Common Knowledge

Yeah, so this happened:

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My little Book Whisperer, which turns five-years-old this month, received its worst review. I’ll admit HH’s words hurt my feelings. I read it out loud to my husband and texted a few friends about it.  At first, I was offended. Don’t I know how mainstream my ideas are? Anyone who’s read anything knows how to engage children with reading. My ideas are common knowledge to all teachers. I wish HH was right. Unfortunately, HH presumes that most traditionally trained teachers know best practices in language arts instruction, and apply these practices in their classrooms.

HH, your experiences are not my experiences. Sadly, I’ve never worked in a school where more than a handful of teachers know who Richard Allington or Peter Johnston are. I’ve worked in schools where no one reads children’s books, including the librarian. I weep because my daughters will never have a high school teacher like Penny Kittle or Kelly Gallagher. Instead, Sarah, spent 7th grade pre-AP English filling out S.E. Hinton crossword puzzles. I wish more teachers believed what you and I believe, HH, but they don’t.

HH, it’s clear that you and I are kindred teachers, shaped by the same body of knowledge. You and I both know that “students need time to read and teachers must be avid and passionate readers.” I’m glad that you live and teach in a world were these concepts are widely understood, but a lot of teachers and kids have never seen your world. Are you naïve that many of our colleagues—pressured to prepare students for endless, mindless tests—have jettisoned best practices like unnecessary cargo under an onslaught of mandates and accountability initiatives?

Even in schools where teachers understand and implement research-proven instruction, many must battle ignorant administrators who lack a fundamental knowledge of quality instruction. They struggle with parents who don’t value reading or support their children academically. I’m invited to speak in schools that want to improve their test scores, but the kids don’t have books to read and parent volunteers run the library. They don’t get it.

I’m glad, HH, that you live and teach in a world where children have engaging, accessible books and time to read them. I’m glad that your colleagues and you read. I’m glad that your school community supports reading. I’m glad that my dream—a place where children love reading and adults model reading lives exists somewhere in the world.

It sounds like Paradise. I hope I see it some day.

HH, I wish your review is true. My entire body of work should be common knowledge by now, but it isn’t.  Trust me, when I say that I’m doing my part to see that it is. I know a lot of teachers, librarians, administrators, authors, and parents who strive every day to make reading better for kids. It comforts me that you are out there, too. It’s great that you don’t suffer the same obstacles to good teaching that many of us do.

I’m still mad that you didn’t like my beloved Book Whisperer, though. It’s just another book about teaching reading to you, but anyone who really knows me understands that The Book Whisperer is my memoir. When I open that book, memories fall out of it—a sea of students’ names, book titles, field trips, lessons, and conversations. Besides my two daughters, I know that The Book Whisperer is my shining achievement. I’m proud of it. You don’t have to like it or see it as groundbreaking. I love every one of the students in that book. Our years together matter. Your opinion doesn’t fit into the picture.

Share what you know with as many people as you can, HH. I’m still learning how to be a good teacher. I hope you still think there’s something to learn.


Professional Development Discussion Opportunity

**Talking with Teri Lesesne this week, we discovered a shared interest in reading and discussing several influential research articles together. Join us for a Twitter discussion of Richard Allington’s “Every Child, Every Day,” on Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm Central.

41 responses to “Common Knowledge

  1. adayinthelifesonya

    I was just thinking the other day that if everyone was a reader the world would be such a great place. I agree that so many teachers don’t understand how to teach reading and how to help students find books for themselves. So many are focused on the Lexile number rather than finding a book that regardless of the number will be read and enjoyed by the student. They forget that it’s not just the number, but also so many other things!

  2. Wow. Can’t believe anyone thinks that there is enough opportunity for children to get their “fill” of reading. Your book reinforces my core belief of the essence of books and reading.

  3. Oh, my! One thing I’ve learned… I write for me. I’m happy if others find it useful. But I also know I hold grudges. Good luck with this one! Know that there are so many teachers out there – who know a lot about teaching reading – that have loved The Book Whisperer. THANK YOU for taking the time and effort of writing it and sharing it with us!

  4. I agree with you completely Donalyn! First of all, please know that The Book Whisperer not only changed my way of teaching reading in my classroom, but countless other teachers as well. You know this, for most of us talk with you on Twitter and at conferences. We care about making changes in our classrooms to benefit our students. HH does not see what so many of us other teachers see: Common Core only reading, no books in classrooms, negative thoughts about giving students choice, students giving up on reading, teachers giving up on students, etc. I could go on and on. There are lucky teachers out there that work with other dedicated, innovative teachers always willing to learn new techniques to do what’s best for students, but that’s not everywhere. Your books help is make those positive changes. Thank you!

  5. Christy McManus

    My students read for 20 minutes every day this year. I protected that time. As a result, my students test scores on our 3rd benchmark (which typically aligns closely with the end of the year standardized test) were significantly higher than the rest of the school. Does it work? You bet! Along with some other critical strategies I employed this year, my students are top of their school! Thank you for giving me the courage to do what I inherently knew I should be doing: making sure students were reading during reading time!

  6. Just know that your two books have completely transformed my teaching and my fourth graders. I put into practice everything you wrote, and I have 4 students who have read over 30 books by the beginning of March (one of them has read 79 by now). I read my books with them, and it has made all the difference. Afterall, I may be the only adult they see reading a book. If you haven’t read it, check out The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Thank you for your wisdom. From one book lover to another, I consider you my go to person for teaching reading.

  7. Something tells me HH doesn’t have a lot of teaching experience.

  8. Well, that was irritating to read the review by HH. I can totally see where it would be upsetting to read this, plus the fact that I am an experienced teacher and a “traditional” one at that. Your book transformed my ideas about teaching reading – so I too feel offended as well. I was so passionated about what you had to say in the book after I read it, I hounded my principal until she read it and our entire faculty had a book study using TBW. What a snippy remark that shows HH lives in a very small bubble of “traditional” teachers. Your response was well put…and a bit kinder than I would have felt like replying with.

  9. Just wanted to add my kudos to your continued work for lifelong literacy. Our new asst. superintendent is known for stating that having children select their our reading choices via SSR or other classroom structures is a waste of instructional time. Fortunately our building principal believes in our middle school readers but who knows how long that will continue. I think most of us realize HH is well out of touch. Your book is part of our rationale for pressing on!

  10. A reflective teacher, a lifelong learner, will always and intentionally seek and find a nugget of knowledge, a bite of information to take away. Those who arrogantly profess to have surpassed that stage and shrug books off as common knowledge for novice or ‘non-traditional teachers’ because they themselves are so ‘full of it’ (pardon the intentional pun!), haven’t really mastered the art and science of learning, let alone lilfelong learning. I feel sorry for the kids who are exposed to such an uninspiring teacher.

  11. Sherry borgren

    I have 14 teachers at my school signed up to to a book study of The a Book Whisperer. I am eager to shift the conversation away from AR points and literary arts and crafts.

  12. I was talking with two former grad students about The Book Whisperer a few days ago. We talked about how the book was a “coming home” experience for us and re-grounded us when we read it to what we know to be true and vital for children and readers. That doesn’t mean the book is “common knowledge”…in fact, even though we all said we kept nodding and saying “yes!” along with you all through the book…we know that too sadly, it’s not common knowledge in our profession and certainly not common practice. I have book talked your book over and over in my methods classes and I can’t tell you how much the book is profoundly affecting and shaping practice of so many teachers here in just my little corner of Oregon. Keep fighting the good fight. Your work and your words are so important.

  13. When I started teaching just seven years ago, one of my mentor teachers said these words: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who get it and those who don’t.” I am so glad you “get it” and have helped me to “get it” too! Brilliant response!

  14. Rachel Tassler

    I agree with your professional response to HH. It would be nice if teachers had all the knowledge that you have and shared with us through The Book Whisperer. Unfortunately they don’t, and your book can help them. I love your “memoir” and just finished Reading in the Wild. Thank you for your constant drive to help our children become readers!

  15. Since I first read TBW four and one half years ago, it has been my rock. It put into words and affirmed everything I was trying to do in my classroom. I quote you almost daily — to colleagues, to students, and to family. My students know you as “Mrs. Miller, the lady who wrote that blue book,” and quotes of yours grace my classroom walls. I can only hope and pray that as more and more of us “catch on” and are allowed to “let our people read,” HH’s words will one day prove true. Until then, Read on, and keep spreading the good word!

  16. For every HH there are many more teachers who have been or will be impacted by your Book Whisperer! I happen to know one such teacher I work with (Ann) who has been touched deeply by what you wrote! She’s now bringing in many more books for students AND is spending her teacher supply $ and her teacher of the year $ to buy books and get them into the hands of her third graders! So thank you, from the bottom of my heart for writing The Book Whisperer! You will never know how many more kids get a healthy dose of books all because of YOU!
    You’re awesome!

  17. Your book has changed my life- personally and as a teacher. It has also changed my students lives! I am forever grateful for you and your book! And I know I am not alone.

  18. Like others have already mentioned, The Book Whisperer completely changed my philosophy of teaching reading. It is a must read for all teachers! It upsets me when I mention your book to other teachers and they have not heard of it. Frustrating! Although I have not read Reading in the Wild yet, I am sure it will be just as enlightening. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  19. Sometimes people need to be reminded of what is important. I am actually a reader again because of that book. I carve our time every single day for my students to read independently because of that book. Your book was a huge inspiration to me!

  20. This reader, HH, isn’t interested in deepening their understanding of something they know, they seem to be looking for something “new.” Maybe their attempts have failed. Maybe they are hoping for a silver bullet. I’m not sure what “new” ideas there really are for building lifelong readers. I appreciate learning about the practice of others, finding ways to deepen my own work, so this book was a good fit for me. I enjoyed it and recommend it to people frequently. I am forced to read lots of data driven PD material written by gurus. HH may have wanted something more like that, poor thing. It’s hard not to personalize things, but this really isn’t about you Donalyn, and it may not really be about your book. They may have expected something else, if they wanted a burrito, a lobster dinner wouldn’t satisfy.

  21. Preach it, sister. Never stop.

  22. I come from reading conferences often on a “high” and eager to share my experiences with colleagues, and nobody knows anybody who I’m talking about (like Richard Allington). Sometimes I feel like I’m on an island by myself. You bring hope. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep sharing, inspiring, and bringing hope. Love you.

  23. I appreciate the outpouring of support and feel gratified by the many stories you have shared about your own experiences. I know that we are all working toward the same goal–encouraging children to read more and find it meaningful. I am honored to call you my colleagues. Perhaps, some day, HH will be right–a reading culture will become accepted and common. Until that day, it’s important that we are committed to learning and striving together.

  24. I posted this on the amazon website following HH’s comment:

    H.H. is guilty of adumbrationism, “denegrating of new ideas by pretending to find them old” (Merton, 1961). The Book Whisperer has introduced the concept of constrained self-selected reading, the missing factor in literature teaching. It is also a big part of the answer to intermediate second and foreign language teaching. H.H. may have known about this all along, but I didn’t, and neither have thousands of readers of the Book Whisperer who now find teaching literature to be much more satisfying and exciting. I predict that research will show that the students appreciate it and profit from it as well.

    Merton, R. K. 1961. Singletons and multiples in scientific discovery: A chapter in the sociology of science. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 105: 470-486.

  25. I admire your honest and heartfelt response. Your insightful understanding of the differences in humankind is outstanding; and this is why you inspire many, and will continue to do so regardless of any obstacles. Continue embracing those with little understanding of your truth and you will continue to remain successful and fulfilled. Best of luck to you and many blessings,

    Tara Looney

  26. I’ve read The Book Whisperer three times. Yesterday, I bought it on audio to listen to again as I drove to and from Philly this weekend (I live in CT). I was talking out loud to the book and out loud to my administrators, colleagues, and myself as your words sunk in again— like a literary bible for teachers and believers of Workshop. I continue to go back to the book to reinspire me when I’m feeling low, or in need of validation to continue to do the work in which I believe, despite the obstacles. Even after reading your book a few (now four) times and trying out the methods in my own classroom and with teachers in my building, I still feel like there’s so much more for me to learn and take away from it. There will always be HH’s in this world. But I’m not reading his book four times; I’m reading yours. Cheers.

  27. H.H. makes it sound easy on the surface. Anyone who has ever actually tried to get their students to read consistently and select their own books knows that it is hard work. Your ideas make it feasible. H.H. if you have it all figured it out, please write a book.

  28. Fabulous response! I’m with you … your expertise is NOT common knowledge with all teachers, though I wish it were.

  29. The Book Whisperer has changed me for the good too! I have read so many more books this year, and I’m constantly talking to my students about books and recommending books. I have many students that have surpassed their 40 book challenge and are reading, because they love it! They love reading the books that I have talked about and can’t wait for new books to come in! I love what it has done to help my kids get motivated about reading! Thank you Donalyn!

  30. Glad there is so much support for your ideas here. Like you, I wish it were also true. If only teachers and administrators would trust in the best practices you advocate and let the test results speak for themselves…This little critical bump will heal. Remember also “we learn more from our enemies than our friends.” and think about the value of this excellent blog post you were compelled to write. Carry on!

  31. Jill, it’s good advice to ignore negative reviews. Like you mentioned, this was a good opportunity to start a conversation worth having. Thank you!

  32. Donalyn, I’m so glad you wrote this response. You are so right. Your reading philosophies, which have touched so many of us and changed our way of thinking and teaching, are definitely not the norm. In the words of Lucretia, from the novel I just finished, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, “Press on, my sister!”

  33. Donalyn, you hit the nail on the head! I don’t know where HH teaches or anything about him or her to base an opinion on that response, but it must truly be the ideal setting for that statement to be made. I have been in education for 10 years in a variety of districts and roles and I took SO MUCH away from The Book Whisperer. I am currently reading Reading in the Wild and taking just as much away from it. And I’m also a person who was taught the workshop model in my undergraduate methods courses. There are so many complexities to teaching students not only how to read, but how to LOVE reading and that I would never be so presumptuous as to oversimplify the context of your book as just being about “getting kids to read more and for teachers to love reading.” If that is truly all HH got from your text, then he was reading it at a very surface level.

    What HH is also not considering is that just because teachers may have heard some of this information before, does not mean they are implementing or doing it. Props to him or her if he or she is, but as an instructional coach of 4th and 5th grade teachers I took many of the ideas from your books to help teachers start transitioning to a more workshop model type classroom. Have they heard much of this information before? Perhaps. However, there is still something blocking them from making the shift and that is where I appreciate your book so much. It gives practical applications and strategies for implementation, so teachers can start small and let it build.

    Thank you for writing these very important books and keep preaching on! Your words are valuable and helpful to many!

  34. Hi, would you say that if teachers read out loud to students, students are more likely to develop good reading habits? Testing and ambition takes time away from reading independently, so do you think that if the academic pressures placed on students were lessened, students would read more frequently?

    • Research supports that reading aloud to students is a vital component of best practices reading instruction. Reading aloud does not replace independent reading, though. Students need both.

  35. I find one of the hardest aspects of being a teacher these days to be the endless number of education critics – who happen to NOT be educators! I try not to take it personally, but it’s particularly hard when we’re up against so many challenges and then our friends, neighbors, or complete strangers feel the need to vent their problems with the education system (as though we don’t have our own!). Donalyn, I hope you know that for all of the critics out there, you’ve got all of US, your fellows in the trenches willing to give it our all for the cause.

  36. Side note: I love Stephen Krashen’s response – complete with proper citation! He’s so amazing.

  37. It always surprises me when someone takes the time and emotional energy to wallop a writer anonymously via the Internet and I believe it reflects more negatively on the walloper than it does the writer! HH might want to download the movie, Bambi. Isn’t that where we find Thumper’s quote, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”?

  38. Negative reviews are only helpful if they are accurate. HH’s review is not. If the principles in The Book Whisperer were being implemented across the board, schools all over America would be turned upside down, and my kids would be in one of them.

    I’ve read The Book Whisperer at least 3 times, and have been listening to it again on audiobook. (Hurray for Hoopla!) I’m the parent of homeschoolers, but having spent years in traditional schools, I also have to deprogram myself from using the same methods. TBW has been incredibly helpful in reminding me why we chose to homeschool.

  39. So much of my school year this year has been to advocate to my Principal for more tier 1 instruction in reading. Though I have a four year degree and am a graduate student, there is still so much for me to learn and always will be. If it wasn’t for people like you, Donalyn, who continue writing to teach teachers how to be better, the world would be a boring place. In college I was taught best practices and ways to teach reading but it wasn’t until I began teaching that you completely dive in to how to teach children how to read, that I realized the challenge that was upon me. I continuously read articles and books to help me be a better reading teacher because I want to give my students all that I can. And though, often I read literature that sounds similar, there is always something different I can take away from it. Whether it is a technique I can practice with my whole class, or something that would work well/ reminds me of a particular student, I have gained some knowledge to enhance my practice.

    I encourage you to continue writing and inspiring teachers like me, who enjoy reading and learning more.

  40. Donalyn! I just came upon this post over a year after it was written. In my 5th year of teaching, I was disillusioned, doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing: teaching whole-class novels, using the text to teach literary elements, but mostly trying to make sure my students actually read the text. I had no idea what my students might choose to read if they were actually allowed to choose. A few stalwart students – kids like me – persisted in independent reading outside of school. I was despondent, and considering leaving teaching. The Book Whisperer set me free! So many times while reading I said, “Yes!” – out loud. Five years later, my classroom is “that” classroom, where “unconventional” teaching happens. I know my students far better and they know it – I am their favorite teacher. Thank you! You saved me by helping to craft me into the teacher I am.

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