School scoop — The 'book whisperers' of THMS
Inspired by “The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child” by Donalyn Miller, the language arts team at Troy Howard Middle School wants to use it as a foundation of their instruction. It helps to use books to further demonstrate what is being taught in the classroom so kids can be pushed out of their comfort level.
“Good writers are often also voracious readers; that by being exposed to good literature, we naturally understand the reading-writing process better,” said sixth grade language arts teacher Melissa Jagger.
The author encourages kids to read many independent books, all of which should be self-selected. She explains how every year her own students do a 40-book challenge. About 85 percent of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at THMS are doing this as well. With classroom libraries, students have much faster access to books and they don't have to be individually walked to the school library all the time.
What is good about "The Book Whisperer" is that it gives examples of students and how their reading skills can identify things like what dashes mean in classroom discussions.
“As a teacher, I can identify better with an example,” said Jagger.
I asked a couple of students at THMS their opinion on the 40-book challenge, and about their attitudes toward reading.
Sam Spectre enjoys reading fantasy and mystery. His favorite story is “Mark of Athena” by Rick Riordan. What was nice about this book, he said, was that it took mythology and made it more modernized. There was also a kind of twist — new characters were included in the original mythology stories. Spectre has read 18 books so far. According to the sixth grade version of the 40-book challenge, they need to have 12 books read before the end of the first trimester.
“I like the 40-book challenge because I get to read more and be pushed to read more,” said Spectre.
Students get to pick their books, but as a requirement, they need to have filled up all the genre categories on their charts by the end of the year. One student began the challenge as a reluctant reader, which I can sort of relate to. She absolutely disliked historic and science fiction genres. After being assigned to historic fiction, she said she actually liked it and would now try historic fiction again before totally rejecting it.
“The 40 book challenge is pretty fun,” said Isabella Smith. “But it also depends on whether you enjoy what you are reading.” Smith tells me that students have even been teaching some class lessons.
“The success I have seen is that students have been more motivated to read,” said Kevin Coombs, the eighth grade language arts teacher. “In 'The Book Whisperer,' the author really shows teachers how to organize structure.”
Reading seems to get kids in the mood to learn, so teachers at THMS are taking that as a pretty good sign. Jagger said even her most reluctant group whines when reading time is over.
What is the real change here as far as attitudes toward reading?
“The biggest change is when you give students 25 minutes of reading time, the idea of literacy becomes much more important to them.” said Coombs.
Thanks to a grant, THMS classroom libraries have received books of many genres. The school will be taking money and book donations so they can buy even more books for the libraries. A book bin will be placed somewhere around the office in acknowledgment of the 40-book challenge.