Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Old Dog Learning New Tricks About Book Whispering

By Nancy Carroll, Children's Literature Blogger

The old saying goes "You can't teach an old dog, new tricks!" After 20 years of teaching one would think 'this old dog' has it all figured out...well, I'll be the first to admit that I have NOT--especially when it comes to motivating children in regards to reading on a daily basis--figured it out. So many wonderful stories are out there waiting for my fourth grade students to delve into, but I know there are not only kids in my class who struggle with reading, but those who dislike reading, while there are others who want to do nothing else BUT read (just not the books that are prescribed in class). Constantly, I am grappling on how to reach all of these learners and instill a love of reading. So this 'old dog' is always on the look out for 'new tricks' in an effort to aid her students.

Just recently I finished reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, who believes all children can learn to love reading. In her book she gives suggestions and practical advice about getting students to read on their own. The book challenges you to change the way you approach reading in your classrooms. Basically, she suggests (based on great success with her own sixth grade students and through her research) to start the day with independent 'free-reading' and allow at least 30 minutes a day for independent 'free-reading' as well. Miller writes, "Daily reading is what transforms reading into a lifelong habit and builds reading ability." Student reading choice is a must (with guidelines for exploring different genres.) All too often, pleasure reading takes a back seat to the formal lessons being taught with basal reading and whole class novels. Doesn't it make sense to allow students to read books of their own choosing? Doesn't it make sense to teach strategies and have the students connect their learning to those books? I think it does!

Of course, I am not doing Donalyn's book justice, but it has fueled the spark within me....'This old dog' is determined to 'learn a new trick' by creating an independent reading program where her students will read independently for a sustained period of time using books of their own choosing. It is also a goal to guide my students in such ways that will promote encounters with books that they'll truly enjoy. 'This old dog' is hoping you, too, will be inspired by this approach to reading, which will put your students on the road to lifelong reading.


  1. Makes perfect sense to me! I'm not sure what grade it was, but I do remember the "book club" flyer coming out and the excitement of picking a book to buy! Would read those books I chose with abandon, cover to cover, over and over. Made learning to read fun!

  2. Go for it Nancy! We have 40 minutes of independent reading time allocated daily in our middle school. I still love getting new books for my classroom library (and read them all too!) from the Scholastic flyer. I get so excited looking through them, just like I did when I was in elementary school! Care to lend out the book to an interested reader????

  3. Carol-Ann, good reminder! I loved those too, even up to my junior high TAB book orders. I get minimal interest in the book orders from my junior high students, but I still try. Occasionally one or two students really love to order.

  4. Nancy, thanks so much for the delightful post. I love learning new books I need to read. Donalyn's is on my list, now I have another reason to get going on it. Thanks!

  5. I think there is a lot of validity in what Miller espouses in her book. I remember that we NEVER read for "fun" (our own personal book) during school. It was all "business." The "fun" was taken out of reading. How much more motivating it would have been to have time to read for enjoyment at school - and then maybe even discuss the book with my friends. Keep the fun in reading.

  6. As I look back on my favorite elementary classrooms, those fond memories bubble up from teachers who read to us and who let us read our own books. The Secret Garden. The Jungle Book. Without those stories read to me, I may not have picked up a book. As we redesigned our schedule, I suggested an extra block of reading for independent reading and novels. Kids can't learn to love reading if they never experience the joy of imagining the books they choose. Great post and reminder to us.