Wednesday, May 22, 2013


And now for the winners of the Survey Giveaway!!!!

Valerie Bogart - FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean

Chris Victor - CIRCLE OF SECRETS by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Dori Fonda - MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose

You will soon be receiving an email requesting your snail mail address.


Monday, May 20, 2013


See the post below to find out about our survey and book giveaways. The contest has been extended until Tuesday night.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


The Spellbinders met at Jason's Deli to discuss our plans for Year 5. There are some exciting things on the horizon including a real life Spellbinders Tour Across Texas in April 2014 in conjunction with TLA (The Texas Library Association Annual Conference). Watch for details in next October's issue.

We are also changing from Constant Contact to Mail Chimp, so be sure to let your IT administrators know. We will send more information next fall in Constant Contact.

As we contemplate how to best serve our readers, we would really appreciate it if you would take a brief survey to assist us. This is your opportunity to tell us what you love, what you want, and what we could make even better. Go here for the SURVEY

Your input is so important to us that we're having a drawing for free BOOKS, so after completing the survey, please sign up to win at Rafflecopter.

Winners will be contacted by email and announced on our blog Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Giveaways include these Spellbinders books:

Friday, May 10, 2013

THE BOOK WHISPERER, Our Final Interview with Donalyn Miller

Click through to read parts onetwo, and three.
I find your approach to standardized testing to be refreshing. Can you explain how you discuss testing with your kids? (I won't ask how you prepare them; that takes place in your room all year long.)

It is February and I haven't talked to my students at all about our state tests. My district conducts benchmark testing that mirrors the format of our test, so I don't see the value in spending more days on it. 

As we near the time for the test, I will show my students sample questions and evaluate how the test is formatted, but that is all.Tests are just another genre of reading with its own specific vocabulary, format, and purpose. That's all. 

Do you think a lot of the "extras" that are attached to traditional reading instruction come from fear, the worry that kids can't make connections unless we spell it out for them or that reading without the hoop jumping somehow isn't enough?

Honestly, I think that a lot of what we ask kids to do are grade generators or efforts to motivate kids to read because we think they won't if we don't give them an assignment. We don't know how to effectively assess students' mastery and growth, so we attach assignments to reading in order to have some proof.

Can you tell us about the difference between managing and controlling -- both a classroom and students themselves?

Managing a classroom requires organization, planning, structure, and expertise. Controlling involves keeping most of the power. I give a lot of my power over to the children. Does it matter to me where they sit when they read? Does it matter to me if they organize their notebook differently? Does it matter to me if they chat while they are working? Does it matter to me if they want to sketch their rough draft as a storyboard before writing an essay? No.

I don't have complicated procedures for classroom routines, either. My students take down chairs, take lunch count, shelve books, restock the Kleenex, empty our pencil sharpener-all of it without asking. Whenever a student mentions a needed job, we discuss it as a class, ask a volunteer to do it, and we are done. 

I want my students to learn what life readers know: reading is its own reward. Reading is a university course in life; it makes us smarter by increasing our vocabulary and background knowledge of countless topics. Reading allows us to travel to destinations that we will never experience outside of the pages of a book. Reading is a way to find friends who have the same problems we do and who can give advice on solving those problems. Through reading, we can witness all that is noble, beautiful, or horrifying about other human beings. From a book's characters, we can learn how to conduct ourselves. And most of all, reading is a communal act that connects you to other readers, comrades who have traveled to the same remarkable places that you have and been changed by them, too.
- Donalyn Miller, THE BOOK WHISPERER

Thank you so much for sharing your book and ideas with us, Donalyn!

Learn more about Donalyn and her book 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Interview with Donalyn Miller, Author of THE BOOK WHISPERER, Part III

Click through to read parts one and two.

What is a typical day in your classroom like?

Loud! I joke that it sounds like beehive. We talk constantly about books and writing. My students spend the first 30 minutes reading while I confer with individual students about their reading and help students preview and select books. After reading time, we talk with partners about our reading experiences that day and I present a few book commercials about new additions to the class library or books I think students will enjoy based on what they are reading now, or books I think will stretch them. 

After reading time, I teach a lesson and students practice the skill or strategy I have taught using a common text like an article, poem, or short story for the first few encounters with this topic. As often as possible, I ask students to apply what they have learned to their independent reading, writing, or inquiry when they have mastered the skill or strategy after whole group instruction.

We write every day. Sometimes, we write about reading and sometimes we develop essays or reports. We are currently engaged in an author study about Seymour Simon. Students are reading several of his books, exploring his website, and creating reports of information based on one research topic. I am teaching lessons on sentence fluency, taking notes, combing information from several sources, and organizing information logically.

I try to integrate reading and writing as much as possible, so some students could be reading or writing during our daily work periods depending on their individual progress and needs that day. I circulate and confer with children during these work periods.

After a work period, students share bits of their writing and solicit feedback from their peers. I facilitate these discussions.

During the last ten minutes of class, we gather for a read aloud. Right now, we are reading WONDER by R.J. Palacio. We are keeping a running list of Mr. Browne's precepts on the board and discussing the book and its messages each day.

You don't use the terms struggling or reluctant readers but instead identify readers as developing, dormant, and underground. Could you define for us what these readers are like and what they most need?

Developing readers lack reading confidence, experience, or ability, but are somewhere on the path toward developing reading self-efficacy. I prefer this term to struggling readers becausedevelopment implies progress and effort instead of failure.

Dormant readers possess the grade and age levels abilities expected from them at school, but don't find reading personally meaningful beyond school expectations. I find that most of my students are dormant readers. They haven't experienced enough pleasure or engagement with reading.

Underground readers are avid readers who live two reading lives--one at school and one outside of school. These children are often avid readers who may underperform on school reading assignments because they don't find them meaningful. They may not fill out reading logs, participate in whole class discussions, or complete reports, then excel on reading tests.

I think there are other types of readers who don't express these marked habits and abilities, but I chose to write about these types because these the students that benefit most from free choice voluntary reading and more classroom choice.

"Students need to receive encouragement for the skills and knowledge they do have and be allowed to make mistakes as they work toward mastery." What are some "mistakes" you've seen kids afraid to make? How have you helped liberate them from this fear?

Reading is hard because so much of it involves subjective interpretation. Kids who want to get it right struggle when I push them to determine their own meaning for a text. They want me to tell them what it means. They want explicit answers to every question. When we read shared texts, we look at the basic plot events or main ideas first, then delve into the deeper meanings or implications of a text. This assures everyone understands the universal meaning or key points before exploring personal connections and meanings. I think this values all of the learners in my class.

I also share my mistakes and misconceptions with students. They don't realize that even the most experienced readers and writers need to reread, revise, and mull over ideas. 

Your principal sounds like a phenomenal person -- giving you the room to teach reading this way, encouraging fellow teachers to examine "classroom practices and institutional policies that are so entrenched in school cultures" as to be ineffective, the afterward he wrote for your book. How does someone who doesn't have the support you do go about making effective changes in their classroom community?

It is hard to teach in a culture that doesn't get what you are doing. I keep Stephen Krashen's and Nancie Atwell's books on my shelf. I want colleagues, parents, and administrators to know that I have a research basis for what I am doing. If anyone questions me about my methods, I refer to the research. You can disagree with me all you want, I am just one person, but how can you discount decades of research on our field? I cannot think of any administrator who would tell a teacher to disregard research.

It helps to make a list of your core beliefs about teaching and learning and look at it often. What do you believe is right for children? What do you believe is important for them to learn? How is your daily instruction leading students to a better life beyond school? It is easy to get bogged down in the daily grind of school, and it helps to remember these long term goals.

I was not treated well by many of my colleagues when I first changed my practices. It was hard. I sought out the teachers in my building who were most progressive and open-minded (and our librarian), and I developed collaborative relationships with them. I spent a lot of time with my students, which helped me focus on them. My students' test scores were good and I walked into school happy every day. My students and their parents were happy, too. Eventually, people were curious. I suggest that teachers implement as much as they can, document the results and share it with administrators and colleagues. Talk about what you are doing in your classroom and the positive results. Better to talk about what you are doing and not what you wish you could.

Learn more about Donalyn and her book at 

An Interview with Donalyn Miller, Author of THE BOOK WHISPERER, Part II

"Reading is both a cognitive and emotional journey." Can you speak to this idea?

At one level, reading is a skill that can be taught and learned. How to locate information, analyze a plot, or decode vocabulary-these reading skills are necessary and can be learned. Everyone who is literate has these skills some to some degree. Beyond reading skills, we cannot overlook or discount reading's emotional, spiritual, and intellectual value-discovering things about ourselves and the world that we didn't know, learning from the accomplishments and failures of others, inspiring action, and expanding our knowledge. If children do not develop this aesthetic connection to reading, they won't see reading as anything but a skill. I believe that basic literacy is important, of course, but I think education should do more than teach workplace applicable skills. Education should teach students to question and provide them with the tools they need to find their own answers.

How might a teacher with a heavily scheduled day find time to add in independent reading?

I know that there is never enough time to teach what we are expected to teach under the time constraints given. I get it. If I cannot find evidence-based and research-proven reasons for using a particular activity or tool, I don't use it. I don't have time to waste on activities that don't benefit students' growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. I take the minimum number of grades my district requires. There is no busy work. We read. We write. We share and talk about reading and writing. That is it.

It is very liberating, actually. I suggest that all teachers critically evaluate every activity they are doing to determine whether or not it moves students toward independence or just more school. Independent reading has more influence on students' long term reading achievement than any other activity. Why would we put it last? 

I recommend that students read every day for a minimum of 15 minutes. Divide your class into thirds-1/3 for independent reading and conferences, 1/3 for mini-lesson and guided practice, and 1/3 for more reading and more writing.

Catching the reading bug: I loved hearing about all the ways your kids bring reading into their everyday lives. Tell us about your student who once read in the shower!

Ah, that was Molly. She was desperately trying to finish a book, but her mom kept calling down the hall for her to get in the shower. Realizing that she couldn't hold off her mom until she finished the book, Molly held the book out of the shower to keep it dry and kept reading it.

You have an extensive classroom library largely run by your students. I'm curious if you find certain titles "have legs" -- seem to wander away more so than others. In my room my Shel Silverstein and Sara Holbrook poems had to be replaced often. What about you?

When I taught middle school, the books that "walked" the most were: SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, the Skeleton Creek series, Bone graphic novels, CLIQUE by Lisi Harrison, HATCHET by Gary Paulsen, and innumerable copies of THE HUNGER GAMES and THE LIGHTNING THEIF. I imagine that many of these books are sitting on shelves in a former student's home. I hope they are. Every once in awhile, a younger sibling returns books that were discovered. I enjoy reading the apology notes attached. I think my books have more adventurous lives than I do.

When I taught I hosted an annual Book Auction. Kids would donate books they no longer wanted. I gave all my students five "dollars," whether they donated or not, and those who donated got an extra dollar for each title they brought in. At the end of the day, everyone went home with a pile of new-to-them books. 

What are some other creative ways a teacher might get books in kids' hands?

I love your book auction idea. We held school-wide book swaps at my previous school. Students and families donated books and received coupons for each title. During the swap, kids could take home a book for every coupon. We gave away extra coupons, so that every child had one. Extra books were donated to charity book drives.

As I read THE BOOK WHISPERER, I kept wondering if you'd read Daniel Pennac's THE RIGHTS OF THE READER. And you have! Which of these rights do you think are hardest for kids to embrace? For teachers?
For students, it's hard for them to see these rights as normal reading behaviors. They have been told by adults that skipping pages, abandoning books, rereading favorites, and not reading sometimes are negative behaviors. We spend a lot of time during the early weeks of school discussing these rights and sharing our experiences with them.

For teachers, I think that accepting times when students just don't feel like reading is normal. When a student actively avoids reading all of the time, this is cause for concern, but some days are OK. I notice that my students don't want to start another book right away when they have recently finished a great one. I encourage students to spend their reading time writing a recommendation or reflection about the book instead, or researching the author's other work. 

"Every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people." Can you talk briefly about the ways you use reader's notebooks and one-on-one conferences in your room and how they build autonomy?

John Dewey said, "We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." I think that notebooks and conferences provide a formal way for students to collect information about their reading and reflect on their experiences. In their notebooks, students record the books they read, notes from lessons and research, and their reading responses. When we confer, I usually begin the conversation with what the students are currently reading and move into looking through notebooks for trends in reading behavior, as well as strengths and goals. My students and I develop individual goals for their reading during these conferences.
Learn more about Donalyn and her book at