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The Book Whisperer:
Inspiring Kids to Read


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Teacher Donalyn Miller earned the nickname The Book Whisperer" because of her almost mystical success getting kids to read -- a lot. Allowing children to choose books, and providing reading role models and time to read are among her strategies. Included: Reading tips and resources from The Book Whisperer."

When it comes to developing fluent, eager readers, sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher Donalyn Miller has the touch." She is so successful at getting kids to enjoy reading that she has earned the nickname The Book Whisperer." Millers nickname appears on a blog she writes for Teacher Magazine, as well as in the title of her book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

A teacher-consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project, Miller also recently spent three weeks as Teacher Magazine's "Ask the Mentor" columnist, answering questions about how she motivates students to read.

Miller talked with Education World about her efforts to cultivate young readers.

Donalyn Miller

Education World: What strategies do you recommend to improve the reading skills of students in upper-elementary grades?

Donalyn Miller: No matter what reading skills developing readers still need to learn by the upper-elementary grades, children need to spend substantial amounts of time actually reading in addition to skills-based instruction. Without applying what they learn within the context of real reading events, it is doubtful that students who still struggle with learning to read well will develop reading proficiency. Evidence from many research studies proves that students who spend the most time reading become the strongest readers, while children who dont read much fall further behind each year. Children need time to read every day and the encouragement and support to do so.

EW: What approaches would you suggest for primary-grade teachers to use to help students enjoy reading rather than view it as a chore?

Miller: Motivating and inspiring children -- no matter what age -- to read requires four components:

  • Role modeling: Children need enthusiastic reading role models, both at school and at home.
  • Time: Children need independent reading time during the school day, as well as encouragement to read at home.
  • Choices: Children need the opportunity to choose their own books to read and support and guidance in book selection.
  • Access to books: Children need access to a wide range of reading material matched to their interests and reading ability.

Schools do a good job of teaching children how to read, but provide little motivation for students to read outside of school."

EW: The process of learning to read has been pushed down to kindergarten in many districts. What are your views on stressing reading at such a young age?

Miller: I am not an expert in emerging literacy, but I know that learning to read is a developmental process. Requiring children to learn to read at younger ages does not change the natural course of child development. I wonder how many young children are labeled as struggling or poor readers simply because they were forced to read before they were developmentally ready.

EW: There has been a lot of talk recently about the literacy gap" between boys and girls. What can teachers do to get boys more engaged in reading?

Miller: I think boys need the same support I promote for all readers. Too often, the books we read and share with students in school are books that dont speak to boys. Helping boys connect with books that explore topics of personal interest is the key. The books are there, the readers are there, we just need to connect the two. Each year, many boys in my class discover books and authors for the first time.

EW: Why do you think fewer children now are reading for pleasure?

Miller: Children do not realize that the same story arcs they love in television programs, movies, and video games exist in books. Schools do a good job of teaching children how to read, but provide little motivation for students to read outside of school. Reading becomes a school task for many children, not an activity they enjoy.

EW: Who are your inspirations and primary resources for teaching reading?

Miller: What a challenge! Although I have read countless books on teaching reading, here are a few that I turn to every year:


Without applying what they learn within the context of real reading events, it is doubtful that students who still struggle with learning to read well will develop reading proficiency."

Two new books showed me the necessity for reform in reading instruction and the need to consider our students lifelong reading habits as well as academic skills. They are Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, by Kelly Gallagher, and Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For, by Thomas Newkirk.

This e-interview with Donalyn Miller is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The Reading Room archive

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Published 09/15/2009


 

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