By Kim Miklusak
For a while now people have been recommending the books Book Love by Penny Kittle and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller to me as I continue to work through the purpose of reading in our classrooms and, more specifically, how we implement independent reading. For those of you in the same situation, I can't stress to you enough that you should pick up both books now and buy some copies for your friends.
What I appreciated about these books was how much they stress the disconnect between our goals of reading and what we implement in the classroom. We frequently use punitive measures when what we really want is for students to improve in reading skills and--ultimately--appreciate reading as much as we do, so they can apply their skills to diverse and complex texts independently. Both books supplied not only theory and anecdotes, but also clear strategies to implement immediately in the classroom.
My strongest takeaway from Book Love was the idea that we assign challenging texts to students whose skills may not allow the book to be accessible to them. Yet at the same time we frequently undervalue independent reading. Kittle argues that we should help build reading stamina in accessible books in addition to building in reading strategies in order to help students access books they may see in the classroom.
One of my many takeaways from The Book Whisperer was the differentiation between the Developing Reader vs. the Dormant Reader vs. the Underground Reader. The developing reader is one who we would more commonly refer to as a "struggling" reader, and Miller argues, much like Kittle does, that these students do not read as much as they need to in order to develop their skills--especially in remedial or test-taking focused programs. The dormant readers by contrast are the ones who float through class "unmotivated and uninterested in reading," the ones who actually enjoy reading but the minimal demands of a classroom or the "reading hoops of a typical classroom" cause them to lose their interest and focus (28-29). Finally, the underground readers are gifted ones who prefer their own reading to that done in school. These are the readers who we as teachers frequently don't design lessons for because they have already surpassed most of their peers in this area.
In the end, both authors stressed two main points. First, students must read: read more, read often, read books of their own choosing, and read books in their ability level! This will help open doors to more complex texts. And finally they stress that we as teachers have to share our love of reading with our students. We need to talk about books with them, be honest with them about what we do and don't like in books, when we give up on a book and why, and how we find new books, etc. Most adults aren't reading, so how else can we create this culture of readers if we ourselves don't model it for them!
It's not a waste of time--it's the foundation for everything we hope for in readers in our classrooms!