Teaching Wonder and Teaching Readers

I’ve read a couple of great professional books recently that I’m going to be keeping in my library and putting under teacher’s noses, quoting from and using their ideas as much as possible.

Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough’s  A Place for Wonder grabbed me the instant I heard about it.  I set up a “Wonder Wall” bulletin board in my classroom last year and recorded some of the best student-generated questions throughout the year, some of which we researched.  Many of them were about science and astronomy along with some crazy 2012 mythology that was fun to find out the truth about.

Their book takes that idea and just adds more.  More question-generating, more research opportunities and more ways to connect it to the student’s own nonfiction writing.  It’s written for the K/1 crowd, but the ideas of pursuing an inquiry-based approach to student reading, writing and research are great for any age.

I completely agree that the best and most motivating research we do is from questions we have on our own.  Whether it be about buying a car, finding a suitable mate, or trying to find out if that myth about full moon fever is really true (it’s not, of course but it’s fun to read about).

Donalyn Miller takes the same idea toward reading in The Book Whisperer.  It’s much more motivating when it’s self-selected.  This is hardly a new idea.  Stephen Krashen, Frank Smith, Jim Trlelease and Nanci Atwell have argued in favor of it for years.  But Donalyn Miller pushes the idea even further and writes so well about it I ate the book right up.  She lets her students read read read and has them taking and giving book recommendations like nobody’s business.  At the end of the year when the dust settles, her kids blow away the state test but that’s not why he does it.  Her goal is to “show students how to embrace reading as a life-long pursuit” (p. 4) and this just happens to be the best way to create better readers, students (and it shows on the tests).

She bemoans the dry-as-chalk-dust way reading is taught in schools and the boring whole class novel approach.  She asks, “are we teaching books or are we teaching readers?” (p. 85)

Heck, yeah!  It’s a highly motivating book.  I could go on an on about it, but I’ll leave you with this quote, from page 112:

“Your love of reading is the best part of you.”


Jim Randolph

Partee Elementary

Snellville, GA
The Book Whisperer book and blog

The full moon and lunar effects

A Place for Wonder

Posted on July 18, 2010, in Professional Development, Reading, Recommended Reading. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I read The Book Whisperer this summer and was amazed at how motivational it was. I immediately contacted my middle school gifted teacher and told her she has to read it before school begins. I also want to get a copy for all my language arts teachers and maybe use it as a book club selection.

  2. Jim…I love the Book Whisperer, too. Her approach makes so much sense. I wish there was more support for this kind of teaching! I’ve wanted to read A Place of Wonder. I’m going to have to give it a try soon. Thanks for sharing these.

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