Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Reflections: The Book Whisperer

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

Written by a grade 6 teacher, the Book Whisperer explores how the author rejects conventional means of teaching children reading and comprehension. Instead of book reports, worksheets, comprehension tests, vocabulary lists and other common resources used to teach children reading, this teacher has developed her own unconventional method to teach children to love reading.

[Starred review] Miller, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher and blogger, has enabled students of many different backgrounds to enjoy reading and to be good at it; her students regularly score high on the Texas standardized tests. Her approach is simple yet provocative: affirm the reader in every student, allow students to choose their own books, carve out extra reading time, model authentic reading behaviors, discard timeworn reading assignments such as book reports and comprehension worksheets, and develop a classroom library filled with high-interest books. Her students regularly read more than 40 books in a school year and leave her classroom with an appreciation and love of books and reading. Miller provides many tips for teachers and parents and includes a useful list of ultimate reading suggestions picked by her students. This outstanding contribution to the literature is highly recommended for teachers, parents, and others serving young students.—Mark Bay, Univ. of the Cumberlands Lib., Williamsburg, KY (Library Journal, March 15, 2009)
Many, many aspects of this book appealed to me. Among them, not requiring that an entire class be reading the exact same book and be on the same page at the exact same time in the school year (i.e. class novel studies). Novel studies are very common in classrooms but I found myself agreeing with the author that perhaps many students simply do not enjoy novel studies and the teacher finds herself forcing the children to read the book or trying means of enticing them to finish the book (i.e. rewards or punishment) but in the end, after the test on the novel, many students do not remember a thing about the book and/or they find themselves loathing the idea of reading (or do some teachers successfully conduct novel studies without students bemoaning the process and actually becoming students who love to read?). By allowing students to choose what books they read based on what interests them, students will want to read and will read...many times voraciously.  Here, I must clarify that the author does not advocated allowing children to read anything and everything they want but she does advocate giving them an appropriate selection of books from many genres from which they can choose the book they would like to read. This, in principal, cannot be applied in its totality in Islamic schools or homes due to the fact that the genre of fantasy for example, almost always includes magic, shirk, etc. Children must also read things that perhaps they would not choose simply because it is good for them in dunya and al-akhira. The Quraan for example, is a book that we must encourage and require our children to read and the authentic ahadith as well. Books of knowledge from the scholars of Islaam are also books that our children must be encouraged and required to read. Allaah says: 

وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

...and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know. 
{  سورة البقرة  , Al-Baqara, ayat 216}

Aside from the aforementioned point, I found myself agreeing with several ideas of the author but then found myself a bit dismayed. One of the first questions that arose from my reading was "Given the fact that many, many, many of the books available on the market today are simply unislamic we cannot allow our children to read them. So with this disappointingly limited amount of Islamically appropriate books on the market, how will Muslim children have a vast (well, okay large) selection of books to choose from? Because of this limited number of Islamically appropriate books (from grade 2 and up it seems...waallaahu a'lam) will Muslim teachers find themselves falling back on the novel studies time and time again because there are not enough Islamically appropriate books available for our students to self-select the books they will read? How will Muslim teachers help their students develop into individuals who love to read?

As teachers and parents we are obligated to refuse certain literature/genres due to the unislamic content but we also do want to develop our children's love of reading. How do we do this without extinguishing the joy of learning? 

I have touched on very little of what The Book Whisperer contains (the book is about much more than just novel studies and why she rejects them) and what the author advocates and denounces. Perhaps you will wish to read the book and decide for yourself. 

And of your students/children? What methods do you use to develop their love of reading? If you teach or homeschool, what are your opinions of novel studies? Do you use the commercially available novel study packs? How do your students/children respond to them? Do you allow your students/children to self-select what they will read? The author requires her students to read 40 books (from many genres) throughout the school year, do you have a requirement for your students/children? If so, what is your requirement? How do you determine it?

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