#Bookaday for #SummerReading Fun

Want to share your summer reading with a community of readers?  Looking for books to add to your “to be read” pile?  Just want to talk about what you are reading?  Then check out #bookaday this summer!  Search the hashtag on Twitter and you can connect with teachers and librarians.

#Bookaday is no-pressure and lowkey, so it’s easy to pop in and out during the summer.  The hashtag was started by the wonderful, amazing Donalyn Miller aka The Book Whisperer.  Entering its 4th year, #bookaday gives readers a summer goal:  read one book per day.  This is an average, so you might read 3 picture books one day and then complete a YA novel over the next few days.  The goal is to aim for an average of one book per day.  And any book counts!  That means picture books, graphic novels, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and adult books are all fantastic!  You set your start and end date, so there’s no deadline pressure.  Some (lucky) folks are already out of school, so they’ve already started #bookaday.  I will jump in after school ends on June 18th.

I love the #bookaday community because it is full of voracious readers.  I learn about new books and share the titles that I love with others.  We have great conversations and we cheer each other on.  By the time school starts again in September, I have a lengthy list of titles to share with me students. Some of those titles are books I read, and others are books recommended by members of the #bookaday community.  It’s fabulous!

Won’t you join us this summer?  #Bookaday is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get started this year.  I’d love to see you join in, too!

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

This is a review I have been struggling to write for about a week now.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed- where could I even begin?  A large part of me wanted nothing more than to post a review that consisted of, “GO BUY THIS BOOK NOW!” but I realized that wouldn’t be very helpful to my readers.  So I will attempt to review Donalyn Miller’s amazing new professional book about the power of reading in the classroom and somehow make sense of the over 100 post-its flagging various pages, passages, and chapters!  (See the picture to the right to look at all my flags)cimg3434

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a slim book packed with information. Donalyn Miller shares her strategies for connecting all of her students with books and helping them become lifelong readers. As someone else who firmly believes in in the power of choice and independent reading in the classroom, her thoughtful and thorough look at how we can do a better job for our students is a joy to read.  

One of my favorite parts of the book is Donalyn’s reworking of the types of readers.  Schools of education teach future teachers about reluctant readers, struggling readers, and other labels for reading.  Donalyn disagrees with these labels and has come up with her own.  As she says, there is no hope in “struggling” or  “reluctant”.  As teachers, we should use positive terms to describe these readers.  

Instead of struggling readers, she refers to developing readers.  These are students who are not reading at grade level for any number of reasons, usually out of their control.  They have the ability to become great readers if their teachers give them the opportunity to read, read, read (with support)!  And instead of reluctant readers, we have dormant readers.  These are students who are passed over by many schools because they can read and they pass the state tests.  But they aren’t readers.  They need teachers and classmates who engage them in reading, helping them to become lifelong readers.  Finally, underground readers are gifted readers who see the reading that they do in school as a necessary evil and very separate from their own reading lives, which are usually rich.  I was an underground reader- reading at my desk while the teacher lectured, reading ahead during whole-class reading, and getting A’s on “reading tests” without even bothering to read the book.  Donalyn points out that districts spend most of their resources on developing readers but we let gifted readers and dormant readers fall to the wayside, so long as they can pass the federally-mandated tests once per year.  What a shame.  (I love these terms and have started using them as part of my own professional language and I think that is something more teachers need to do.)

Donalyn Miller also provides plenty of ideas for integrating independent reading into even the most rigid of schedules.  My own teaching schedule will be changing drastically next year and I was thrilled with her ideas.  Every idea she mentions promotes reading as as a lifelong habit and pleasure, ingraining it into her students’ lives.  She also models her own reading curriculum and the ways she appeases both her district ( gotta pass those damn tests!) and her own principles.  She truly is an inspiration!

In this day and age of standardized tests, scripted curriculums, budget cuts, and teacher layoffs, Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is truly an inspiration.  This is a book that MUST be put into the hands of every teacher in the nation.  And we NEED to get it to those who make policy in this country- from state senators to President Obama himself.  This book must be read, it must be discussed, and many of the ideas absolutely must be implemented if we are going to reverse the sad course our educational system is taking this century.  Like Donalyn, I too am a book whisperer.  I have seen the growth in my students in just 10 short months when they are given the opportunity to read, to grow, and to become lifelong readers.  And I have seen the results of just a few months in a traditional, rote reading class the next year.  They lose that spark.  They forget that love of reading.  And that is the saddest part of teaching right now.  

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is sitting on my shelf right now, in a venerated spot right next to my other teaching bible, The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers. This is a book that I know I will be turning to again and again.

Accelerated Reader Frustrations

The middle school in my district uses Accelerated Reader.  Students are leveled and each level is responsible for attaining a specific number of points each marking period.  For example, Level A students might be responsible for 50 points, Level B for 35 points, and Level C for 15 points.  The district seems to own a select number of tests (and I’m sure it’s a large amount…..it’s just not every single test available ) and the students must choose their books based on the tests which are available, in order to receive the points they need.  Every so often I get an email from a former student asking for book recommendations, but each one ends with the same plea- “It has to be an AR book!”

This past week, I received one of these emails from a student.  At the beginning of last year, she was one of my most reluctant readers.  By the end of the school year, she was one of my most enthusiastic readers.  She loves Laurie Halse Anderson, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Melissa Morgan.  She left school with big reading plans for summer vacation and I couldn’t have been prouder.  Last week she sent me an email asking for some recommendations.  I immediately recommended Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass, and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass.  I was thrilled when she emailed me back this weekend…..until I read the email.

the first book [Wintergirls] sounds ammmazing..there’s just one problem! it’s soo new its not an AR book and i only have 5 points and need 30! right now im reading daniels story..and i wanna read a child called it but, its not an ar book.

ARG!  I don’t even know how to respond to her!  She would LOVE Wintergirls. I know she would.  But it’s not an “AR book”.  So instead of reading the books she wants to read and is dying to read, she is forced to choose books off of a preconstructed list.  I am frustrated beyond belief.  How is this helping our kids become readers?  It only makes reading more of a “school mandated” activity that reaches into their independent reading.  My former student told me she doesn’t think she will be able to read any of the books I recommended until the summer, because she has to read her AR books.  And she has only enjoyed one book from the AR list this year.  It’s the most frustrating thing this Language Arts teacher has heard in a long time.

I am sure AR works great for some kids.  And I’m sure it gets some kids who never, ever read to pick up a book- because they are forced to.  But it is not creating readers.  And in some cases, it’s destroying the readers that I worked so hard to create.  With the money that is spent on programs like AR, the US could be funding classroom libraries for teachers, filled with new books and classics alike.  We could train teachers in reading workshop.  We could help create a generation of readers!  And the fact that we are losing this opportunity is heartbreaking.

Right now, I am reading an ARC of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (review coming soon)  If we could give every Reading, English, and Language Arts teacher a copy of her book, we could do more for our kids than any canned program ever will.  When will our Department of Education realize this?!

*Follow-up post found here.

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