Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a total inspiration for any teacher who hopes to instill a intrinsic love and desire for reading in his or her students. In this book, Miller explains her philosophy and experiences in helping her middle school-aged students to become avid readers. She starts her school year with a lofty requirement of all students: Every student needs to read forty books during the school year. Forty. I bet that you can imagine the reaction of these seventh and eighth grade students when they hear this!
But, as any good reading or language arts teacher knows, Miller is not only setting a high standard for her students, she's setting it for herself as well. There is no way that a teacher will inspire all of her students to consume books at the rate that Miller's do without being a reader herself. There is no question in my mind that Miller is reading at least twice the amount that she expects of her students, if not more.
I have discussed my love for Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in previous posts. I'll try not to rehash those opinions here, but I will say that as I was reading this book, I felt that the (considerable) time that I spend each week on SSR is verified in Miller's book. For me, SSR has become a daily staple in my classroom and when I dare to try and skip it (gasp!) students rebel. I've been collecting the amount of pages (my system differs from Miller's in this regard: I collect pages read and she counts whole books read) of all of my ninth and tenth grade students since the beginning of this school year. Almost every single student has either read more pages each quarter since the year began, or has started to select more challenging books since we started this year.
There are a few issues that I have with Miller's book, so I don't want to appear to be blindly cheering for it. Miller contends in several places of her book that she does not assign whole-class reads and does not assign classics. I do not have this option (or this desire), as I have a curriculum that needs to be followed and it includes several whole-class texts and classics. To me, this is much more a middle school stance and makes sense in that setting. But, to never read a whole-class novel with a group of high school students? I'd think that this is impossible.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent resource and it's super encouraging. If you're feeling like you need to revamp your reading expectations or add a free reading program to your classroom, this text may help tremendously. Miller provides lots of examples and some of the materials that she uses in her classroom. She also provides proof in the form of research articles and statistics. And, how we love statistics!
If you are still not convinced, check out this video that I found on huffenglish.com. Something needs to change in our approach to instilling a love of reading in our students. Donalyn Miller gives us a great starting point.