Donalyn Miller is my Spirit Animal.

Hello, dear readers. Below is a thing that I wrote for this book study I'm in for Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild. I'm posting it here for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am lazy, and know that in order to meet my three-posts-per-week expectation of myself, today's the day (see previous post about how I front-loaded this week with things that are not blogging). 
  2. The things I wrote are true, and encouraging, and since this thing is as much about reminding myself about the things in my teaching and in my life that I need to fix and do better about, it's also about celebrating the good when it happens. The post below was supposed to be a fairly short reflection on how we think cultivating "wild readers" would be possible in our classrooms and on our campuses. Shocking no one, my post turned in to something longer. I had read some other posts that were worried (as I had been/am) about the effectiveness of really implementing this "Book Whisperer" philosophy into our classrooms, and since I have done it, I included one (among many) examples of that success below. Do I know the best way to justify/explain the idea to doubters/people in charge? Nope. But as I discuss below, Donalyn (I like to pretend that we're BFFs) is my Spirit Animal, and I know that she'll have answers for me in this book.

So, if you aren't a teacher, and are bored out of your mind reading the following, I apologize. I'll try not to cheat and repost a bunch of potentially boring English teacher things. 

No promises, though.

Oh, Donalyn Miller: my spirit animal. I'm late to the discussion party (shocking no one, probably), and am finding it difficult, even now, to find the words to describe how to use her ever-wise and inspiring words to truly make adjustments and changes to my own teaching. 

As has been discussed in a few other threads, I have been super lucky over the last two years to teach a Book Whisperer class--as far as my kids were concerned, it was an elective--what I know that they didn't, necessarily, is that my students in these classes were chosen for it based on the fact that they had yet to pass the Reading state test. Like, not ever. 

Reading The Book Whisperer changed my life; truly, in a non-hyperbolic sense, I just was transformed by it as a teacher and as a human. I am absolutely grateful to have been given the opportunity by my fantastic bosses to try something new and different with the 8th grade friends who seemed like the least likely/most hesitant candidates. 

This elective (a word we've used instead of intervention) class has given me room to work out what structuring a Book Whisperer-like class would look like. As a teacher, there are about a million ways that I've tweaked, adjusted, and thrown out things that I've tried with the students in this class to make it work for what we were working to accomplish. The goal, ultimately, was twofold: 1. Somehow trick super hesitant way behind grade-level readers into being willing to literally just read, then reflect, write, and talk about their reading and, 2. Buy-in to the process so that the skills they were developing transferred to what they were doing in their English classes, other subjects, at home, and beyond the 8th grade. 

Now, that is a super poetic way to describe my personal goals for this class, but really, as we all know: we needed these kids to pass their state test. 

Of the two sections of Book Whisperer classes I taught this year, there were 37 students (who had never passed). At the end of the year (after a year of busting their butts in their Engilsh class, and reading like our lives depended upon it in Book Whisperer), 25 of those students passed the Reading state test. That's 68% of kids who, per their historical data, Lexile scores, and general demeanor towards reading, technically shouldn't have passed, but did. I see that as Book Whisperer-style reading instruction success. 

But let's be real: did each of those 37 students leave my class as avid, wild, readers? No. And I am SO excited about reading this book, to change that. Next year, we're trying something new in 8th grade English, and as a result, don't have the scheduling room to allow for this elective. But instead of being discouraged by that, I'm excited. 

Having had the freedom to teach a dedicated Book Whisperer class has given me a taste of what elements of the philosophy make the difference between self-selected, reflective reading just being another task for another class, and it being the training ground for students to really take hold of the philosophy for themselves. Outside of my class. Even the most unlikely. 

Below is an email I receieved from a Book Whisperer student who passed her test this year for the first time, but (dare I say it) more importantly figured out something new about herself this year: she doesn't hate reading everything. Which she was SUPER sure of the first third of the school year. She chose to read one of my copies of The Testing (the first book in a series. It's great, btw.). She spent the entirety of the second semester working her way through it. Which is a long time to spend on one book. But, every time we talked about it, she insisted that she loved it. I caught her sneaking it home, instead of leaving it on the shelf in my room, which I swore not to tell her friends about, and got this email yesterday letting me know that she'd finished the book and was super pumped, here's what I got in response:

I don't know if anyone is still reading this too-long post, but I just wanted to share: it works. It works in the way I've done it the last two years, and it'll work being adapted for my English class. I'm super psyched.

Side note: the only way I could love this book any more than I already do would be if I were reading it like this lucky, lucky soul: 


Happy Summering, friends! What are you reading/psyched about doing?