 15 minutes a night.  They read at breakfast, when they are bored, in their beds at night, in the car, and when their Lego magazines arrive in the mail.  The reader's log did not create these "wild" readers.  No, not at all.

Stay tuned for a second part to this topic where I will discuss my ideas for alternatives.

What are your thoughts as a parent and/or as a teacher?


Independent Reading: Whose Choice is It?

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Frame:  Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts

Independent reading. D.E.A.R.  Read to self. S.S.R.  No matter what you label it, there is no arguing that giving students quality time to read is not only important, but is critical to reading development and to fostering an authentic love of learning in our students. This summer I read Donalyn Miller's wildly popular The Book Whisperer and have blogged about it numerous times. Two major points from her book that resonated with me are~

  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p .3).

  •  An effective literacy program focuses on engaging students, not writing “pretty” novel units. Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me (Lauren) clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  However, students are not bombarded with endless activities that diminish the pleasure one gets from reading.

For years, I have not only promoted and allowed for a large chunk  of uninterrupted reading time in my classroom, but have also been a strong advocate of reading at home as well.  Whether students are reading in class or at home, the number one motivator is student choice.  Allow students to choose books that interest them and there is a very, very strong likelihood that they will actually complete the reading.  I do not hover over my students micromanaging their book choices, much as Miller stated in her book. Whether I am teaching a reading/language arts class or instructing an intervention group, they know that they are expected to read at home.  They also know that I trust them to make good decisions. Of course, this is after modeling and supporting them with how to choose an appropriate text that interests them and is a "good fit".  And I am talking about kids from ages four to eighteen.

With elementary students (and the preschool enrichment students I have worked with), I guide their choices, keeping in mind their reading level and interests, but I always, always allow them to choose a book that they want to read, even if it appears to be too easy or too difficult.  If they are reading at a Guided Reading level of  "F" and they want to take home a chapter book, I allow them to do so. If they are begging me to allow them to reread an easy picture book, I allow them.  But why?
  • Because I feel that motivation to read/learn is paramount.  Students may choose a chapter book even though it is beyond their instructional or easy level because they feel proud to have a chapter book and view themselves as a reader. Maybe they want to be accepted by their peers and fit in with their classmates who are already reading these more challenging books. If students do not view themselves as a reader and are not motivated to read, they will not choose a chapter book, something that is much longer and intimidating than a book that is on their easy level. My first goal with any student is for them to view themselves as a reader, no matter what their reading level and to be interested in selecting books to take home to read.
  • Because they must see reading as enjoyable if they select a book and beg me to allow them to take it home or read in class. There is no way that I will squelch that enthusiasm.
  • Because I know that by rereading books, reading books that are too easy, and choosing to read books that interest them, students are building fluency and may for the first time actually find reading to be pleasurable.
Parents sometimes are concerned that the books their child is reading is too easy.  My response:  "But they are reading, enjoying it, and are identifying themselves as a reader.  Isn't this what it is all about?"  Miller concurs when she states:  

"They [students] must choose and read many books for themselves in order to catch the reading bug". (p.77)

 Now, this does not mean that I allow students to choose easy books or reread books all year long.  Not at all. Once the student is "hooked", I can then nudge them toward books that are on their reading level and provide more of a challenge.  But if I don't have their buy-in, if they don't sincerely develop an interest in reading, then I can dictate their reading choices all I want or limit them to books at their exact level, and they may or may not read and they most likely will not enjoy the experience. Usually, we will compromise.  They will select a book they want to read and I will urge them or require them to take home a book that I want them to read (because it is on their easy level, allows them to practice/apply a skill or strategy we have been learning in class, etc.).

To communicate with parents and to avoid confusion, I place little notes inside the front cover of the books the students take home.  This allows the parents to know if the book is too hard and they need to read it aloud to their child, if they may need just a little help, or if they can read the book independently.

The notes I use look like this~

Frame:Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts; Graphics:  Scrappin' Doodles

As students are selecting books to take home, I simply place one of the notes inside the front cover as in the above picture.  Eventually, even the little ones can do this independently.

Click here to download a copy of the notes from Google Drive.  You can print them on card stock and laminate for durability.  They should also print out nicely in black and white or gray scale.

How do you manage take-home or independent reading?  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks!


Engaging Reluctant Readers

Hello, Adventurers!  Jana, from Thinking Out Loud, here with you today to give you a few ideas on engaging reluctant students.  My post is inspired by Lauren's "Are You a Book Whisperer" book review over Donalyn Miller's fabulous book.  I read her book this summer as part of an online book study and still can't get it out of my head.  As I read the book, I kept nodding my head and saying "I am so glad that I am not the only one who thinks this way."

Before we delve into helping reluctant readers, let's define it so we are all on the same page.  Scholastic had a great definition:  "reluctant readers are those who, for a variety of reasons, do not like to read, do not like to expose themselves as readers, and have a hard time finding books they want to read."  I love this definition because reluctant readers aren't just those students who do not like to read.  This group also includes students who don't want others to know that they are readers and those who haven't found the right book yet to introduce them into the wonderful world of reading.  Donalyn Miller put a positive spin on reluctant in her book The Book Whisperer by calling them "DORMANT" readers because "they have a reader inside themselves somewhere" and "need the right conditions to let that reader loose" (p.28).

So many times we focus on the struggling reader:  the one who has trouble decoding, who has poor fluency, who struggles with comprehension.  With that as our only focus, the reluctant/dormant reader can fall through cracks.  These readers can read but don't.  As teachers, what can we do for the reluctant/dormant ones?  We need to wake them up and show them the wonderful worlds that await in books.

Student Choice
Donalyn Miller begins chapter 4 with a wonderful quote from Richard McKenna:  "Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."  Student choice can be difficult for teachers because it is a time when we have to let go.  When Henry continually picks Captain Underpants books to read, I wanted to scream, "Pick something new!"  Instead I should be celebrating the fact that Henry is continuing to read, no matter what it is.  Giving students choice in what they read creates buy-in.

Be a Reader
Time to be honest.  How many of you read on a daily basis?  When I was teaching reading, I could have raised my hand.  Today, I cannot and that makes me sad.  However, I am working on bringing reading back into my life through on One Little Word, passion.  Books are a passion for me and I let everything else get in the way and push that passion to the side.  Teachers need to be role models for their students and that includes being a reader.  I could not stand in front of my seventh and eighth grade students every day and tell them that reading is important if I was not reading on a daily basis.  Why?  Because actions speak louder than words.  If they know that I am reading, if they see me read, if they see the stack of books I am reading and the stack that will be reading, then they will believe me when I tell them that reading is important and should be done every day.

Giving Honest Recommendations during Book Talks
Let students know that it is okay if they don't like a book.  Let students know that you don't like every book you have read.  Let students know if there are genres you do not read.  I was honest with my students when I gave book talks.  I would tell them if I liked or disliked the book and why.  Why would I book talk a book I disliked?  I knew that some of my students would like it.  It is also a good thing to let students know that you abandon books.  Even good readers don't finish every book that is started.  A book that I recently abandoned was the first City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.  One of my friends and my husband told me it was a good book, but I could not finish it.  I got bored and didn't care what happened to the characters.

Some Recommendations
Any of these books are fantastic read alouds to draw students in and have them complete the series on their own.  They are also great books to give book talks on to draw students interests.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I was just going to put the first book, but I love the series so much that I have to include them all.  The first one is short compared to the rest and gives an introduction into a world different but the same as our own.  Students can relate to Harry, through his horrendous family life, going to a new school, making friends for the first time, and learning to find his way.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (series:  Percy Jackson and the Olympians)
Riordan draws you into the books before you even start chapter one.  Reading through the table of contents will draw in any reluctant reader.  Chapter titles include:  "I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher" and "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom."  The main character is a middle school boy who struggles in school, has ADHD, which makes it easy for kids to identify with him.  The story is filled with adventure and is fast paced so it keeps the reader's attention.

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman (first in the series)
The series is written in journal format from the viewpoint of one of the main characters Ryan, who is investigating the strange things that are happening in his town, Skeleton Creek.  What really draws in the reluctant reader?  The video component.  The other main character Sarah takes videos and emails them to Ryan, so you get the story from the journal and through the videos.  The videos are accessed online with the use of a password you get while reading.  The videos are creepy also.  Middle school students love that!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (first in a series)
Jeff Kinney writes his books through a journal format also, but it is different that Carman's.  Kinney's are written through a younger middle school student's eyes.  From Kinney's website:  "It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you're ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary."


Are You a Book Whisperer? A Book Review

Welcome!  It's Lauren from Teacher Mom of 3 with you today to share some highlights and applications for one of my favorite professional books of all times, The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller.  


 Many times over my career, teachers and administrators have viewed independent reading (read to self) as not "teaching" and something that students can do at home.  If an administrator walked into a classroom and students were reading silently, many  teachers would feel guilty.  Some admins expected that the students should be actively involved and engaged in a project or lesson; or they expected the teacher to be delivering whole or small group explicit instruction.  However, I have always felt as a teacher and literacy coach, that if I did not observe students reading independently during a 90-120 minute literacy block then something needed to change.  Like Miller, I suggest 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted independent reading daily in addition to other literacy frameworks you may use such as Daily 5, Guided Reading, etc.

Now, I am far, very far from being "Polly the perfect teacher".  When I was in the classroom if something had to give because of time restraints, I admit that it was usually my D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time.  Although I felt guilty for doing so, I also felt that I needed to give my students time for direct instruction and small group time.  After reading The Book Whisperer, I know now more than ever that something that looks so simple is very, very important. And besides, I have always held the philosophy that students should be doing most of the work and talking in the classroom.  Independent reading fosters a student-centered climate, allows students to practice and apply reading skills and strategies, and promotes reading for enjoyment.

I'll begin with an overview of the book if you haven't read it and offer a review for those that have.  Then, I'll move on to some authentic applications for the classroom.


 The premise of this book is that to create passionate, life-long readers, teachers must create a learning environment that stimulates and nurtures independent reading. Independent reading is more than the ten or so minutes of D.E.A.R. time we try to squeeze into our literacy block. It is a restructuring of our literacy instruction to intentionally carve out as much time as possible to let kids read. As a side note, if you are a Reader’s Workshop fan or if your teaching has been inspired by the research of Nancie Atwell (In the Middle), you will adore this book!

For years, I have been using the research of Atwell, Allington, Wilhelm, Routman, et al, to support my plea for teachers to stop the barrage of worksheets, journal entries, quizzes, tests, and book reports for kids read. We don’t need to work kids to death when reading a book. We don’t need to develop a beautiful book or novel unit that is crammed with pages and pages of written work for students to complete. And, with the reading of The Book Whisperer, I have found yet another researcher and classroom teacher who begs us to change our ways, if in fact our goal is to motivate and create life-long readers and not just effective test-takers.  And that is the gist of this brilliant book- that our job as literacy teachers is not only to teach students how to read and how to read to learn, but to instill a love of reading in them that will last a lifetime.

Highlights and Take-Aways

  • Although this book is geared toward middle-level teachers (the author is a sixth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher), much  can be adapted for early and intermediate elementary grades.    
  • Miller explains and details how her students achieve her expectation that they read *40* books a year.  
  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p.3).

  • Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  Miller delves deeply into this topic later on in the book including preparing students for state tests.
  • Implement a workshop approach to reading and writing that works for you and the needs of your students. 
  • Allow for individual choice of reading selections with expectations.

  • The classroom library is paramount and powerful if we are to guide our students toward developing and internalizing a love for reading. As for me, although I loved having a Smart Board in my classroom, I would rather have an extensive classroom library!  Miller suggests that schools invest in classroom libraries rather than expensive reading programs and professional development sessions.

  •  Listen to what students need instead of us teachers telling them what they need. Offer students choice in what they read and you have instant buy-in. Miller shares that self-selected books empower and encourage students, it develops self-confidence, and gives control- all in the name of independent learners.  Reading choices should not always be dictated by the teacher.  Gone are the days of everyone reading the same novel at the same time throughout the year.
  • Choosing not to read isn’t discussed and it is not an option.
  • View each student as a reader no matter their reading level.
  •   Students need to learn how to select books for themselves instead of being a passive learner and relying on the teacher.   

Classroom Applications

Fonts by KG Fonts

  • On the first day of school have a “Book Frenzy”.  Let students select books from the classroom library for in-class and for reading at home.  Have an array of varying genres and themes and allow students to choose the books they are interested in reading.  And then, let them read!  As a result, you will set the tone that reading is prominent and this activity allows you to interact with students and get to know a little about them.  I can think of no other important activity such as this.  Discussing classroom rules and procedures can wait! 
  • Research shows that student choice is not only the number one motivator for reluctant male readers, but for all students. When students have the freedom to choose their own books, it empowers them, strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, gives them control, and promotes a positive attitude about reading.  Miller mentions that she does not “micromanage” their reading choices and allows students to choose books that are too hard or too easy.  Why?  Because if readers have an invested interest in a book they will read it, and isn’t that the ultimate goal?  There will be plenty of time during the remainder of the school year to nudge students toward reading material that is more on their level or that you think they need to read to meet curricular standards.  However, Miller states, “Listen to what your students need- don’t tell them what you think they need to hear.”
  •  Show students that reading is fun and engaging. To accomplish this, allow students to make choices, to abandon books that are not appealing or that are too difficult.  Show them that reading is often done for pleasure, not just for work.  The goal of reading is not to complete a book report, take a quiz, complete worksheets, or vocabulary activities.  The goal is to read, enjoy it, and learn from it. Administer reading interest surveys, multiple intelligence assessments, informal and formal reading assessments to allow you to successfully match readers to books.
  • Snatch every spare minute you have to allow students to read independently.  This includes having students read at the beginning of class instead of having them complete morning work, a warm up, or “bell ringer” work- worksheets, DOL, etc.  For students who finish their work early, instead of having them complete “fast finisher” work- again worksheet or centers type activities- let them read!  If your class is interrupted by a phone call or visitor, teach students that they are to pull out their books and read until you are able to resume teaching.  Condition students to carry a book wherever they go.  At my previous school, we had this expectation for our middle school students.  If they were finished with their work in a content class, they were expected to pull out their book and read.  The Principal rewarded students he "caught" reading as he made his rounds throughout the school.


Are you a book whisperer?  How do you create a culture of readers in your classroom?  Which of the ideas in Miller's book have you had success with over the years?

Next time, I will share a review of Miller's follow-up book, Reading in the Wild, which by the way, did not disappoint!

Graphics:  Bunting and section separators by Ashley Hughes