The Book Whisperer {Chapter 2}


I’m back for week two of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller looking at Chapter 2: Everybody is a Reader and the “Whisper” about Student Surveys.

Warning: This is a long post!  Sorry! 🙂

That chapter title is enough for me.  I teach Reading Recovery, so I work with the most struggling readers in first grade and so often I hear someone (a parent, teacher, counselor, etc.) tell me that a child is just not going to make it as a reader.  They are in first grade!  We can’t start giving them excuses to quit what might truly be a very difficult journey for a child to learn to read (and we all know that there are some students who have real issues that make learning to read a task that seems almost impossible)…but they can’t get the idea that reading is not something they can learn to do or even worse that reading is not something of value!

The Book Whisperer Chapter 2

This chapter opens with the “book frenzy!” in which Donalyn (I hope she doesn’t mind if I call her by her first name…all book lovers are basically friends, right?) basically falls into complete book lover mode and begins recommending books to her students on the first day of class.  The students are excited about new books and they get to see their teacher excited about reading, too.

Do you know what I do on the first day of school (ok…the first week of school…)?  I put a bin of books on each table and tell the kids they need to pick from those.  They can use the classroom library later, once we learn how.  Actual area for immediate change: We will practice library procedures on the first day.  They will put books away in the wrong places, this will be ok with me (remind me of this in the first week of school!!).  I will see it as an opportunity for them to learn how to put them back correctly.  I will not limit their choice and then be confused about why they only like to read the same few books all year.  (Someone will always want to read only No, David! books all year…but that’s another story…I mean they are funny, first graders can read them and he’s usually in his underwear or bare tush, and what first grader doesn’t think that’s funny?!?)

In this chapter Donalyn renames and redefines the typical categories teachers tend to put students into.  I will say that because I teach first grade, I don’t typically see this full range of readers in my room, but I can certainly think of older students who fall easily into each category.

*Developing Readers: This is where most of my kiddos (especially my Reading Recovery kiddos) fall.  They are just learning to read, and though some of them have a great desire to be readers, they often get frustrated by the work it takes.  Donalyn explains the “Matthew Effect” and impact it has on developing readers.  Basically, the Matthew Effect tells us that kids who read less, struggle more, and then because they struggle, they read even less, causing them to struggle even more.  I certainly see this in my kiddos don’t come from homes that place an emphasis on reading.  They come to school already struggling.  I occasionally see first graders (typically those who have gone to “online” kindergarten programs) who can’t show me the words in the book and I’ve had three kids in the past two years not even know if the book was upside down or right way up. Bless their hearts, they just need someone to read to them!  All that aside (because I’m just going to control what I can in my classroom to what is best for my kids!)…Donalyn tells us that “no matter the intervention, developing readers must spend substantial instructional time actually reading if they are to attain reading competence.”

Don’t you just love when someone writes or says something that supports what you already believe?  I spend most of my time in guided reading groups having students actually read!  20 of the 30 minutes in Reading Recovery lessons is also spent reading (with about 1 minute of word work and 9 minutes of writing rounding out the lesson).  I don’t do a ton of phonics activities during this time because kids need to read!  I introduce a book, they read and I prompt and support.  Don’t panic…I teach phonics and word work, but it’s not a focus and it’s primarily in text so students can see why it’s important to reading.

*Dormant Readers: This defines so many adults I know.  They had the reader beaten out of them by too many novel studies in high school.  They never really learned to love reading because it was never very interesting.  I hope I’m not leading any of my students to this category…and if I have, I’m so sorry!  I’m working on it…see?

*Underground Readers: Hi, I’m Elisabeth and I was an Underground Reader.  I always loved reading, but did a lot of coasting when reading was required in school.  In high school, I remember actually just skimming through books (that I probably would have actually enjoyed) to do the assigned tasks, which I read other books for enjoyment.  I couldn’t have assigned reading getting in the way of my reading.

I have been guilty of this to some level in my classroom, too.  I often have a handful of high readers and while I provide on level instruction for them in their guided reading group, I do little to support their indpendent reading.  I hear myself say “if you liked this book you can see if Mrs. B has some in the library when we go” but I don’t seek out things for them specifically.  Sure, if I have a kiddo who loves mysteries and there are enough copies of an A to Z Mystery in the book room, we read that.  But I don’t think that’s really the same thing as supporting them as more advanced readers.

This chapter concludes with “Conditions for Learning” with the biggie being “Engagement.”  This is where I want my students to be and I’m thinking about the factors here:

*Has personal value to students: I often ask my students “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I try to list the type of reading people do in that career.  I’m going to add to this…maybe with a class book or anchor chart…to make it a visual reminder that we are not reading just because I say it’s time to read.  We are reading for the rest of our lives.

*Students see themselves as capable of doing: This is my job.  I have to help them select the right books, that are interesting, but also attainable.  I’m adding DRA levels to my classroom library books to help with this.

*Is free from anxiety: I’ve been working on adding more “just reading” time to my day.  Work in progress…

*Is modeled by someone they like, respect, trust and want to emulate: I hope my student’s like and trust me.  I’m working on ways to share my own reading in the classroom….I also want to build some type of family reading showcase to hopefully extend to some more reading at home.

Book Study - Whisper Quote

Briefly…Donalyn gives her students a Reading Survey at the beginning of the school year.  I’ve made my own version and you can download it for free in my TpT store by clicking here.

Reading Survey

Since my kiddos don’t write that independently when they come first grade, my plan is to send these home and see how many I get back.  Then, either I or a parent volunteer can do them with the kiddos who haven’t returned them to school.  Like I said…work in progress…


Click below to add your link or see what other teachers are thinking about chapter 2!

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2 Responses to The Book Whisperer {Chapter 2}

  1. Hi Elisabeth, great post! I do the exact same thing with putting bins out. I am going to let my students pick straight from the library this year as well. Thanks for the interest survey, that is great!


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