Chapter 2 started with the beginning of Donalyn Miller’s third year of teaching. I think we all remember the first days of school as a student. I remember the excitement of starting school and buying new pencils, folders and a backpack. I know, I’ve always been kind of nerdy that way J. We would have to endure the grueling first days when our teachers would set out the ground rules and assignments, while we sit patiently at our desk. It was like all the excitement and anticipation I had dulled a little bit when I had to go through this tedious beginning. So it was refreshing to see how Miller saw this after one brave student from the very beginning asked “when will be allowed to check out books?” and she said “Now”. I mean why wait if the students were excited and interested in reading right away.
Once I had read 40 books were required of her students in the Introduction and the first chapter, I had been thinking of how she was going to address the skill levels of her students or the dislike some might view reading. It was interesting to see how she never acknowledged these types of issues to the students. Miller’s answer was “If I were to acknowledge that those excuses have merit, I would allow them to become reasons for my students not to read” (23). In a society where we are all looking for the excuse not to do something this makes perfect sense to me. Her statement of “I must believe that my students are readers-or will be readers-so that they can believe it” (23) reminds me so much of another statement where students will rise to the level of our expectations, so we must make our expectations high.
She also has changed her terms for the different levels of readers we are used to seeing for example struggling readers are “developing readers”. These are the students who are not reading at grade level. According to reading policy expert Richard Allington, students who are in a remedial setting read roughly 75% less than their peers in reading classes. And we continue to wonder why these students struggle with reading? They aren’t reading enough! Reluctant readers are those students who only read just enough to pass classes and tests are called in her class “dormant readers”. They have not found their type of book that engages them or takes them to different places. Unfortunately, since they are passing through the classes and tests most school officials are probably not showing them how to find that special book either. She opens my eyes to these particular readers by using a Mark Twain quote “the man who does not read great books is no better than the man who can’t” (29). Her “underground readers” are those students who want to read and are really gifted readers, who probably read other more interesting books in the classroom and still do well on the tests and class work. The problem is most teachers’ curriculum does not involve these students and focus on either the students at grade level or below.
The following are conditions identified by the Australian researcher Brian Camboune to foster successful learning:
Immersion – Surrounded by books.
Demonstrations – How to use the texts to learn different goals and how to access info from them.
Expectations – Students will rise to the level of expectations
Responsibility - Students make some of their own choices.
Employment - Practice what they have learned in real life situations.
Approximations – Receive praise and encouragement for what they know and be allowed mistakes.
Response – Immediate feedback on progress.
Engagement – Personal value, view themselves as capable, no anxiety, modeled by someone trustworthy, likable and respectable someone they would like to be.